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What aspect ratio should I shoot with, when mixing historical footage?

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ryan elder
What aspect ratio should I shoot with, when mixing historical footage?
on Aug 2, 2018 at 5:31:06 am

I am directing a documentary film project and have to decide on an aspect ratio. I will be shooting interviews intercut with historical footage. I already have a lot of the historical footage chosen with the parts I want cut out and assembled, with more to come.

Most of the historical footage is in 4:3, but I don't want to shoot the rest of the movie and interviews in 4:3 to match it. I want to shoot in something wider like maybe 1.85:1 or 2.20:1.

But the thing is, should I shoot the interviews in a wide format, and then zoom into the historical footage and reframe the 4:3 footage to a wider format? I tried it as a test and it looks good but not when you go too wide.

Or should I leave the historical 4:3 footage in it's original 4:3 format, and just keep cutting back and forth between aspect ratios as I cut from modern interviews to historical footage?

What do you think looks better between switching aspect ratios constantly, vs. having everything framed to one consistent aspect ratio?


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Bouke Vahl
Re: What aspect ratio should I shoot with, when mixing historical footage?
on Aug 2, 2018 at 7:04:31 am

You will not switch aspect ratio, you will do 'something' with the archive footage to fit it in the raster of choice.
Now, if you shoot a doc about a historical superwidescreen movie, you will go at least that wide.
Otherwise, it's totally up to you.
Think of a good way to pillarbox, not the 'zoomed blurred mirrored same image left/right' used for vertical video from phones.
Whatever you do, do not pan/scan. It ruins the footage and looses a lot of resolution. Do keep in mind that some old footage must be cropped as it was shot with the intention to crop.

Others will think different I'm sure.

Bouke
http://www.videotoolshed.com


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Blaise Douros
Re: What aspect ratio should I shoot with, when mixing historical footage?
on Aug 2, 2018 at 5:58:24 pm
Last Edited By Blaise Douros on Aug 2, 2018 at 5:59:15 pm

Shoot your interview and b-roll in whatever aspect ratio you prefer/whatever aspect ratio the delivery requires. Then get creative with the archival stuff. I've done a variety of treatments--my two favorite are:

- A graphical "frame" to denote archival footage. This can tie visually into a graphical element of your film's logo or overall theme, or you could place relevant metadata about the footage in the "margins" if you want it to look technical.

- Duplicate a second copy of the archival clip, and place it behind the main footage in the timeline. Increase the size until it fills the background. Apply a blur effect to the background copy, and position it so it minimizes any distracting elements popping out from the sides.

There are a million ways you could slice this. One other treatment I've done which might work, (it's time-consuming but looked pretty cool) was to place photos and/or videos in 3D space in After Effects comps with a blurry logo in the background for additional visual reference, and panned the camera between them so it's almost like a 3D scene, with light particle effects to enhance the 3D camera movement. There's a fast example of it in this video at the 10-second mark.





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ryan elder
Re: What aspect ratio should I shoot with, when mixing historical footage?
on Aug 2, 2018 at 10:09:41 pm

Okay thanks, as far as delivery requirements go, I asked the person co-producing it with me and he said that since I know more about that than he does, he is leaving it up to me, but I've never done anything where I mixed aspect ratios before.

As far as duplicating it and blurring it goes, I think it will look very strange and the viewer will pick up on it looking off. It might work for a clear sky or something like that, but with footage of people in it, the people would be duplicated and blurred and it will look very weird I think.

You say don't pan and scan, but why not? Sure you loose some resolution, but then you are not switching to a 4:3 aspect ratio, so therefore, isn't panning and scanning better if you get to keep the same aspect ratio?

I watched some of Bowling for Columbine to compare, and Michael Moore, zoomed into the archival footage to match his interview footage, and he had no problem panning and scanning it seems, but is that bad?


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ryan elder
Re: What aspect ratio should I shoot with, when mixing historical footage?
on Aug 2, 2018 at 10:38:07 pm

I have a DP but he is just covering the cinematography for the interviews. He is not covering the decisions for if the aspect ratio on the historical footage should be changed. I told him about reframing the footage to fit the interview aspect ratios we choose, and he said that should be fine.

But I thought I would get opinions on here. Well what are some documentaries then to learn from where they switch aspect ratios constantly, while cutting back and forth between archival footage and interviews?

As for destroying someone else's work, I thought I would just be showing it in a different context that goes with my movie, rather than look at it as destroying it, but if I should keep it the same, do you think the constant changing of aspect ratios could come off as distracting?


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ryan elder
Re: What aspect ratio should I shoot with, when mixing historical footage?
on Aug 2, 2018 at 10:42:05 pm

I am also watching Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired to get ideas, and I noticed how they pan and scanned all the 4:3 footage from back then as well, to fit the same size of the interviews. So it makes me think that it's normal, as I cannot find documentaries that keep the original aspect ratio of the archival footage.


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Bouke Vahl
Re: What aspect ratio should I shoot with, when mixing historical footage?
on Aug 2, 2018 at 10:56:03 pm

[ryan elder] ". So it makes me think that it's normal, as I cannot find documentaries that keep the original aspect ratio of the archival footage."
So, you never saw my work.

