Cinematography Archives - Blog
In more and more prestige TV series, an odd aspect ratio is popping up on some of the most popular and well-reviewed shows.
The 2.00:1 aspect ratio has stealthily wormed its way into our viewing experiences without any of us knowing it.
Here’s how and why it was created.
Technically, the first use of the 2.00:1 aspect ratio was in the RKO SUPERSCOPE format for the 1954 production of VERA CRUZ.
In 1998, DP Vittorio Storaro proposed UNIVISIUM as a new film format with an aspect ratio of 2 to 1. He felt that the rise of electronic screens (TV, computer, portable…) needed a new format that could enhance and future-proof the visuals across all viewing platforms and situations. Vittorio has shot his last 10 feature films in the 2:1 ratio including his latest film Cafe Society for Woody Allen. Vittorio has even reframed several of his most famous films (Apocalypse Now, Reds, The Last Emperor) and released them in new DVD and Blu Ray editions.
In 2013 the 2.00:1 ratio also known as the 2:1 or even 18:9 aspect ratio became a very common format on TV.
It falls right in-between the common 16:9 and classic widescreen aspect ratio.
Here’s the recent chronological history of 8 popular TV shows that use this aspect ratio:
House of Cards (2013)
Marco Polo (2014)
The Crown (2016)
Stranger Things (2016)
A Series of Unfortunate Events (2017)
Fargo (Season 3 – 2017)
The Handmaid’s Tale (2017)
There has been a resurgence of the 2:1 aspect ratio in the feature film world as well.
It turns out that this aspect ratio is a logical middle ground between the 2.35 and 1.78 ratios.
Even the new Samsung S8 and the LG G6 smartphones have embraced the 2:1 aspect ratio in the consumer device market.
Some of the most recent feature films also utilize this aspect ratio including:
THE GIRL WITH THE ALL THE GIFTS
20TH CENTURY WOMEN
THE BOOK OF HENRY
In one of my most popular posts…I documented every aspect ratio in the history of film.
With so many options for the framing of TV and feature films and no industry standard anymore…the visual parameters belongs to the content creator and we can choose our own frame.
I will be adding a video to this page to dig deeper into the history of the 2:1 aspect ratio so check back soon…
Until next time…
A Split Focus Diopter is a half convex piece of glass that attaches to the front of a camera’s main lens to make half the lens nearsighted. This lens can focus on a plane in the background and on a foreground element at the same time. To effectively apply this cinematographer’s tool a filmmaker has to plan out each shot so that both the foreground and background elements will be in focus.
The Spilt Focus Diopter creates a hyper-real visual effect that logically shouldn’t happen but somehow it magically delivers a striking and visceral image that resonates in the mind of the viewer.
SPLIT DIOPTER shots are most often attributed to Brian De Palma but director Robert Wise incorporated them into many of his films as a visual style and storytelling device, often using them more than 100 times in one film.
His split diopter shots became an integral part of the story and not just a stand-alone visual trick. In THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN, Robert Wise used 206 split diopter shots…the most in any feature film I’ve researched.
Robert Wise edited Citizen Kane. That alone is most impressive. He then went on to direct: The Day the Earth Stood Still, Run Silent Run Deep, West Side Story, The Haunting, The Sound of Music, Star Trek: The Motion Picture and 35 other feature films. On THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN, Wise teamed up again with DP Richard H. Kline, one his favorite cinematographers. They went on to film Star Trek: The Motion Picture in 1979 which had over 100 split diopter shots as well.
The 6th Street Bridge was built in 1932 by architect Merrill Butler and is currently the longest bridge (3500 feet) in Los Angeles. On January 27, 2016 it closed down and will be demolished in the upcoming weeks. The concrete has become unstable and for safety’s sake it must be rebuilt. The 6th Street Bridge has been an iconic staple in Los Angeles motion picture history and has been used in hundreds of productions.
The last chance for the public to cross the bridge occurred January 26th.
I had the pleasure of shooting a film on the bridge in 2010 and the visuals and angles of downtown Los Angeles make it evident why so many filmmakers have shot this location.
No more films will be shot on the historic bridge. We only have the imagery of films such as: Terminator 2, To Live and Die in L.A., The Mask, Drive, Point Blank, Grease and hundreds of others to remind us of this beautiful bridge.
Enjoy this video with my favorite films to feature the 6th Street Bridge.
Until next time…
Enjoy the experimental film 6 shot exclusively on and under the 6th Street Bridge before it was torn down.
This beautifully executed shot from Tinker Tailor Solider Spy by DP Hoyte van Hoytema was filmed with a 2000mm lens. This massive telephoto lens compresses the foreground and background so they appear to be very close together. The mile long runway allows the approaching plane to act as the agent of impending doom as a critical secret is revealed in the plot. The 2000mm lens keeps the actors and the plane at relatively the same size and adds incredible tension to the scene.
I don’t know exactly which lens was used…but here’s a Nikon 2000mm f11 lens from 1970 as an example.
It is 2 feet long and weights 39 pounds. This one sold for $32,777 on eBay.
Creating tension and dramatic moments in filmmaking can be accomplished in many different ways. Lens choice and cinematography are the tools used in this specific example. The take-away is to put some extra forethought into your own choices before you shoot…so on the day you can confidently create impactful shots, story points and dramatic moments.
