Newbie question about open matte

Discussion in 'Archived Threads 2001-2004' started by Mike Broadman, Oct 24, 2001.

  1. Mike Broadman

    Mike Broadman Producer

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    Hey all, I have a question about open matte: What is open matte? I've seen this term thrown around in the discussions about P&S, and people seem to think it is a "bad" thing.
     
  2. Jerry Gracia

    Jerry Gracia Supporting Actor

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  3. Michael Reuben

    Michael Reuben Studio Mogul

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    Here's a general outline:
    A 35mm frame of film (minus the area reserved for soundtrack) has an AR of roughly 1.37:1 (if my numbers are off, ScottH will correct me! [​IMG]).
    Most films intended to be shown at 1.85:1 are shot by exposing the 1.37:1 frame, including "extra" image at top and bottom. When the film is projected in theaters, the projectionist is supposed to matte the image at top and bottom to achieve the desired theatrical AR.
    For home video versions presented at 1.33:1, those mattes aren't applied (hence the term "open matte") and almost all of exposed frame is used, including areas not meant to be seen in the theater.
    Among the reasons why this is a problem:
    1. It interferes with the intended visual composition of the film.
    2. The extra space at top and bottom often has things that shouldn't be seen (boom mikes, cables, underwear on an actor whose character is supposed to be nude, as in A Fish Called Wanda). Sometimes this stuff just gets through, and sometimes the person doing the transfer will zoom in, tilt up or down, or otherwise adjust the shot to conceal the unwanted material -- so you're back to P&S.
    3. Special effects shots are almost always filmed in the theatrical AR. They still have to be panned and scanned. With CG effects becoming more and more common, this is a major issue.
    More detailed discussion can be found here.
    M.
    [Edited last by Michael Reuben on October 24, 2001 at 11:08 AM]
     
  4. Inspector Hammer!

    Inspector Hammer! Executive Producer

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    Yes, as Michael pointed out, composition is key. If you really want to see the ill effects of open matte, go rent the old mid eighties vhs release of 'Pee Wee's Big Adventure', that should turn you off to open matte forever.
    Their are numerous instances in that film where you can see very odd things that you would not see if the film were matted to it's proper 1.85:1. Here's a breakdown of the shots i'm reffering to...
    In the scene where Pee Wee pulls his bike up to the clown in front of the shopping mall, he starts to pull a rather long chain out of his saddlebag, in the open matte version you can actually see the chain being fed up through a false bottom of the bag!
    In the scene where he, and the convict Micky are driving at night, they begin to pass various strange road signs with crazy markings on them, in the incorrect open matte version, you can clearly see that the signs are on tracks being pulled past the camera, giving the illusion that the car is moving.
    Couple what I mentioned above, with open matte destroying composition, it's pretty easy to see why we hate it so much.
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    [Edited last by John Williamson on October 24, 2001 at 12:31 PM]
     
  5. Eugene Hsieh

    Eugene Hsieh Supporting Actor

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  6. Inspector Hammer!

    Inspector Hammer! Executive Producer

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    Eugene, I would like to post screen grabs, but I don't have the proper equipment, but perhaps someone else could.
    Jerry Check your e-mail!
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  7. Mike Broadman

    Mike Broadman Producer

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    Ok, I think I get it. So basically, when filming the movie, they film more than they want vertically in order to get the correct ratio onto the film. Then, when they put it on video, they have to cover that stuff up.
    I'm just not clear on one thing, though. Why is this issue so closely intertwined with widescreen / P&S? It seems to me like you can have an OAR presentation that is open matte (so it would be like a projectionist not applying the matting in a theater) and you can have matted P&S, unless I'm missing something.
    Another point is, matting seems like something that is relatively easy to do. I mean, you just black out some of the top and bottom, right? Then why would anyone ever use open matting, if there is absolutely no advantage to it, and it requires little effort?
    At least with P&S, they do it partly because some customers may complain about widescreen (please don't turn this into another "We hate P&S thread." I just stated a fact, not an opinion.) But I don't imagine anybody complaining about not having their movies be open matted. I didn't even know this issue existed until a couple of days ago.
     
