Aspect ratio is simply the width of an image divided by its height (i.e. width : height). The aspect ratio is completely up to the director. The filmmaker should decide the best ratio to display the film, whether it is 1.33:1 or 3:1. However, it does not hurt to know the common aspect ratios and when they are used.
4:3 or 1.33:1 – This is the standard American TV ratio, as well as the aspect ratio of most computer monitors. This was actually very close to the original Hollywood standard, but the advent of the television forced studios to make a wider aspect ratio for a more immersive picture and keep people in the theaters instead of their homes. Standard 16mm film still uses this old aspect ratio. Common square pixel dimensions for 4:3 ratios are 640×480 and 320×240. Note that pixels are not always square; 720×480 is often cited as 4:3 NTSC resolution, using non-square pixels. Brickfilms using this ratio include Bluntman’s works prior to Death Carries a Big Stick. A 4:3 image can be seen below.
16:9 or 1.78:1 – This is commonly referred to as widescreen. It is the format of American and Japanese HDTVs and European widescreen televisions. Since HDTV is growing in the US and is destined to become the new television standard, 16:9 is now coming standard on digital camcorders. The common dimension is 640×360. Many brickfilms use this ratio, such as Buxton’s Out of Time. See the Janitor’s Diplomacy III and Diplomacy III SE for the difference between 4:3 and 16:9. A 16:9 image can be seen below.
1.85:1 – This is the American theatrical standard. This is considered film widescreen, as it is the 35mm US and UK standard (1.78 is considered video widescreen). Obviously, this is slightly wider than widescreen, but on a widescreen television, the difference is not so obvious. For this reason, I don’t know if there are any brickfilms that use 1.85 instead of 1.78. Only a director could really tell you this. A 1.85:1 image can be seen below.
1.66:1 – This is the 35mm European standard. Essentially, it is the European version of 1.85, and this time it is slightly squarer than widescreen. There may be some brickfilms out there using this ratio, but I don’t know. A 1.66:1 image can be seen below.
2.35:1 – This is called Anamorphic Widescreen. Although 1.85 is called the American theatrical standard, there are just as many films that use 2.35 as 1.85. When in a theater, you can easily tell which aspect ratio the film uses by the configuration of the screen, and trailers that use a different aspect ratio will be shown with black bars on the sides or top and bottom. This was the anamorphic film standard prior to the 1970s, but today the standard is actually 2.39 (but still commonly referred to as 2.35). The common dimension would be 640×272 (for 2.35; 640×268 for 2.39). Titan Picture’s Martian Gothic trilogy and Cometgreen’s Cognizance are some of the few brickfilms that use 2.35. A 2.35:1 image can be seen below.
Once again, these are only the common aspect ratios. It is your choice what to use. Films have gone from 1.33 all the way to 4:1 (Abel Gance’s Napoleon).
A few factors to remember
-We all have two eyes placed side by side, which means that our vision is more rectangular than square. Because of this, it is believed that widescreen more accurately reflects a person’s range of vision and is more immersive for the viewer.
-Minifigures are much shorter and fatter than humans, so studying the composition of Hollywood films can sometimes be misleading. Some brickfilmers shoot for widescreen but realize that some of their shots are better with a squarer picture.
-Decide what aspect ratio you will use before starting your movie and do a few test shots, just to see the composition. For some brickfilmers this may not matter, but if you want to get a certain look or symbol across, you should make sure the minifigures and sets work well with the aspect ratio, or you may end up pulling/pushing the camera back/forth and completely altering your shot.
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