# Flash tutorial: Take 2 (Review time!)

Discussion in 'Archived Threads 2001-2004' started by Ryan Wright, Nov 14, 2001.

1. ### Ryan Wright Screenwriter

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Allright, I've got most of the text down that I'm going to be putting into my new tutorial. I want you folks to review it for me and tell me if anything is misleading, inaccurate, etc. Let's work this together to get the most accurate description possible before I implement it.
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Aspect ratios
Webster's dictionary defines "aspect ratio" as "the width-to-height ratio of a film or television image." A normal television set has an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, also commonly called 4:3. That is, the width is 1.33 (or 4) units wide for every 1 (or 3) units tall. A TV that is 20" wide, for example, will be 15" tall. Widescreen television sets, on the other hand, have an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, or 16:9. A widescreen set 48" wide would be 27" tall.
But what about movie theaters? They do not have a fixed aspect ratio, per se. While most theater screens are roughly 2.35:1, they use curtains to change the aspect ratio of their screen as seen by the audience. Depending on the ratio of the film being shown, the curtains will open or close enough to match the ratio of the screen to that of the film.
Most television shows have an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, the same size as your TV. This is why they fit perfectly on your screen, although more and more shows are using wider ratios. Films, on the other hand, have various aspect ratios ranging from 1.33:1 to 2.76:1 with the vast majority using one of two ratios: 1.85:1 or 2.35:1. There is no hard rule here, however, and directors are free to use any aspect ratio they wish.
When a film or television broadcast is at a wider aspect ratio than the device it's being displayed on, you will see black bars above and below the content. The size of these bars varies depending on the differences between the screen's ratio and the film's ratio, but aside from 1.33:1 television broadcasts and movie theaters with adjustable screens, the aspect ratio of the content rarely matches the screen. As you can see, even widescreen television sets will display black bars with many films, although the size of the bars will be significantly smaller than they would be when viewing the same film on a standard (4:3) set.
[ main menu ] - [ replay ] - [ next section: pan & scan ]
Pan & scan
This may come as a surprise: The movies you may be used to watching are not properly presented on your TV. They have been altered in order to fill your screen up, and carry a notice informing you of this alteration. (This film has been modified from it's original version. It has been formatted to fit your screen.) Unfortunately, most of us are completely unaware of the extent of the alteration. This tutorial will attempt to explain it to you.
A properly presented film - that is, one that has not been altered - looks something like this. If this looks odd to you, it's because you have been watching improperly presented movies in your home. It just so happens that the large majority of VHS videos have been modified to be shown in this improper manner. In a properly presented film such as the one shown here, the black bars above and below the action are perfectly normal. Nothing is "cut off"; in fact, there isn't any film there to begin with. This proper presentation of a film is often referred to as OAR, or Original Aspect Ratio.
So how did all of these VHS movies end up being shown improperly? When movies were originally released on home video, consumers wanted their screens filled up. However, if you tried to fit a movie with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 into a standard TV's ratio of 1.33:1, it would be incredibly distorted. Quite simply, the only way to make it fit and keep the dimensions accurate is to modify it. Therefore, a process called "pan & scan" was developed.
Pan & scan starts by eliminating large portions of the film, typically 33% to 50% depending on the film's aspect ratio. What's left of the image is then enlarged to fit a standard 4:3 television set. This artificial enlargement decreases the quality of the film, so the end result is a film that isn't complete and has a poor picture. Now, pan & scan doesn't always cut-out the same part of the picture. It "pans" and "scans" the image left and right to keep the action centered on your screen. For instance, if three characters are speaking to one another, a widescreen (or OAR/Original Aspect Ratio) film may show all three characters simultaneously throughout the scene. Pan & Scan will show only two at a time, switching back and forth between which two are displayed depending on where the conversation is centered. This takes place throughout the entire film.