  8. Inspector Hammer!

    Inspector Hammer! Executive Producer

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    As was stated, matted widescreen is used to achieve a desired composition. Things and people are framed in the 1.85:1 area only, the top and bottom is extranious information only used for the open matte home video release to fill the 4x3 screen. Matted widescreen DOES have a purpose.
    Let me give you an example of compositon, lets say you have a whole bunch of your family and friends bunch together so you can take a photograph of them, now, before you depress the shutter and take the photo, you COMPOSE, you make sure that you get the emphesis on the people and desired things in the picture, and leave out unwanted things like say, a parked car off to the side, or an unwanted tree limb hanging in the frame. When your happy with everything in the frame, and you have everything you want showing in the viewfinder, you finally snap the photo.
    This is composition.
    Directors and cinematographers do the same thing, only on a much bigger scale, they're dealing with moving images, and they have to compose carefully for this. They have to know before the filming process even begins what they want in a shot, and what they don't want in a shot, that's one of the reasons for storyboards, it gives the director a very rough sense of how, and where things and people will look on the film, so they go through tremeandous care to make sure they capture, in the 1.85:1 area, or in the case of Super 35, in the 2.35:1 area, only what they need to achieve a desired look and feel of a shot. Open matte destroys all of the above.
    That why it's so important to us to preserve this, without exception.
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    [Edited last by John Williamson on October 24, 2001 at 01:35 PM]
     
  9. Andy_S

    Andy_S Second Unit

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    Another downside to showing movies open-matte:
    Special effects. In Pee Wee's Big Adventure, there is a scene where Pee Wee is pulling a chain out of the basket on the front of his bike. The gag is that it's an extremely long chain. To achieve this effect they just had a basket on the bike that had no bottom and they'd feed the chain up through it. Well, whenever this movie is played on TV, they always show the open matte version which clearly shows the chain coming up through the bottom of the basket as Pee Wee is pulling on the chain, ruining the gag. This was meant to be hidden by matting.
    Another example is in Willy Wonka open-matte. When Varuca Salt turns into a big blueberry you can see the air hose that was used to "inflate" her running up her pant leg. This would have been hidden if properly matted.
    There are tons of other examples. Sometimes you'll see boom mic's or other equipment that you're not supposed to see or puppeteers heads or hands.
    Anyway, you get the point.
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  10. Graeme Clark

    Graeme Clark Cinematographer

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  11. Richard Kim

    Richard Kim Producer

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    Virtually all fullscreen versions of 1:85 films I've seen are cropped at the sides (determined after comparing them to the widescreen version). If they were actually shown "open matte" we would see revealing mistakes like boom mikes, dolly tracks, etc.
    My guess is that most filmmakers do not purposefully shoot for both the 1:85 and 1:33 ARs. There are a few exceptions, like Kubrick for example.
     
  12. Mike Broadman

    Mike Broadman Producer

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    John and Andy, I never said widescreen shouldn't be matted. I meant that it was technically possible, and therefore I cannot see the connection between the issues of matting and OAR, if there is one, or if they're just lumped together because they both hurt the final product.
    I'd like to keep opinion and diatribe out of this thread, as it would serve no purpose; we all know where we stand, and my goal is to learn the technical aspect of matting and how it applies to DVD releases.
    So, then all P&S and/or 4:3 releases open matted, since the top and bottom aren't visible anyway? Then matting isn't an issue with 4:3 releases. It leads me to conclude, then, that widescreen must logically be matted all the time to simulate what happens in a movie theater (which the director takes into account when filming). For P&S or 4:3 releases, it doesn't really matter.
     
  13. Michael Reuben

    Michael Reuben Studio Mogul

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    Again, it's not clear how you're using the terminology. If a film is shot soft-matte and transferred to video open matte, the OAR fans will complain, loudly. [​IMG] And if it's transferred in OAR, there are apparently customers (or maybe it's Blockbuster store managers) who also complain. IOW, someone is always complaining -- which is one of the few constants in the HT universe! [​IMG]
    M.
     
  14. Inspector Hammer!

    Inspector Hammer! Executive Producer

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    Mike, I think you may be over complicating the issue, everything you need to know about matted widescreen has been stated right here in this thread in the combined posts above. Matting and OAR are one and the same, once you've read and understand everything that has been said in this thread, they're really isn't anything left to learn on this issue. It's pretty cut and dry.
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  15. Mike Broadman

