You have surely noticed the black bars on the top and bottom of the screen when watching a movie. Or the black bars on the sides of the screen when you are watching an older film. It is due to the format that it was shot in. This is the aspect ratio. Mathematically, the aspect ratio is the ratio between the screen’s height and width.
Modern apps let you switch between aspect ratios at the touch of a button when are shooting. The app, developed by BigVU.tv, lets you pick the best video format for your purposes. It can be vertical, horizontal, or square. Square videos will work best on mobile, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. On the other hand, horizontal videos are best suited on YouTube and email. These different aspect ratios can be used for the main footage and the animations as well.
Why the Different Aspect Ratios?
Some movies you watch will have horizontal black bars at the top and bottom, some on either side, whereas a few won’t have any black bars. Modern films are either shot in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio or the 2.35:1 aspect ratio.
On the other hand, old footage is always in the 4:3 aspect ratio. And that is because everything was shot on film. To be specific, the aspect ratio was 0.95 inches by 0.735 inches. That is also why older CRT televisions have an aspect ratio of 4:3.
How Did the Widescreen Aspect Ratio Come About?
The shooting frame was enclosed inside a square so it could fit onto a square-shaped film. Filmmakers slowly realized that this was unnatural. Cinema is always trying to create a more immersive experience for you, the viewer. That is how the widescreen was born since we see the world in a wide way.
The first experiment was with the movie Shane. This movie wasn’t exactly shot with a wide-screen camera or on a wide-screen lens. They essentially cut out the top and bottom portions of the frame to give it a widescreen feel. The audience was very fond of this experience, and widescreen filming was born.
The Anamorphic Lens
This rustic method of cutting out the parts of the frame was not a viable long-term solution. And thus, the anamorphic lens was invented. This lens let the filmmakers fit widescreen footage onto a square frame. This type of lens is still in use today.
What the anamorphic lens does is that it stretches out the image in such a way that it is disproportionately tall when it is shot. However, when it is transferred to film, this image is compressed back so that a rectangular frame can sit inside a square film.
Other Film Making Aspect Ratios
The first film was shot using a true wide-screen lens, The Robe. Many experiments have been done on the widescreen format, and it has kept evolving. It was taken to its extreme with Ben Hur, which was shot in a 2.76:1 aspect ratio.
A summary of the most common aspect ratios:
Academy Ratio: 1.37
Cinemascope/Panavision: 2.35: 1
Super Panavision: 2.20
MGM 65: 2.76:1
What About 16:9?
IMAX is the most immersive aspect ratio to date. It captures images that are very tall and very wide at the same time. This creates the biggest canvas for the moviegoer. The most common movie-making aspect ratios, however, are 1.85:1 and 2.35:1.
Yet, the TV or computer screen you use every day is 16:9. You may be wondering why that is the case. Why is it that when there are so many other aspect ratios, the 16:9 ratio becomes the standard?
When the aspect ratio standards were going through these transformations, some content would come out in the old 4:3 format. In comparison, others would come out in widescreen formats. If you did not watch it on the right type of screen, it would not look right. So, the TV industry came up with a compromise. An aspect ratio that sits right in the middle of those two formats, 16:9, is mathematically in the middle of 4:3 and 2.35:1.
Thus, the 16:9 aspect ratio allowed all sorts of content to be played and still look normal. 4:3 images on the screen could play with the bars on the sides, and 2.35:1 could play with the bars at the top and bottom. Eventually, this format became the standard for every screen and consumer video product. Even 4K today is in the 16:9 aspect ratio, albeit with a very high resolution.
This was a brief history of aspect ratios and their evolution. I hope you enjoyed reading about it and think of it the next time you watch a movie or a video.