The large majority of VHS videos are released in pan & scan format. I feel the problems with pan & scan are too major to simply ignore. When I watch a film, I want to see it in it's full glory - the same way I saw it in the theater. I don't want to watch a cut-up, low quality version just for the sake of filling the screen. Thankfully, the DVD format addresses these concerns. This is why the vast majority of DVD releases are in widescreen. Unfortunately, some DVDs are still being released as pan & scan titles, so you must be careful which version you buy. You can usually find out whether a title is widescreen by looking at the back of the case. Pan & scan movies are often labeled "full screen", whereas movies presented in their Original Aspect Ratio will say "widescreen", "letterboxed" or "anamorphic".
[ main menu ] - [ replay ] - [ next section: letterboxing & anamorphic ]
Letterboxing & Anamorphic
Widescreen movies released for home use are either letterboxed or anamorphic. The differences between the two are as follows:
Letterboxed films are preserved in their original aspect ratio by means of adding black bars to the top and bottom of the film. Your TV expects a specific image resolution and will not display properly if it does not get that resolution, so the film is padded by adding black bars of the appropriate thickness to give the TV the signal it needs. This letterboxing process allows you to watch the full movie on your 4:3 television set.
Watching a letterboxed film on a widescreen TV, however, would normally result in bars appearing on the left and right sides of the image in addition to the black bars above and below it. Thankfully, widescreen TVs will stretch the letterboxed image both vertically and horizontally to fill the screen and remove the side bars. However, if your film has an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 or greater, the black bars above and below the image will still be present on your widescreen TV due to the wider ratio of the film.
The only problem with stretching the letterboxed image like this is that it decreases quality. Any time you stretch or enlarge an image, you're going to lose resolution, and thus quality suffers. Enter anamorphic DVDs. The anamorphic process places a larger image on the disc that has been compressed horizontally. This results in more lines of resolution being used to store the image, and less being wasted to the storing of black bars. The problem, of course, is that the image is distorted - you wouldn't want to watch it like this. Therefore, upon playback your DVD player stretches the image horizontally, restoring the appropriate dimensions. Since this image has only been stretched once (horizontally only, instead of both vertically and horizontally as in letterboxed movies), the loss of quality is halved. This results in an image that looks significantly better than it would have had it been letterboxed.
Of course, this only works with widescreen TVs. Anamorphic discs will play just fine on a standard 4:3 TV set, but you won't see the benefits of the anamorphic process unless your TV has a 16:9 squeeze mode. This squeeze mode compresses the image of your 4:3 TV set to fit in the center of the screen, effectively giving you a 16:9 widescreen set. If your TV has a squeeze mode, you can watch anamorphic discs in all their glory.
[ main menu ] - [ replay ] - [ next section: progressive scanning ]
Progressive scanning
A typical television signal is interlaced. That is, the electron gun scans the screen twice to produce an image. On the first pass, it fills in every other line of resolution (odd lines). Then, it takes a second pass and fills in the missing information (even lines). This happens very quickly, so your eyes don't see it, but it's there nonetheless. The benefits to an interlaced signal are reduced hardware (television set) costs to reproduce it and reduced bandwidth in transmitting the signal.
Progressive scanning, or non-interlaced video, is a feature incorporate into specific progressive scan capable DVD players. Progressive scanning fills in every line of resolution in a single pass, reducing flicker and improving picture resolution and overall quality. Computer monitors have been non-interlaced for years now, however, regular television sets still are not capable of this. Therefore, a high definition TV is required to use progressive scanning. (Most progressive scanning DVD players have two outputs - one interlaced for regular TVs, and one non-interlaced for HDTVs.) If you have or are buying a high definition TV set, a progressive scanning DVD player and appropriate component (not composite) cable connection is highly recommended.
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-Ryan (http://www.ryanwright.com )
Before you criticize someone, walk a mile in their shoes.
That way, when you do criticize them, you'll be a mile away and you'll have their shoes.

