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Black borders for cinema screening
  • Hi, I've been selected by a film festival which needs a standard MPEG H.264 1286 x 720 HD (16:9 ratio) file for screening... however, my short film(shooted with the old sweet GH1) has a 4:3 ratio. In order to avoid any problem of stretching, compatibility etc, I am going to add BLACK BORDERS on both left and right side of my 4:3 video, so that I will have a 1286 x 720 HD with black will be ok for the cinema screening in your opinion?

  • 16 Replies sorted by
  • 4:3 letterboxed to 16:9 means you have black borders on top and bottom. Question is: why is your GH1 video 4:3 and not 16:9 already? Did you shoot in one of the non-HD formats? If so, your image quality is going to be relatively low (as seen on a cinema screen) than if you had shot it in Full HD. I would reformat your 4:3 movie to 16:9 by cropping the image and uprezzing to 720p. But if this process would adversely affect your film (as in important visual elements being cropped out) then I would request if they can screen it in the original 4:3 ratio.

  • Hi @htinla, I've shooted with GH1 in 4:3 VGA video mode that thanks to the hack become iPad "compatible MJPEG VGA video mode: 720p 30Mbps" not the best quality GH1 can shoot, I know, quality is pretty low...however, It can sound strange, but it works. I can assure that sometimes it is fine even for cinema screening (I've tested once, it has a nice 16mm look). It 's not only a matter of bitrate, often is a question of cinematography, lighting, etc, as you know.

    the setting is GH2/GH1: MJPEG 100Mbps Low Light 1080p Settings iPad "compatible MJPEG VGA video mode: 720p 30Mbps

    "Unlike the HD 16:9 aspect ratio of HD mode, VGA video mode records with an SD aspect ratio of 4:3. I've optimized VGA mode to produce 960x720 videos at consistent average bitrates of about 30Mbps. These videos are compatible with the maximum-quality download specifications of the Apple iPad, with its 1024x768 screen resolution."

    Despite of this consideration, the problem IS that I don't want to "letterbox" my 4:3 video to 16:9 cropping it on top and bottom, but simpling adding black bars on the left and right...once you are in a cinema , the black bar added in post should be "invisible" during the projection I think...the question is this!!! :)

  • Okay I see, so you're just going to conform your video to their requirement by making it wider with the pillars. Depending on the projectionist, they might just adjust the image so that the top and bottom touch the screen's edge (which is what you want). However, they also could try to fill the 16:9 screen completely by cropping and/or stretching your video (not what you want). Once again, I would clarify with the festival organizers if they're okay with screening it the way you plan. If it's ok'd, then I would make sure that the projectionist knows to project it with the pillar bars intact. Let them know that your movie is 4:3 (or the active area is 4:3 to be precise) all the way through.

  • I will contact them, indeed @htinla;) Ps. Pillarbox is frequently used in cinema projection? the black bars will be really "invisible" during the cinema screening? This is my only fear..

  • In my brief time as a cinema projectionist, I never screened a movie that was exclusively 4:3. Hence, I would say that pillarbox presentations are a rarity. Well, letterbox in cinema is rare too (if the movie is formatted properly, that is. We use curtains to mask the image, not black bars). I would guess that they would not set their curtains to a 4:3 ratio (simply because it doesn't look very cinematic). Black pillar bars will never be as dark as a curtain, but I wouldn't worry about them being a distraction unless your movie has lots of dark scenes - that's when the pillars sometimes don't provide enough contrast to the actual image.

  • Check with the festival for what formats they are accepting.

    A proper D-Cine projector only does 1.85 and 2.39 so as long as it's the correct ratio it will fit in 1.85, as only 2.39 is a different height, and they'll just move the masking. These days, not all cinemas have masking anymore however so it'll run visually pillarboxed if they can't mask.

    If they accept alternate content such as DVD or Bluray, burn it to one of those formats and they'll have it set up correctly to accept this. Especially as DVD is already 4:3. If it's a well respected festival running on proper D-Cine, get a DCP made. This is what everything should ship on unless its 35mm!

    Also, how on earth is 4:3, or 1.33 (1.37), not cinematic? It's Academy ratio!

  • @rrsduncan Let me clarify that statement: a modern audience expects to see a wide screen at the movies. A 4:3 ratio nowadays might seem odd, outdated, or even intolerable to some moviegoers. It's because of this preference for widescreen that movie screens, HDTV's, and many computer monitors are as wide as they are. Of course, 4:3 Academy ratio is cinematic, technically speaking. But for the average moviegoer nowadays, it's that old square format that televisions and really old movies use to have. By modern moviegoing standards, it's not considered cinematic.

  • @AlbertZ rrsduncan made a very good suggestion about making a DCP of your film. A DCP is the highest quality and most reliable format you can have your film shown from - it's the standard for digital cinema screening. With DCP, there is less of a chance that the projectionist will screw up the geometry of the image (in my experience, shows off of laptops and dvd or Bluray are easier to mess up when you are having to deal with a digital projector's upscaler combined with some of the inconsistent output that comes out of dvd players and different laptops - getting good color is another pain to deal with too). You can make your own DCP if you have a good computer with plenty of free storage (I recommend a 100 GB to start, but it varies) and maybe a free weekend using OpenDCP:

  • @AlbertZ the point is, understand that 2.39 is the only ratio with a different height. Resolution is remarkably unimportant (in terms of fitting the screen) only ratio is important. If they are playing it off a laptop and 720p projector (ugh but sounds like it) then you're fine, don't pad it at all, just conform to their standards and trust their scaler. 1.33 fits into all frames except scope and they'll know that, you're over thinking. Just leave it in its native resolution, its already correct so why change it?

