Framing - Ratios and Techniques


Hello... I was wondering if you could help me on a cinematography subject I
haven't been able to find anywhere online or in books. One time a friend
told me about a framing device used by many cinematographers in the past--I
believe she referred to it as the "golden section," or something like that.
In any case, it involved intricate blocking and framing of subjects that
would appear on-screen in such a way that the figures or objects would form
specific vertical and horizontal patterns. If you place pieces of tape on
the monitor at thirds across and down you can even see the lines and
parallels that are created. We put on the widescreen version of Vincente
Minnelli's "Some Came Running," and indeed, it fit flawlessly. It made for
an incredibly uniform and visually stunning film.

Can you tell me any more about this technique? Why and how is it done? Does
anyone still use it, and where else can I see it? Thanks so much!
Rich Thompson

This was such an interesting question I e-mailed it to some of the members
of the BSC and got 2 replies.

Remi Adefarasin: "I have never heard of forming horizontal or vertical lines with the golden section but merely to
use the rule to place key points in strong positions."

Barry Ackroyd:
"....simply put it is the frame that appeals to our natural sense of
Proportion: balanced and pleasing to our eye. That is to say that though the
Greeks defined the ratio in mathematics, it actually occurs in nature, in
the proportion of a horse, or a tree, or the shell of a snail or indeed in
the human form. When framing a shot I believe that anyone would
instinctively find the frame.  If there is such a device to help to create
this proportion then I can only imagine that it is something like the frame
used in "The Draftsman's Contract"... Curtis Clarke DoP would probably have
something to add to that."

My own thought is that many DP's work instinctively to this idea as Barry
says.  Like many things, Artists do things instinctively and Intellectuals
come along afterwards and turn the ideas into rules.  Then the artists get
fed up with the rules and go for a whole new idea that becomes the next set
of rules.  And so on.

I often have little scenes running through my head, I like to visualise how things look. I'm a fan of the "one shot" technique (not knowing the tech. term) where the camera stays on the action without cutting away. I've seen this done best in the Foo Fighters video "My Hero", and I'm wondering, how difficult would this be to achieve? ??--Daniel

I spent awhile trying to download "My Hero" from an obscure Russian website offering free videos. When it started bombarding my computer with naked women I had to give up! So I can?t comment on the particular shot you had in mind, but in general "one-shot videos" are hard to achieve and take a lot of planning. The problem is that if you are 2 minutes into a take and it falls apart, you have to throw it all away and start again as you can't rescue anything by cutting away. One shot means that the rhythm, dynamics and framing qualities of the shot have to nigh-on perfect to sustain the interest of the viewer.

When directors are framing a shot with their hands in front of their face, is there a rule of thumb how much you've got to stretch out your arms to match a certain focal length in the finished production -- like "fully stretched out hands equals 80mm, half distance equals a focal length of 35mm"? ??--Patrick

I'm not aware of any "method" for this, but no doubt this reply will invite a deluge of personal opinions as to how to go about it. As you go on shooting, you can judge reasonably accurately what focal length will achieve what field of view, whether or not you use your hands. You will see directors use that gesture a lot more than cinematographers..

If you really want to share the setting up of a shot with the director, then there is no substitute for a director's finder, which range from the small unobtrusive zoom-type finder, to the larger ones which you can put the actual lens you will use on it. I have recently started using a finder where one person can look directly through it, whilst the other can see the image on a small LCD screen on the side of the finder, and also a digi photo can be taken of this image, which can then be printed for reference. This method can be very useful in the setting up process.