2. ### WoodyH Stunt Coordinator

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Overall - and while I must admit I'm nowhere near the expert that many other people on this board are - excellent work! One minor quibble...
(regarding Letterbox & Anamorphic)

3. ### Joshua Clinard Screenwriter

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Wow. That is a great tutorial. I think a lot of us HTF'rs could learn from it. But to the average movie watcher, I think it will be to long, and confusing. Maybe you should condense it. Even skip the process about anamorphic. Just a tutorial about pan & scan and letterbox should be all that is needed. If you want to make a seperate one for anamorphic widescreen, that would be good. We don't want to go over the heads of people. Definately do mention Open Matte, though.

4. ### cafink Producer

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On the whole, it's pretty much the best description I've ever seen. Excellent job! I have only minor quibbles with the section on anamorphic widescreen.

5. ### Greg_S_H Executive Producer

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Does anyone think it might be helpful to point out that most movies before 195x are supposed to be full screen? I know some OAR converts get a little overzealous. "I won't buy Casablanca if it isn't in widescreen!"

6. ### cafink Producer

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Good point.

7. ### Ryan Wright Screenwriter

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Thank you for your replies. It is obvious that I need to include a better explanation of both 4:3 and 16:9 sets in the anamorphic process. Here's a new copy; let me know if you find any errors with it.
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The only problem with stretching the letterboxed image like this is that it decreases quality - although it's still many times better than watching pan & scan. Any time you stretch or enlarge an image quality suffers. Enter anamorphic DVDs. The anamorphic process places a larger image on the disc that has been compressed, or squished, horizontally. This results in more lines of resolution being used to store the image, and less being wasted to the storing of black bars. The problem, of course, is that the image is distorted - you wouldn't want to watch it like this. Therefore, upon playback the image is restored to it's original dimensions, as follows:
If you have a 4:3 set, your DVD player will compress the image vertically.
If you have a 16:9 widescreen set, the image is sent to the TV in it's compressed format. The TV then stretches it horizontally. Since the image has only been stretched once (horizontally only, instead of both vertically and horizontally), the loss of quality is halved, and the picture looks significantly better.
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8. ### MikeSerrano Second Unit

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One suggestion in regard to clarity/readability:

9. ### SteveK Supporting Actor

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It is probably a minor point, but I wonder about the statement "When movies were originally released on home video, consumers wanted their screens filled up." It might be more accurate to say that studios ASSUMED that consumers wanted their screens filled up. Again, it's probably a minor point, but I don't think that the decision to Pan & Scan videotapes was based on an informed and accurate understanding of the consumer's desires; it was merely based on an assumption of what the consumer would want.
If only studios had the courage to insist on releasing VHS in the correct format, we wouldn't now be facing the issue with DVD. The public would have understood by now that almost all modern movies are "widescreen" and thus will have the black bars if they are properly presented. Instead, studios ASSUMED that the public would want their televisions filled, so we're still dealing with the effects of that (perhaps mistaken?) assumption.
Also, I agree that the tutorial should focus only on the pan & scan issue. Other issues can be discussed in a second tutorial, "Advanced Topics". That way, you can put more detail about the P&S in that tutorial, and more detail about other topics in the second tutorial.
Hopefully your final product will get lots of attention. It certainly is deserving of it. Great job!
Steve K.

10. ### Scott H Supporting Actor

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quote: But what about movie theaters? They do not have a fixed aspect ratio, per se. While most theater screens are roughly 2.35:1, they use curtains to change the aspect ratio of their screen as seen by the audience. Depending on the ratio of the film being shown, the curtains will open or close enough to match the ratio of the screen to that of the film.[/quote]
To be precise, as I outlined before, U.S. movie theaters project 35mm at 2.39:1. Also 1.85; 1.66; and 1.37:1.
quote: Most television shows have an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, the same size as your TV.[/quote]
I might suggest changing the wording here to indicate that most television shows have in the past had an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, but many current shows have an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. This is a bit complicated, because a lot of stuff is specifically being shot composing for 1.33 and 1.78:1 simultaneously and aired at 1.33:1 now and will air at 1.78:1 in the future - many sitcoms are done this way right now. But the point here is to indicate that television is changing. In L.A. The West Wing and Enterprise and many other network shows are broadcast over the air at 1.78:1.
In general, you may imply that a 16:9 television set represents an upcoming broadcast standard, and currently offers a compromise between the aspect ratios of feature films and of historical television.
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My DVD Library
Runaway production? No thanks. Where I've filmed, benefiting local economies: AL, CA, ID, IL, IN, IA, KS, MN, MO, MT, NV, OH, OR, TX, WA, WY.
[Edited last by Scott H on November 15, 2001 at 04:58 PM]