Who cares what others do.
Doing what everyone else does is easy, and will not make you an artist. Nor a good software developer / product designer, nor a famous cook.
Driving as fast as the rest probably won't win you the race.

Now, without any clue what this is about and what footage you have, it's impossible to have more precise advice other than stay off the pink bordered heart wipes.

Bouke
http://www.videotoolshed.com


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Todd Terry
Re: What aspect ratio should I shoot with, when mixing historical footage?
on Aug 2, 2018 at 11:00:41 pm

[Bouke Vahl] "stay off the pink bordered heart wipes."

As long as Star Wipes are still ok....







T2

__________________________________
Todd Terry
Creative Director
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
fantasticplastic.com



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Blaise Douros
Re: What aspect ratio should I shoot with, when mixing historical footage?
on Aug 3, 2018 at 5:08:42 pm

Dude. Why are you here, wasting the time of people who know what we're doing, if you think you already know everything there is to know?

I've been working in documentary and doc-style corporate work my entire professional video career. You are here for advice from people who know what they're talking about. I know what I'm talking about. Bouke knows what he's talking about. If you just want to argue about it, go do it whatever way you think is best and prove that it doesn't suck. But don't come back to us complaining that the broadcaster QA department rejected it.

So here's my advice. Shoot 16x9. Basically every screen on the planet uses this ratio, so unless you're doing a theatrical release, 16x9 is the standard.

Then use the methods I outlined. Don't argue with me that they don't work. They DO. They're totally normal, standard technique that any documentary filmmaker uses.


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Mark Suszko
Re: What aspect ratio should I shoot with, when mixing historical footage?
on Aug 3, 2018 at 9:31:13 pm

I recall how they started the first "The Incredibles" movie: it's documentary interview footage meant to set up what their past was like. To get across the time difference, the doc footage was 4:3 matted into the center of a widescreen frame. They do a slow push to make it bigger, but they always keep it centered with lots of dead space around it. When they then smash-cut to more modern times, they go full- frame.

A concept I like in mixing old 4x3 footage into 16x9 is to project it onto an iconic object, something that references back to the period, and *that* object is shot in widescreen. Could be the side of the building where it happened. Could be a still life of related prop objects, like clothing, personal effects, etc....

A very typical version of that is to composite the old stuff onto an old 4x3 TV set on a limbo backdrop, and then fly 16x9 camera moves around that TV to punctuate and add emphasis. Makes a fun device to cover edits. You can get more creative yet, and composite the shots onto the monitors of a TV Director's live-switch room, as well as the viewfinders of studio cameras, with a reproduction of the original set on the stage, perhaps. So you're like a ghost walking around the production as if it was happening in real-time, but only visible in those monitors and viewfinders.

You can do something similar by setting up an old projector and movie screen in a smoky dark room, then compositing your old footage into that screen, and again moving your camera around this framing device.

Yet another method that doesn't involve pan-and-scan is to to make a multi-matted 16x9 composition, putting your 4x3 stuff in one side and then adding changing trains of dissolving stills in boxes around it. Change the positions and arrangement of the boxes from time to time but keep using the rule of thirds and golden mean in creating the arrangements.

These are creative ways to avoid using the pan and scan blow-up or the matted duplicate blurred clip as background.

I run a youtube channel and some people that send me vids give me vertical video. 9 and agita, obviously). I found a public domain shot of a hand holding an iPhone, and I composite their vertical video into that 16x9 frame to show what they sent me, and I like that a lot more than the blurred sidewalls thing. You might consider THAT for your 4x3, with the conceit being that your clips are all on a web site you made up.


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ryan elder
Re: What aspect ratio should I shoot with, when mixing historical footage?
on Aug 3, 2018 at 9:49:46 pm

Okay thanks. I am having trouble picturing what you mean though. Can you give any move examples that do this when it comes to moving the camera around an old TV, if that's what you mean?

Also, the reason why I didn't want to shoot in 16:9 is I don't really like the look of it, and feel that it's not quite wide enough, which is why I thought 1.85:1 or 2.20:1 would be better.


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Todd Terry
Re: What aspect ratio should I shoot with, when mixing historical footage?
on Aug 3, 2018 at 10:19:55 pm

[ryan elder] "I didn't want to shoot in 16:9 is I don't really like the look of it, and feel that it's not quite wide enough, which is why I thought 1.85:1...."
"


You do realize there there is virtually no noticeable difference in 16:9 and 1.85:1, right?

A 1.85:1 image on a 16x9 screen has only the thinnest thinnest little letterboxing bars... almost nonexistent. On an HD screen it's only a 21-pixel difference top and bottom.

I would almost defy anyone to look at a rectangle with no other frame of reference and easily be able to tell if it was 16:9 or 1.85:1.

Yes, 2.20:1 is a substantial difference... but 1.85:1.... nah.