    Mike Broadman Producer

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    Ok, it looks like I completely screwed up the terminology, and I apologize for that. So let me back this truck up a little.
    I created this thread because I see this sort of thing written all the time: "We want DVDs in OAR, widescreen without open matting."
    I unerstand what the first two are.
    OAR: Original Aspect Ratio, as seen in its theatrical release, thus keeping to the standard that the purpose of home theater is to recreate the experience of a movie theater at home as accurately as possible, which, by definition, includes viewing a film in the same dimensions as its theatrical release.
    Widescreen: A catch-all term for displaying movies which have aspect ratios wider then that of a standard TV screen or monitor, usually involving letterboxing in some form or another (anamorphic, etc).
    It's the third thing I needed to get down.
    Ok, I'll try again: (thanks for the patience, btw)
    Now, a movie which uses a wider than 4:3 aspect ratio must record the picture on a close-to 4:3 piece of film. Of the various methods of accomplishing this, the most common one is to shoot a "full frame." The result, on film, is that more space is shot vertically than intended in order capture all of the horizontal space, like taking a few steps backward while taking a picture so that the guy all the way on the left can be seen. The picture will include space above everyone's head or some more of their legs, stuff you really don't care about. Same with the film. This process is called "soft matting," I guess because the director doesn't physically alter the film after the shot (which is hard matting).
    When the film is transferred to video, two options regarding mattings are available: opening the mattes. This keeps the result image the same as the one of film, and therefore as a TV screen. The other option is to close the mattes, creating the appearance of black bars across the top and bottom. This reverts the film back to the aspect ratio as originally planned by the director.
    Therefore, open matting destroys the OAR by adding extra stuff on the top and bottom that wasn't supposed to be there.
    Another approach to create "full screen" images is to pan and scan, which also ruins the OAR.
    So then I take it that the issues of open matted and P&S are not really related in a technical sense. Rather, they are just two different ways of doing the same thing: making the image the same size as a TV screen, which, by its very nature, destroys the OAR, since it wasn't filmed with those dimensions in the first place.
     
  16. Inspector Hammer!

    Inspector Hammer! Executive Producer

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    Mike, YES, you got!
    A little glossery of soft and hard matte...
    Soft Matte- This done by adding a black mask to the top and bottom of a 35mm film frame after filming is complete, but composing for the intended theatrical AR. The mattes can later be removed for home video presentaion if desired.
    Hard Matte- Unlike soft matte, the matting is done in-camera, so the black masks are put directly on the film. These cannot be removed for home video purposes, thus the film must be panned and scanned just like a film that was shot with anamorphic lenses.
    Just FYI.
    Mike, your on the right track.
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  17. Vince Maskeeper

    Vince Maskeeper Producer

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    Some other examples of bad open matting:
    If you read the "goofs" on IMDB for errors in the film REQUIEM FOR A DREAM, every single one of them is from the "open matte" VHS edition. None of the goofs listed are visible in the properly framed DVD version:
    Revealing mistakes: In the pullback shot of Harry when his arm is missing, you can see under the sheets the outline of his left arm pressed up against his body.
    Crew or equipment visible: In the shot of Harry and Tyrone walking past the Thunderbolt roller coaster with the television, toward the top of the screen you can see one of the "barn door" flaps of the camera.
    Revealing mistakes: When Big Tim is talking to Marion in Big Tim's bathroom, you can see a brown piece of cardboard taped over his genital area.
    Revealing mistakes: During the tracking shot, while Sara Goldfarb is cleaning her apartment (after the "Fall" title card), you can see a square hole in the ceiling of Sara's apartment above Sara's TV chair used to mount the camera for the overhead shots of Sara in her chair.
    All of these "errors" are from the open matte version. None of these were intended to be seen, it was extra area exposed on the negative intended to be discarded. When the video "open matte" transfer was prepared, the director/cinematographer's intended framing were disregarded, the frame was opened up- and things the audience was never supposed to see are shown.
    -Vince
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  18. Michael Reuben

    Michael Reuben Studio Mogul

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  19. William Ward

    William Ward Supporting Actor

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    Then there's the whole enhanced for 16/9 process of DVD which is lost if the only version studios put out is the open matte 4:3 ratio.
    Bottom line: Keep the films the way they were in the theater. IF the studios feel the need to alter it, do it after they released (or at the same time) the OAR version.
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  20. Scott H

    Scott H Supporting Actor

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    quote: Michael Reuben:
    ...an AR of roughly 1.37:1 (if my numbers are off, ScottH will correct me! [​IMG])[/quote]
    Naw, you said "roughly". That's protection! I put a little "c" for circa in front of ARs all the time, like "c1.33:1". I'm not that critical [​IMG].
    I often do the same with "c2.40:1" for the occassional 2.35/2.36/2.40/2.42:1 conundrum...
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