Until next time…
The average film has around 1250 individual shots. Action films and Blockbusters often have more than 3000 individual shots. This can be attributed to the ongoing trend of Chaos Cinema and the tendency to create false pace and momentum by simply cutting so frequently that it constantly bombards the viewer with new shots and information. This can become overwhelming and it creates a disconnected and jumbled viewing experience that assaults the audience. The frenetic pace exists but the audience can become exhausted as the eye and brain try to make sense of the imagery.
My most popular post of 2015 was MAD MAX: CENTER FRAMED which explained the cinematography and editing techniques used in MAD MAX: FURY ROAD. Even though it had roughly 3000 individual shots, the action and story is comprehensible and digestible while still viscerally effective. Fast editing and ASLs (Average Shot Length) of around 2 seconds does not have to be a visual debris tornado that hammers the viewer. Properly planned shots and diligent editing can result in an energetic AND quickly paced film that tells a coherent story.
To make this point even more evident…I have compiled 5 films that average 2 seconds per shot and average 3000 shots per film. They are being played back in their entirety at 12X speed. The resulting video is 10 minutes long. Only one of these films remains comprehensible at this speed. You don’t have to watch the whole video…feel free to scroll through and view different sections and compare the films. You will see that the painstaking craftsmanship of MAD MAX: FURY ROAD survives the massive speed up.
Enjoy the video:
This bird’s eye view at high speed is something I often use as an editor to help judge the pacing and visual variety of my own work. By pushing the boundary of human information intake, it helps me spot trends, patterns and gives me an overall feeling of the visual mosaic I am creating at that moment. By speeding up the footage I can literally see WHERE in the frame the energy and emphasis exists and I use that information to my advantage.
Congratulations to editor Margaret Sixel on her 2016 Oscar nomination for Best Film Editing!
Until next time…
Sunsets in movies are often cinematic moments that can also signal some kind of change about to occur. When used as a storytelling device, they become more than just beautiful shots. They can become iconic moments. When combining character, story and visuals…the beauty and grandeur of a daily natural phenomenon enhances the narrative and makes the viewer FEEL the moment. Here are 4 cinematic sunsets that had a profound effect on me:
Film Editor Margaret Sixel was given over 480 hours of footage to create MAD MAX: FURY ROAD. The final edit ran 120 minutes and consisted of 2700 individual shots. That’s 2700 consecutive decisions that must flow smoothly and immerse the viewer. 2700 decisions that must guide and reveal the story in a clear and concise manner. One bad cut can ruin a moment, a scene or the whole film. No pressure!
The most popular editing tendency for action scenes and films over the last 10 years has been the “Chaos Cinema” approach. A barrage of non-congruent and seemingly random shots that overwhelm the viewer with a false sense of kinetic energy and power. It can be effective in smaller doses, but exhausting and confusing when absorbed for 2 hours. If the story is incomprehensible due to editing…you are doing it wrong. So how do you keep action scenes energetic and fresh without shaky cameras and hypersonic editing? Read more…
Sometimes the composition of a static frame can overwhelm you. The power of a carefully crafted image can be staggering.The Polish film IDA was just nominated for the Best Cinematography Oscar by The Academy.
90% of the film is shot on a locked off tripod. With so many tools (dollies, sliders, cranes, drones, steadicams, Movis…) available to filmmakers, it is refreshing to experience a movie that chose so many exquisite and deliberate static frames to best tell the story.
Each new shot reveals something about the lead character. Emotions, state of mind and the story’s drama are expressed by the use of camera placement and lighting…not by spoken words. Do yourself a favor and track down this stunning film to experience the power of the static camera.
Here are 52 of my favorite shots from IDA (click image to enlarge)
Shot on Arri ALEXA in 1.33:1 aspect ratio with Zeiss Ultra Primes. In post production, the color footage was converted to black and white with Nucoda.
IDA recalls for me, the classic cinema of the 1940’s, evoking visual elements of both film noir and Italian Neo-realism.
3 minutes of IDA
DP Ryszard Lenczewski took 3000 photographs to previz and storyboard the film.
Lighting diagram of kitchen scene
Learn more about the cinematography of IDA from the DPs
SOURCE: LENSCULTURE article written by Alexander Strecker
“Ida: Sketches” – photos by Ryszard Lenczewski
Until next time…
John Carpenter’s THE THING is one of my favorite movies. The story, characters, score, location and practical visual effects are some of the most memorable in film history. In this classic horror film, there are several scenes that just DESTROYED me and left me cinematically scarred as a child. One scene in particular was so spectacular that just by saying ‘Chest-Teeth” or “Spider-Head” leaves people shaking their heads in disbelief and sighing loudly. The character of Palmer in the film sums it up nicely with…”You gotta be fuckin’ kidding.”
The visuals of both the desolate Antarctic and the ever-morphing alien creatures in THE THING were envisioned long before the movie was shot. Extensive storyboards were drawn by artist Michael Ploog and Mentor Huebner so that all the departments of the production were on the same page in their preparation for the shoot. This is nothing new…but the similarity between the storyboards and the final imagery shot by legendary DP Dean Cundey is staggering. Storyboards are often only a guide, but in this film they were so specifically rendered that they became gospel. The detail and artistry of Ploog’s work up front, allowed the crew to have clear and defined goals on those frigid shooting days in both Alaska and Canada. Read more…