T2

__________________________________
Todd Terry
Creative Director
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
fantasticplastic.com



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ryan elder
Re: What aspect ratio should I shoot with, when mixing historical footage?
on Aug 3, 2018 at 10:34:29 pm

Okay thanks, you're right about that, I was just paying way too much attention to the subtle difference probably. I could shoot in 2.20:1 and do really like that aspect ratio, but that would mean that I would not be able to pan and scan the 4:3 archival footage, cause it's too wide for panning and scanning 4:3.

So I would have to keep the 4:3 footage as 4:3 without any choice of changing my mind later, unlike an aspect ratio where you can get away with panning and scanning 4:3 and it can still look good, such as 16:9.


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Andrew Somers
Re: What aspect ratio should I shoot with, when mixing historical footage?
on Aug 8, 2018 at 4:44:00 am

What do you think looks better between switching aspect ratios constantly, vs. having everything framed to one consistent aspect ratio?


Hi Ryan,

This is very much YOUR CHOICE AS A STORY TELLER.

I would suggest that you shoot everything 1.778 (protecting the full 16x9 frame) as this will give you the most flexibility in post. And in fact, this is a decision that will make more sense in post — remember that (unless using anamorphic lenses) that 2.39 is just a CROP of the camera sensor which is typically 16x9.

Of course, there is the issue of do you compose for 1.778, or 1.85, or 2.39? 1.778/1.85 are very close, and if you compose for 1.778, a 1.85 common top crop will often keep the same intent. Also if you shoot full 4K (4096x2160) you have a lot of room to re-compose for a 1920x1080 master.

Also, mixing aspect ratios is commonly done, especially in documentaries. And don't think that you have to do every shot "the same way", do what is needed to tell the story and keep the audience engaged. Take a look at some Ken Burns documentaries as an example.

But again, what does the story need at that point? To see the entire 4x3 frame? To be zoomed in tight to a subject inside the 4:3 frame, so that the rest of the frame fills the screen? There are no rules, only what your story needs for the telling.

Andrew Somers
VFX & Title Supervisor
http://GeneralTitles.com


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ryan elder
Re: What aspect ratio should I shoot with, when mixing historical footage?
on Aug 8, 2018 at 5:01:12 am

Well it's tough cause I've seen documentaries that will pan and scan their archival footage to match their interviews, so I am good with doing panning and scanning, or keeping the original aspect ratios and mixing them. I am good with either or, so I was wondering what most viewers would prefer.

I've been thinking about which aspect ratio to compose in. If there is hardly any difference between 16:9 and 1.85:1, then why do so many filmmakers till use 1.85, instead of just using 16:9?


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Andrew Somers
Re: What aspect ratio should I shoot with, when mixing historical footage?
on Aug 8, 2018 at 5:51:31 pm

If there is hardly any difference between 16:9 and 1.85:1, then why do so many filmmakers till use 1.85, instead of just using 16:9?


Thera are two standards for theatrical projection in the United States: 1.85 and 2.39

Nevertheless, filmmakers may use multiple aspect rations, pillar boxing and letter boxing as needed within the 1.85 or 2.39 frame.

Keep in mind that it's different in some areas of the world. 1.66 is common in Europe for instance, in fact Stanley Kubrick often shot and released in 1.66, going so far as to ship 1.66 projection gates to American theaters.

Some studios mandate "protecting" the full video release frame while composing for 1.85. Universal was big on this during the VHS days, insisting that the full 1.33 image was protected and useable for telecine and video release, even though the theatrical was releasing 1.85 (typically on film, the matte was only applied in the project or, so that 1.85 film would likely screen as 1.66 in Europe.)

If you want an opinion, IMO 2.39 is a bad choice for a documentary where you are going to be using a lot of narrower aspect ratios. 2.39 is great for big kaboom action adventures. In a doc, especially as you are shooting interviews, you want to be more intimate, so 1.778 or 1.85 are better choices for composition.

Best of luck!

Andrew Somers
VFX & Title Supervisor
http://GeneralTitles.com


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ryan elder
Re: What aspect ratio should I shoot with, when mixing historical footage?
on Aug 8, 2018 at 9:49:20 pm

Okay thanks, I was thinking the same thing for the interview parts. It's just in this doc, I am going to be doing some landscape shots as well, and thought 2.39 might look better for landscape, but if I am going to be mixing that with interviews, plus 4:3 archival footage, then perhaps 1.78:1 is an overall happy medium.

So if I choose between 1.78:1 and 1.85:1, I guess I might as well just go with 1.78:1 then, since it's close, and that is what the camera naturally shoots in?


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Mike Cohen
Re: What aspect ratio should I shoot with, when mixing historical footage?
on Aug 13, 2018 at 7:49:11 pm

Shoot for your intended audience - HD or 4K or whatever, and use the historical footage in a box on a black background or some graphic made to hold it. Zooming in on something that is not scanned from film will result in a blurry image. You might get away with scaling to fit the height, but not the width of HD video.

Good luck.

Mike Cohen


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ryan elder
Re: What aspect ratio should I shoot with, when mixing historical footage?
on Aug 13, 2018 at 10:33:09 pm

Oh okay, thanks, it didn't look blurry to me when I zoomed on the historical footage. But if switching aspect ratios is best, then I will do that.


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