Composition Techniques for Widescreen Aspect Ratios
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Composition Techniques for Widescreen Aspect Ratios

October 12, 2019


Hi welcome to Filmmaker IQ, I’m John Hess
and we’re going to be looking at the basic concepts behind composition when considering
your aspect ratio. Odds are if you are watching this video, you’re
most likely be working in some form of digital video. And as we learned in the History lesson
on Aspect Ratio, almost all digital video products use the 16×9 aspect ratio. But 16×9 isn’t really that cinematic, especially
now that HD is the norm. Maybe you want to get that Cinemascope 2.35 look. But when you’re on set, your viewfinder
is going to give you 16×9. How can we get an approximation of what your final aspect ratio will look like? This is where an external monitor can be very helpful. Advanced
models like this beautiful ikan MD7 have built in software presets to show you where the crop will be
for 4:3, 16×9, 1.85 and 2.35 as well as a custom setting which allows you to create
any aspect ratio that you want. If you don’t have a monitor with advanced
capabilities you can always use some gaffers tape and cover over your monitor to create
your desired aspect ratio. You can use a ruler or do it by feel. This isn’t necessarily as precise and be careful not to ruin your screen
with the adhesive of the tape. Once you have the footage in the post production
stage you can use letterbox masks create the final desired aspect ratio To figure out the size of the letterboxes we need to use a little bit of basic math. Lets say you want a 2.35 aspect ratio from a 1920×1080 frame.
You simply divide 1920 by 2.35 which gives you 817. So your final image is going to be
1920 wide by 817 pixels high. Subtract 817 from 1080 and you’ll get 263 -divide by 2 and you get
131.5. So you should have a letter box of 131 pixel top and we’ll add that extra pixel to the bottom 132 pixe bar at the bottom. Are we going to break out the rulers to measure
to make sure you have exactly 2.35… or check that you used 2.35 and not 2.39? No C’mon. If you heading to a film out check with your vendor make sure you’re all clean but if your going to the web or a bluray or DVD… Don’t get hung up on the minutia. To make it a little easier we’ll provide a series of common frame masks
in this lesson link below for you to download and apply To your footage if you want. Now that we visualized our final aspect ratio we want to use let’s talk about how to actually compose
a subject matter in that frame. Now we could use a center frame composition. And many directors from Stanley Kubrick to Wes Anderson have built strong visual styles With a center frame composition. But the center composition can be a bit too powerful And you may want to create a shot that is not so strong by placing the subject off center. To figure out how far off center lets look at a subject that has fascinated
humankind since the Ancient Greeks – the Golden Ratio. First recorded by the Greek Mathematician
Euclid, the golden ratio is a ratio between two lengths where the ratio of the sum of the two lengths to the part is the same as the ratio of between the two the parts This self repeating ratio shows up over and over again in geometry and nature and is considered by the ancients to not only be aesthetically pleasing but spiritually important. So how do we apply the golden ratio to our image? Often a shape called the Fibonacci Spiral is overlaid on the image. Since the Golden ratio is 1.618 which doesn’t match up with any aspect ratio We can let the top and bottom of that spiral fall off the screen. by placing our subject on those lines we can create a traditionally pleasing shot. But let’s get real here, no one is expecting you to get out a compass and draw spirals on your monitor. Though you can use the MD7’s custom markers to set lines where the golden ratio line would be. A much more practical approach is the rule
of thirds. Imagine the screen divided up into three parts both horizontally and vertically.
Now position your subject on the third lines. And then just adjust the shot into something that you find appealing. This will actually get you pretty close to the Golden Ratio would be. Again, no one is going to get out a ruler
and measure your composition to see if you’re exactly on the golden ratio or the third line
– so adjust the shot to what you like to see – we’re making movies for human beings to
watch, not robots! Speaking of human beings, let’s talk briefly
about how to frame up a face. If you look at a human head – all the emotional expressions
come from just right above the eyebrow to right above the chin. I’ve never known an
actor who does his best work using the top of his head. Just doesn’t happen. So when you frame a shot, keep in mind this
emotive rectangle of the face and place that inside you thirds as much
as possible. And as you get closer for a close up shot Let the top of the head fall out of frame. After all, it’s not nearly as interesting as what’s going on between the eyebrows and the chin. Martin Scorsese once famously asked, “How
do you frame a close up with widescreen?” This was a common complain when widescreen first became popular. The beauties of 4×3 Acadmey Ratio is how it
beautifully frames a human face. 16×9 and 1.85 are still relatively conducive to closeups
but once you start getting into the 2.35 and above range, there’s a lot of wasted screen
real estate in a full face closeup. Sometimes you’ll want that emptiness. But sometimes you may want to use a technique
of crafting your own specialized spaces inside your frame. The traditional word for this is Mise en Scene: literally placing on stage. By carefully composing your shot with a mix of foreground and background objects you can create really interesting cinematic compositions. The most basic example is in shooting a face to face two person over the shoulder dialogue scene. Here we used the back of an actor’s head to reduce the size
of the space we’re using to frame our actor speaking. Even though we’re shooting with a 2.35 aspect ratio, the area of interest is significantly smaller. because we filled up the space with the other actor’s head. This technique of including unwanted elements in a shot is sometimes called “dirtying up the frame” You can also use architectural elements to
do the same thing. using walls to create natural boarders in the frame. In this shot, the pillar is a foreground element. In this reverse shot, the pillar is still serving the same purpose cutting down our frame but now it’s in the background. Now we’re using the front door window and pillar to create this box inside our widescreen 2.35 aspect ratio. Let’s demo this technique using doors in a “Godfather” inspired sequence. Pay special attention to the walls and shoulder s in the upcoming shots. This mise en scene approach to composition is really made possible by the widescreen aspect ratio Orson Welles started this trend in Citizen Kane with his unique blocking But it became much easier for filmmakers when they had a wider canvas to work with. Generally speaking the wider your screen the more you should incorporate mise-en-scnene in your composition and less on montage or cutting or don’t do that. Do the opposite – it’s up to you. Just as with every choice in filmmaking, the choice of which aspect
ratio you use and how you compose your shot all demand compromise. Be aware of your options. Experiment Learn how these things affect your storytelling and then make a choice. Make something great. I’m John Hess, I’ll see you at Filmmaker
IQ.com.

