widescreen.org - The Letterbox and Widescreen Advocacy page Defending the visions and intentions of filmmakers

Academy
Cinemascope
Cinerama
Matted
Panavision
Super 35
Super Panavision 70
Technirama
Todd-AO
Ultra Panavision 70
VistaVision



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Various aspect ratios


Academy - 1.37:1 (current) or 1.33:1 (before the soundtrack was added)


The Academy ratio (1.33:1 before a soundtrack was incorporated onto the film) was the primary original aspect ratio. Most movies (if not all) that were released before The Robe (the first movie to be shown in widescreen) were shown in this ratio.

When televisions first came on the scene, they were (and still are) designed with an aspect ratio matching the Academy ratio so that movies would be shown in the same way as in the theatres. Movies that were filmed in an Academy ratio will not have a "widescreen" version because they fit perfectly on the TV. Such movies include The Wizard of Oz, Casablanca, Citizen Kane, and many, many others.

Although the soundtrack ended up slightly narrowing the visible frame, a hard-matte aperture of 1.37:1 became a standard in 1930. It is called the "Academy Ratio" because it was agreed upon by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Academy aspect ratio example


Cinemascope - 2.35:1 to 2.55:1


This was once the most commonly used method of filming movies because its only major requirement was a special CinemaScope projector lens. This lens was and still is available at many movie theatres. CinemaScope was originally created by 20th Century Fox, but it is no longer in use in its original format.

The 2.55:1 ratio was pretty much dead by 1957 when the last holdout, Fox, adopted magoptical over mag-only prints. From that point until the early 1970s a standard of 2.35:1 was used; however, there is usually slight matting in theatres which results in a theatrical aspect ratio closer to 2.40:1. All of the Star Wars movies and even the 1997 animated version of Anastasia were filmed in CinemaScope, as were classics like The Robe and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

Academy aspect ratio example


Cinerama - 2.35:1 when transferred, 2.60:1 originally


This method of filming actually used three cameras, after which the three images were interlocked together. This created an extremely wide presentation of up to 2.60:1. However, any transfer to video would be from a 35mm anamorphic reduction print. Therefore, home video transfers have a 2.35:1 ratio. Several movies were filmed in Cinerama, including How the West Was Won, The Wonderful World of The Brothers Grimm, and Seven Wonders of the World.

Cinerama also required the screen onto which the image was projected to be deeply curved or else the resulting picture would suffer from severe distortions as a result of projecting at different angles. (This is the "trapezoid" effect that you get when a projector is not at an exact angle to the screen.) Therefore, it is not really possible to make a "widescreen" version of a Cinerama film suitable for viewing on a television unless some form of corrections are applied to eliminate the distortion.

Academy aspect ratio example


Hard Matte / Open Matte - 1.66:1 to 1.85:1


Both hard and soft matting involves filming a movie onto a 1.33:1 frame and matting the frame during post-production to get its intended aspect ratio. The main difference between the two is how the movie is processed for home viewing.

Most open matte films have the mattes removed when transfered to a "full frame" home video release. This can dramatically increase the potential for unexpected material such as boom mikes to appear in the home video version. In fact, some directors simply placed cardboard on the monitors to simulate the matted theatrical version. This would have made them unaware during filming if the boom mikes and so forth were actually on the frame because the cardboard was blocking that part out. (See the matted widescreen explanation page for examples of this.)

Hard matted films are "locked" to their aspect ratio and are subjected to the pan-and-scan process for the "full frame" home video release. This results in the loss of visual information on the sides of the frame. Movies such as Memphis Belle are hard matted.

Academy aspect ratio example


Panavision - 2.40:1 (anamorphic) / Various (flat)


The Panavision company is now the most successful maker and distributor of lenses and filming equipment. In the 1970s their Panavision lenses became the "standard" for widescreen and non-widescreen movies. Panavision still makes or sells the lenses for most of the major studio productions today, including lenses for films made with matting as opposed to true widescreen. These matted films are not necessarily 2.40:1, but are most likely 1.85:1.

Because Panavision now represents the manufacturer and distributor more than the filming process, it is not uncommon to see that many television shows are filmed with Panavision lenses. Therefore, it is important to note that "Filmed with Panavision cameras and lenses" does not automatically constitute a widescreen process.

