Paul Stephen Carlin delves into 35mm film framing and aspect ratio, with the idea that "Once you understand the history of 35mm's evolution, you have a good foundation for learning about the future."
I have been bluffing for most of my career. (Please don't tell any of my employers!) When I got my first big break as a linear on-line editor in 1995, I was asked, "Do you know how to use the CMX Omni?" I bluffed. While I had seen many great things at NAB in Las Vegas, I can't say I had much experience using them.
What I did have was the thirst for knowledge, the motivation and the confidence to pull it off. I quickly adapted, applied all of my previous experience to my new job, and soon became very proficient. I remember thinking at the time, "Hey, this isn't so hard after all."
Applying my knowledge of the fundamentals combined with a bit of hit-the-ground learning proved to be invaluable at the time, and has kept me going to this day.
Recently I had the privilege to finish the 3D trailers for "Avatar." Did I have extensive knowledge of a stereoscopic digital intermediate workflow? Had I completed numerous 2K trailers before? No, and no. But I did my homework and hit the ground running -- and never looked back.
The key to success is to never stop learning. Life is about growing and learning -- only to realize you know nothing at all. Many of us tend to focus on one particular aspect of the industry. We become specialists in what we know. I have found that having knowledge of the inner workings of other parts of the industry proves to be invaluable, no matter what I'm working on.
In this article, I want to cover the basics of 35mm film framing and aspect ratios, and some of the differences between the acquisition and distribution film formats.
Why should you learn about 35mm film, when it is clearly on its way to oblivion? Because everything we use today is based on something we did yesterday. Once you understand the history of 35mm's evolution, you have a good foundation for learning about the future.
Ever since George Eastman mass-produced the first flexible transparent motion picture film stock in 1889, and Thomas Edison standardized the 35mm format in 1892, not much has changed in the world of film stock. There were others with ideas about frame sizes and aspect ratios, but the first round of format wars for motion picture film ended in 1909 with the standardization of a 35mm gauge (width), with 4 perforations per frame along both edges and a 1.33:1 aspect ratio.
A 1.33:1 (spoken as "one point three three to one," or simply "one three three") aspect ratio means that one side of the image is 1.33 times longer than the other. This same screen aspect ratio was later adopted by television, known there as 4:3 (four by three).
So how did we go from this to where we are today, with our 16:9 televisions and widescreen movies?