Why does contemporary Hollywood Cinema rely so much on the use of close-ups, especially when compared to Hollywood films of the '30s and '40s???-Simon

This is all down to the influence of TV. Before TV the close-up was used rarely and often very well - think of those exquisite Garbo and Dietrich close-ups that still knock us out today. The close-up is a tool I try to use with discretion in movies I shoot. The close-up should be reserved for the moments when you really need them - otherwise they have no effect.
A great UK operator, Mike Roberts, used to draw the front row of the audience on the monitor when he got fed up with directors who kept yelling to be closer. It's really dumb how some directors stay glued to the monitor and expect to see what they want from the very low resolution picture. Mostly these people come from MTV and commercials and don't understand about the 30ft screen. I was watching Cleopatra with Elizabeth Taylor on TV the other day and in half an hour there was not one close up!
Another reason, which is a bit sad, is that the studios pay a lot of money for their Stars and they want to see them BIG. I had an exec come up to me at lunch time on the FIRST DAY of shooting of one movie and ask me if I was going to do more close-ups. I just smiled at him and said "Maybe".

I don't know why, but I've always felt that a widescreen presentation of a movie has look more professional than one that has been formatted to fit a 4:3 TV screen (full frame). I also know that there are a lot of terms that are closely related and are often confused. 16mm, Super 16, Anamorphic, 1.66:1, letterbox, 2.35:1, Super 35, and the list keeps going like that. Anyway..
Question 1:) In the case of 1.66:1, that means the relationship between the height and width of screen, correct?
Question 2.) If I'm shooting something on normal 16mm film, how can I get it to look like widescreen?
I think I just confused myself. Any help would be appreciated.

The "ratio" of the film is just as you stated: the proportion of the height to the width. Here is a summary:

4 x 3 "Academy" ratio: the old silent movie ratio which was translated to 4:3 for TV. Now being replaced (slowly) by 16:9. (For some reason the people who make these decisions (who ARE those people!) decided on yet another ration for modern TV sets.)
1:1.66 - the "European" cinema ratio which is slightly higher than
1.1.85 - the US cinema ratio
1:2.35 - this is the widest screen ratio, sometimes called "widescreen", "anamorphic" "techniscope" etc. These terms actually all mean something specific and have a specific history, and unfortunately DVD's have introduced there own meaning using words like "widescreen" and "anamorphic" is ways that have different meanings to how it is used in cinematography.

So you are right to be confused! However, from the perspective of shooting it is quite simple:

1. 16mm. The "normal" 16mm is 4x3 ratio. The "Super 16mm" is 16:9 ish (for TV) or near enough to 1.1.85 to make a "blow-up" for theatrical release.
2. 35mm. Normal is again 4x3. 1:1.66 and 1:1.85 is by not using the top and bottom of the frame. "super 35mm" uses (like 16mm) the sound track area for a wider picture pnm the negative. This cannot be projected in the cinema so it is put through an optical printer to make an anamorphic (squeezed) print for 1:2.35 projection. This print ratio can also be achieved by using anamorphic lenses on the camera.
3. 65mm. Large neg rarely used these days for 70mm projection or reduction printing to 35mm. Used quite a bit for detailed "plate" work.
4. IMAX. The largest neg, only viewable in an Imax theatre.

And that, folks, is a whole other story.

I'm heading into production on my first feature film and am wondering is it out of the norm to ask the DP to shoot in super 35mm and simply fill the entire super 35mm frame area (1.66:1), with the idea of planning for an eventual hard matte transfer of 1.66:1 for the release prints ... or is super 35mm reserved strictly for an anamorphic (2.35:1) transfer? I figure I'd be using the entire surface of the super 35mm frame this way and would have a bit more clarity than if I shot standard 35mm then hard-matted in camera at 1.66:1. Please let me know your thoughts.

Super 1.85:1 is becoming the new "normal" format as more and more films go through the DI (Digital Intermediate) process. This is for the reasons you outline above - what is the point of wasting all that space in the frame when the soundtrack area is not a consideration any longer.

I am shooting this format right now and did so on The Hoax also. In some ways I prefer it (1.85) to the widescreen (2.35) format as widescreen always gives so many compositional problems. Also I think 2.35 is better suited to be shot with Anamorphic lenses but sadly a lot of misguided producers think this makes the picture more expensive.

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