Only registered users can comment.

  1. want easy way to know the edges (where to put the tape) ?
    1/ crop /download an image and send it to your camera
    2/ view it on the monitor
    3/ u have the edges now
    P.S: if your camera dont read external photos just take the picture and photograph/film it from your pc , then view it on the monitor

  2. Mostly the same concepts, but the fact is the vast majority of production doesn't use Academy Aspect Ratio anymore

  3. premiere prefers 1920-816 for some reason (probably because it better dividable). 817 gave me some weird render problems. After effects also states 2.35 as 1920 by 816

  4. I can't even imagine how much time and effort went into making these videos.

    Thank you for providing all of this for free, and I hope you live a long and awesome life.

  5. Liked it
    How about using a "dry erase" marker? You could even draw a tic-tac-toe to divide image into 3rds โ€  โ€  โ€ 

  6. After watching "Knife in the Water" recently, started to wonder…what nation represents the best cinematographers?

  7. Hollywood. It's not about national origin. Talent comes from everywhere but to work on a worldwide stage, Hollywood is the place. BTW, Hollywood is more of an industry than a physical place

  8. The rule of thirds is the easiest way to frame a scene, atleast when working with modern DSLR's as they have it in the grid settings most of the time. But with time and practice this thinking comes naturally and then itยดs time to change things up. Then there are software hacks for some cameras out there like Magic Lantern that will add new features and if Iยดm not mistaken add the correct grid for 2,35:1. A question tho, is it better to work with a "correct" workspace pixelwise in letยดs say Premiere directly or is it better to use a standard 1920x1080p workspace and apply black (or white) bars to the video? Will that footage be useless when you burn it to BD and try to watch it on a 16:9 HDTV for instance, or does this depend on the BD player to show the footage in the correct aspect ratio?