Panavision aspect ratio example


Super 35 - Various


This process does not involve widescreen lenses, but rather it involves framing the picture to fit the ratio of the screen. The top and bottom of the frame are "matted" out and removed from the picture completely, resulting in a rectangular picture.

Super35 movies are filmed using flat lenses. Using an optical printer, the "interpositive" image is then contact-printed to produce an "internegative" anamorphic release print. As a result, an anamorphic image from a Super35 original tends to have a "gritty but sharp" look that is "harder" in a way than an anamorphic image, which has a "smooth" look.

Many movies made in Super35 are transferred to video with the top and bottom of the frame restored, so that you actually see more of the picture on video than you did in the theater. However, scenes which include special effects in them are almost always filmed hard-matted in the appropriate widescreen ratio and therefore must be subjected to the pan-and-scan process.


Super Panavision - 2.20:1


Super Panavision 70 was a 70mm version of the Panavision process meant to compete directly with the 70mm Todd-AO process. Super Panavision 70 has also been known as Panavision 70, Super Panavision, Panavision, and Panavision Super 70. With an anamorphic lens, SP70 movies could have a final aspect ratio of 2.76:1. Famous movies that were filmed in Super Panavision 70 are My Fair Lady, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

Panavision aspect ratio example


Technirama - 2.20:1 (70mm) / 2.35:1 (35mm)


This process was developed by the Technicolor Corporation, as a way to continue using its three-strip Technicolor cameras. It required both a specially developed camera to run the film sideways (like VistaVision) with a widescreen lens (like CinemaScope).

Technirama was shot with VistaVision cameras and an anamorphic lens squeezing the image by 25%. The entire 1.5:1 image area was then either optically unsqueezed to 70mm yielding a 2.21:1 aspect ratio, or given an additional squeeze to 35mm 2.35:1 4-perforated (four sprocket holes per frame) Panavision. For purposes of video transfer only an A/R of 2.35:1 would apply since there was never a 65/70mm negative involved in the process.

Panavision aspect ratio example


Todd-AO - 2.20:1 (during filming) / 2.35:1 (final 35mm print)


This process uses a 65mm negative printed onto 70mm film, with a six-track soundtrack, producing a very high quality picture. The original filming was done in an aspect ratio of 2.2:1; however, during the printing to 70mm film, the aspect ratio ended up being closer to a 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The original Todd-AO format also was shot at 30 frames per second, as opposed to the current standard of 24 frames per second.

Many of the great epics and musicals of the 50s and 60s used this format.

Panavision aspect ratio example


Ultra Panavision 70 - 2.76:1 (65/70mm) / 2.35:1 (35mm)


Ultra Panavision 70, created by MGM, was created to compensate a shortcoming with the original CinemaScope format called "CinemaScope mumps" where close-up images in the center of the screen did not get compressed properly. UP70 used anamorphic lenses and a consistent frame rate of 24 frames per second, which was not yet a standard among the various film formats. This was done with a camera that MGM called the "MGM Camera 65".

UP70 was used to film some of the most popular movies in movie history, like Ben Hur, Mutiny on the Bounty, and It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.

Panavision aspect ratio example


VistaVision - 1.66:1 / 1.85:1 / 2.0:1


This system was more flexible than others, allowing for more aspect ratios. But Paramount's specs always referenced a preferred A/R of 1.85:1. All VV prints were hard matted to around 1.66:1 to allow some flexibility in framing.

VistaVision movies were filmed with a specially designed camera that was mounted on its side. This special filming method required a special projector, but its image quality was better than standard 35mm.

Movies that are shot in VistaVision were photographed on a double-width frame of 35mm running right to left horizontally. The films were generally "reduction printed" to 35mm 4-perforated (four sprocket holes per frame) in dye-transfer Technicolor and projected with a 1.85:1 ratio. The image area was extracted optically from the full frame. For some special venues the double-frame 35mm film was cropped to 1.85:1 during projection. VistaVision movies include Vertigo, North By Northwest, and White Christmas.



The information here has been compiled from various sources. In some cases the information on all of the web sites (and e-mails) were not the same. For any aspect ratio that had differing explanations or dimensions, the most commonly mentioned information was used. Many thanks to Martin Hart of The American Widescreen Museum and numerous e-mails from film makers and film students for providing a lot of this information as well as corrections to previous errors.