11. ### Ryan Wright Screenwriter

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12. ### Scott H Supporting Actor

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quote: -> But what about movie theaters? They do not have a fixed aspect ratio, per se. While most theater screens project at 2.39:1[/quote]
Perhaps:
"While most theaters present films with 1.85:1 or 2.39:1 aspect ratios."
-or-
"While most theater screens exhibit films with 1.85:1 or 2.39:1 aspect ratios."
-or-
"While most theaters project up to 2.39:1."
Or similar. I offer this suggestion only because I don't know if stating that most theaters project at 2.39:1 is true, as most may project at 1.85:1. And because screens don't project
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My DVD Library
Runaway production? No thanks. Where I've filmed, benefiting local economies: AL, CA, ID, IL, IN, IA, KS, MN, MO, MT, NV, OH, OR, TX, WA, WY.
[Edited last by Scott H on November 15, 2001 at 06:38 PM]

13. ### Nick Pudar Agent

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Ryan,
I can't begin to tell you how great a job you are doing with your tutorial. My comments are about a subtle point. In the section that discusses Pan & Scan, you use the phrase "movies... not properly presented". In a subtle way, this phrase has an "edgy attitude" that is in contrast with the very informative tone of the tutorial. A more fact-based statement would say, "The movies you may be used to watching have not been showing you the entire image." -- and then continue to elaborate. Likewise the term "improper" is used later in a similar manner.
I know this sounds nit-picky, but you should not have the tutorial take a positon that Pan & Scan is bad (even though it really is evil), but rather present the facts about OAR, and let the student come to the obvious and correct conclusion.
Excellent work!!!
Nick

14. ### Henry Carmona Screenwriter

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I agree with Nick. I did too sence a slight, "Pan & Scan sucks" attitude , which is good. However, you can still get the point across by addressing the differencs in a another manner.
I loved the tutorial and it seems like it took some time to do.
Id love to see other examples presented as well.
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"Charlie don't surf."

15. ### Patrick McCart Lead Actor

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You need to explain about Academy Ratio (1.33:1) films and open matte films.
Great overall, but it's important to explain about the Academy frame and faked, open matte, widescreen.

16. ### Jesse Leonard Second Unit

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You are doing a great job but I am a little concerned about the level of detail you are going into. Who is this tutorial for? Is it for a first year film student? No. It is for someone who doesn't understand why there are black bars on his DVD's. I just feel that if you start providing too much detailed information, their eyes are going to roll into the backs of their heads and they will total miss the meaning.
Just my 2 cents.

17. ### Graeme Clark Cinematographer

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Well, as he said, it will be broken up into different sections. Would be best if there was a basic overview of correct presentation, and then if they want to get more in depth they can at any time when they're ready.
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18. ### Ryan Wright Screenwriter

