Letterbox or not letterbox, that is the question.

MjlnerVFXMjlnerVFX Website User Posts: 184
What do you guys think? letterbox (widescreen effect) or not? 

Comments

  • AxelWilkinsonAxelWilkinson Staff Administrator, Imerge Beta Tester, HitFilm Beta Tester Posts: 5,242 Staff
    I think the question should be widescreen or not, and it depends on the specific project. Letterboxing only exists to fit a movie into a screen that is a different shape than the actual film.  It has no advantage on the internet, as it would only be relevant when watching a movie full screen, in which case it would be applied automatically.
    If you think your project should be created in Widescreen, then do it that way, and keep it that way.  These days widescreen videos should be handled automatically by virtually any screen you put them on, so adding letterboxing is totally unnecessary.
  • MjlnerVFXMjlnerVFX Website User Posts: 184
    I think a lot of people dont know this. I think most people dont know its for making the film fit the screen, and not just a cinematic effect. 
  • AxelWilkinsonAxelWilkinson Staff Administrator, Imerge Beta Tester, HitFilm Beta Tester Posts: 5,242 Staff
    Yeah, some people probably don't.  But letterboxing has never be used in cinema*.  Letterboxing refers specifically to adding black bars to the top and bottom of the footage.  In a cinema, the film will come in whatever widescreen format the director decided to use, and that shape will be displayed onto the screen in the theater.  There will never be black bars added, there will just be unused screen above and below the frame.  In the days of videocassettes, the image had to have specific pixel dimensions to display on a television set, so if you wanted to maintain the original aspect of a widescreen movie, you had to add black bars onto the footage to fit its original shape into the shape of the TV screen without distortion.  The other option was to use Pan-and-scan, and chop the sides of the image off.  This method converts the film to full screen by removing large portions of every frame.
    These days, players of all sorts are smart enough to interpret the correct shape of a widescreen film, and adapt accordingly, so adding the black bars manually is largely unnecessary. 
    *exceptions might be films such as Brother Bear, which change aspect ratio partway through the film.
  • StormyKnightStormyKnight Moderator, Website User, Ambassador, Imerge Beta Tester, HitFilm Beta Tester Posts: 2,726 Ambassador
    edited May 2013
    I saw a discussion on Turner Classic Movies about how "Lawrence of Arabia" was letterboxed for TV airing. At first they were going to do the panning thing so you could see an entire shot, but when they tried it, it took away from the overall effect the director had thoughtfully planned out. In one scene there's a guy in the foreground and an expanse of desert around him. The guy is set to the right side of the screen so that in the distance on the left you could see someone approaching from the horizon on a camel. They decided to use letterboxing so they would not have to pan one or the other out of the shot.
    I'll put up with letterboxed (?) movies if it means being able to see an entire scene at once rather than panning to cover both sides.
    Since getting a camera that has widescreen capability I am more than happy to say goodbye to the ol' letterbox effect.
  • SimonKJonesSimonKJones Moderator Website User, HitFilm Beta Tester Posts: 4,450 Enthusiast
    edited May 2013
    The Dark Knight has black bars that come and go, due to the occasional switch to IMAX. Again, though, this isn't a case of them randomly 'adding black bars' to the original footage, it's about them maintaining the original aspect ratio within the confines of a 16:9 television screen.
    I'm not a fan of artificial letterboxing, myself. We did it on Extraction Protocol and I rather wish we hadn't - ultimately it just results in lost pixels without much in the way of dramatic gain.
    Edit: Yeah, that is a good example, Stormy. Pan&Scan was an is a horrible, horrible technique. It introduces new, artificial, flat camera moves, destroying the original intent of the cinematographer.
  • PhilWessonPhilWesson Website User Posts: 241 Enthusiast
    Actually, for once I totally disagree with you, axel. Consider composition for a moment. If you're using standard dimensions, and you're composing. Shot using the rule of thirds as a guide, you see what we all often see. However, lets say that you artificially letterbox a piece that you're working on (that you filmed with the intention of letter boxing later). Using the confines of the screen with the letterbox affect applied, and then taking the rule of thirds into account, you may come up with more interesting shots, since you're working with more horizontal area.

    In that case, I absolutely think that (for web), it serves a purpose.
  • AxelWilkinsonAxelWilkinson Staff Administrator, Imerge Beta Tester, HitFilm Beta Tester Posts: 5,242 Staff
    edited May 2013
    Explain how adding black bars (Letterboxing) gives you any advantage or benefit over just cropping the shape of the frame into widescreen.  I'm all for widescreen, and have no problem with cropping the top and bottom off of your frame to change the aspect ratio.  Letterboxing refers specifically to adding black bars to the top and bottom of the frame, which are a permanent part of the video and are always visible.  If you see that as having an advantage, then please explain.
    I think what you are talking about is just as easily accomplished by just changing the aspect ratio in post, and there is no need for black bars to be present.  Suppose you have shot your footage in 1080p, which gives you a 16:9 frame. And suppose you want the final movie to have a 2.35:1 aspect.  There are two ways to approach that.   One is to create a new composition at a resolution of 1920 x 817, to give you the shape you want, and drop your video in.  Adjust the position of the video so that the ideal portion of the frame is visible.  When you Export that video, it will have a new shape, with a 2.35:1 aspect. You get nice widescreen footage, with no letterboxing required at all.  The second option is to keep your comp at 1920 x 1080, add your footage, then add black bars over the top and bottom to hide those areas, and render out a video maintaining the original 16:9 aspect, but with big black bars in it that are permanently part of the footage.  That is letterboxing.
  • StormyKnightStormyKnight Moderator, Website User, Ambassador, Imerge Beta Tester, HitFilm Beta Tester Posts: 2,726 Ambassador
    The Dark Knight has black bars that come and go, due to the occasional switch to IMAX. Again, though, this isn't a case of them randomly 'adding black bars' to the original footage, it's about them maintaining the original aspect ratio within the confines of a 16:9 television screen.
    I'm not a fan of artificial letterboxing, myself. We did it on Extraction Protocol and I rather wish we hadn't - ultimately it just results in lost pixels without much in the way of dramatic gain.
    Edit: Yeah, that is a good example, Stormy. Pan&Scan was an is a horrible, horrible technique. It introduces new, artificial, flat camera moves, destroying the original intent of the cinematographer.

     

    When I watched The Dark Knight I saw the black bars appear and disappear. I was wondering why it was done that way. Didn't consider the IMAX angle. Thanks for pointing that out. :) 
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