  9. DUDE, can't tell how thankful I am. Your passion in inspiring people to go out and make a movie is truly inspiring.

  10. I've always heard about how technically groundbreaking Citizen Kane was, but never regarding what specifically about it was so unique. If you ever decide to do a film analysis John Hess, I would be interested in seeing you talk about that.

  11. 10 Films with Unusual Aspect Ratios: http://www.tasteofcinema.com/2016/the-10-best-movies-with-unusual-aspect-ratios/

  12. Thanks a lot for the breakdown of screen composition for different aspect ratios. Imagine that: I'm all "old school", using a film camera converted to Super 16mm, with the original 1:1,37 viewfinder, hiding the right hand side of the widened gate. Still getting into it. Lots of testing and guesswork to do. I'll go for the widely accepted 16:9 (=1:1.777…) for the near future: IMHO a very good compromise between classic European (1:1.66) and American (1:1.85) non-anamorphic "flat" widescreen.

    One of the things I always thought (and you confirmed): I think we should always take into account how much "weight" the elements/subjects have, not just certain points or lines. Even with a grid of thirds: Easy for plain horizons or any horizontal division. Harder for vertical lines (IMHO). I guess one has to get the true feel for each screen format, the thirds (or the Fibonacci spiral) just being a good and important point of reference. I agree: a good composition makes all the difference. And as always, I'll apply: first know your rules, then break them with confidence ๐Ÿ˜‰

    You summed it up perfectly! Thanks again!

  13. When they closed the door on Kay in the Godfather scene and she goes onto her cellphone, i laughed so hard that i knocked over my breakfast raspberries.

  14. Why the hell would you use a black letterbox at the top and bottom instead of just creating a 1:2.35 videofile with 1920×817?

  15. Do not use letterboxes! When someone has a 21:9 monitor or beamer they will have black bars around all. So when you creat your editing file enter the pixels:

    2048×858 (2k Scope)
    4096×1716 (4K Scope)

    3440×1440
    2560×1080

    (Aspect ratio: 2.39)

  16. You absolutely have the best filmmaker videos anywhere hands down. I notice your most recent video was 10 months ago. I hope everything is ok with all of you. If you ever open a filmmaking school, I will be there. Thanks for your great videos!

  17. Always love your videos, very helpful

    Big shout out to your actors too- I've noticed you always use that guy, is he a friend?

  18. No, I'm not working in some form of digital video. I just like John's voice and I enjoy learning how movies are made!

  19. Watching this makes me realize how horrible my high school film teacher was. He said "NEVER cut off the top of the head… avoid it". of course, whenever we would watch films, the top of the head was the first to go. I love watching these videos, even if it's about something i already know, it gets the creative juices flowing.

  20. Please don't use Letter Boxes!

    If you have an 2.35:1 monitor or cinema-screen it will be cropped in.

    Most programs can export in any aspect ratio, many can even edit in different aspect ratios.

    Thx

  21. Love your work. Everything is fair in Rock and Roll, as long as it sounds good. I believe the same is true for image composition. Does it look good and is it interesting without being distracting.

  22. Love this channelโค๏ธ
    Very educational. I've also heard of some people using blue painters tape instead of gaffers tape. It comes off easier and won't leave residue on the screen

  23. 2019 gang. Also youโ€™re videos are timeless and they are the most informative for learning all the facts unbiased. The legend John P. Hess will always live on. I love your videos and Iโ€™ve learned most of the things I know from your channel. Thank you. -MEV

  24. 2:30 shouldn't it be 2.39 instead of 2.35 since 2.35 hasn't been used since the '70s?
    Also 6:51 Academy ratio is 1.375:1, not 4:3.

    Other than that, great video.

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