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On the other hand, one could say that the statement is perfectly true and people need to know that they've been getting screwed on home video all their lives. I don't think many will take offense: In this forum, we pride ourselves on our ability to present movies as accurately as possible and often take offense when someone tells us we're doing something wrong. The average consumer doesn't feel this way. They aren't presenting the movie, rather, it's being presented to them. So instead of thinking, "This guy is accusing me of watching movies the wrong way!", they're going to say, "Hey, the studios aren't presenting my movie the way it should be!"
Quite frankly, pan & scan movies are NOT properly presented. If a projectionist continually placed cardboard on the left & right sides of the projector to make it fit the theater's screen rather than opening the curtains, he'd be fired. If there was a such thing as a "projectionist's handbook", it would have lists of "proper" and "improper" ways to present a film. Covering parts of the film would certainly be filed under the "improper" heading.
That said, I agree with your point and am going to change the text not so much to reflect a neutral stance, but to push the concept of a Home Theater: "Just like a movie theater in your living room." Joe Six Pack might not give a rip about seeing the whole movie, but if we make widescreen out to be something "cool", he will watch it and brag to his friends: "This is JUST like a real movie theater, right here on my TV!"
Here's the new text of the pan & scan section. Let me know what you all think.
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Pan & scan
Have you noticed that you enjoy films in a theater more than you do at home? There are a variety of reasons for this: The huge screen. The surround sound. The crowd. Even the simple concept of leaving the house adds to your enjoyment of the film. However, there is another major, yet mostly unknown reason why films shown in theaters make more of an impact than the same film would if viewed at home. This tutorial will explain what that reason is and how you can remedy it to provide a more realistic theater experience right in your own home.
This may come as a surprise: The movies you are used to watching at home are not the same movies you see in the theater. They have been altered in order to fill your screen, and carry a notice informing you of this alteration. (This film has been modified from it's original version. It has been formatted to fit your screen.) Unfortunately, most of us are completely unaware as to what this notice really means.
Most films released since the 1950s have a wider aspect ratio than your television. An unaltered film - the same one shown in your local theater - looks something like this when viewed on a regular TV set. If this looks odd to you, it's probably because you are used to watching movies on VHS. It just so happens that the large majority of movies released on VHS have been modified to fit your screen, so they are not the same version of the film you would see in an actual theater. In an unaltered film, such as the one shown here, the black bars above and below the action are perfectly normal. Nothing is "cut off"; in fact, there isn't any film there to begin with. This presentation of a film is referred to as OAR, or Original Aspect Ratio, and is commonly called "widescreen". It is the only way to see the same version you saw in theaters - almost like having a miniature movie theater right there in your living room.
So how did all of these VHS movies end up being changed? When movies were originally released on home video, it was assumed that consumers wanted their screens filled up. However, if you tried to fit a movie with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 into a standard TV's ratio of 1.33:1, it would be incredibly distorted. Quite simply, the only way to make it fit without distorting the picture is to modify it. Therefore, a process called "pan & scan" was developed.
Pan & scan starts by eliminating large portions of the film, typically 33% to 50% depending on the film's aspect ratio. What's left of the image is then enlarged to fit a standard 4:3 television set. This artificial enlargement decreases the quality of the film, so the end result is a film that isn't complete and has a poor picture. Now, pan & scan doesn't always cut out the same part of the picture. It "pans" and "scans" the image left and right to keep the action centered on your screen. For instance, if three characters are speaking to one another, a widescreen (or OAR/Original Aspect Ratio) film may show all three characters simultaneously throughout the scene. Pan & Scan will show only two at a time, switching back and forth between which two are displayed depending on where the conversation is centered. This takes place throughout the entire film.
The large majority of VHS videos are released in pan & scan format. It is easy to see why home movies aren't quite as great as the same movie was in the theater. Thankfully, the DVD format addresses this concern. This is why most DVD releases are in widescreen format - the same format you see in theaters. Unfortunately, some DVDs are still being released as pan & scan titles, so you must be careful which version you buy. You can find out whether a title is widescreen by looking at the back of the case. Pan & scan movies are often labeled "full screen", whereas movies presented in their Original Aspect Ratio will say "widescreen", "letterboxed" or "anamorphic". If you stick to buying or renting widescreen titles, you will more accurately recreate the movie theater experience in your home.
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-Ryan (http://www.ryanwright.com )
Before you criticize someone, walk a mile in their shoes.
That way, when you do criticize them, you'll be a mile away and you'll have their shoes.

19. ### Scott H Supporting Actor

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