    @Htinla Blancanieves and The Artist might throw a spanner in those works of being intolerable, not to mention Projectionists 'screwing up' :p

  • @AlbertZ For our edification, let us know how your screening goes.

  • Thanks guys! I will let know, indeed :) thanks for your great help, the next time I'll credit you in the end titles XD Here some further questions...

    @htinla "We use curtains to mask the image, not black bars" So I understand that the pillarbox/lettering, when is made by a projectionist is a "physical process", not black digital bars but there is a physical curtain which "mask" the light

    @htinla "Black pillar bars will never be as dark as a curtain, but I wouldn't worry about them being a distraction unless your movie has lots of dark scenes - that's when the pillars sometimes don't provide enough contrast to the actual image."

    This can be a problem...unfortunately my short films are often full of dark scenes, I fear that the black pillarbox could show a sort of disturbing "flicker" effect too once projected (the files will be converted in MP4 H.264, which creates a sort of "media" in terms of luminosity...)

    @rrsduncan "A proper D-Cine projector only does 1.85 and 2.39" These are bad times for Academy ratio shooters, guys, ahah! I love this format however, it let a different composition style..So I think I will send a Bluray or DCP copies in the future...

    Only one question...DVD and Blurays are only PAL/25 fps, but DCP copies can be 30 fps,is it?

    @rrsduncan "If they are playing it off a laptop and 720p projector (ugh but sounds like it) then you're fine, don't pad it at all, just conform to their standards and trust their scaler."

    These are formats available in the multiplex where the short film will be projected:


  • @AlbertZ

    The DCP only does those two because, as I said above, all formats; 1.85, 1.77, 1.66, 1.33 all fit into the same height, it's only their width that change. So the projector always projects a 2k image at 1.85 and you just mask off the sides for the different ratios. 2.39 is a different height, hence the different mode.

    In other words, a 1.33 DCP is still 2k it's just the 1.33 image that's used and the rest is pillarboxed. The projector does this itself. As such, yes there are contrast issues but honestly they are pretty minimal with the amount of light a normal D-Cine projector is outputting. I've run so many B&W 1.33 DPC's and they've only ever looked as good as a normal DCP. So in otherwords, when you make your DCP you don't actually need to change anything. In projection, everything should be it's native res and ratio. It's up to the technical staff and the scalers to do the rest. If you've played around with it, it's almost impossible to fix, but if it's just a setting at the projection end, it's easier to get everything correct.

    The interop standard is 24 and 30 (thankyou North America, it's not like the rest of the world has cinemas) but the SMPTE standard (which is pretty common, only really old servers can't handle it) is 24, 25, 30, 48, 50, 60 & 120.

    Blurays are also 23.98, 24, 25, 30 but I think that's it.

    Also, if they wan't a file, do not give it to them in MP4 H264, try as hard as you can to output it as ProRes 422, 444 or DNxHD, it's plays so much better than more compressed formats.

    I'm technical for a few larger festivals so I'm very biased in what to accept to make the festival run smoothly but I'm always happy to help people getting their image up on screen correctly. After all, that's really where it's supposed to be shown!

  • Pillars are used to make a format fit a screen that is wider than needed (like what you're doing). Letterbox is used to fit a format on a screen that is not as wide (i.e., 2.39:1 movie on a 16:9 screen). My comment about curtains needs more explaining: In a cinema, curtains are adjusted to make the screen's ratio match that of the movie. At home, because you're television is locked into 4:3 or 16:9, pillars and letterbox are necessary to show a movie in its intended ratio (as opposed to cropping or stretching the image to make it fit) - loosely speaking, they're like the curtains at a cinema. A movie shouldn't be letterboxed for theater exhibition, although a 4:3 movie like yours would need pillars (they're added electronically sometime in post-production, not by the projectionist). There's not much you can do about the pillars. Hopefully the projection is of good quality and keeps the pillars as black as possible throughout. Besides, if your movie is a good one, nobody will be paying attention to the pillars.

    Hehe, all this talk has me really curious about your film...where can I see it?

  • @rrsduncan Thanks! I hope to meet always festival technicals like you, diligent and helpful :)

    @htinla "if your movie is a good one, nobody will be paying attention to the pillars" It's my opinion too ;) I'll sent the link via private message :)

  • @rrsduncan @rrsduncan Ok, the screening was perfect, thanks again for your help! (and a thanks to Personal view :) The black pillarbox was so dark that I can't even notice it.
    Ps It was the only short movie shot on GHx body, and hacked 4:3 MJPEG ratio in 30Mbit/s (which is very low for us,Personal View-guys, but I haven't experienced bad quality in screening yesterday, instead I was surprised) . Most of the filmmakers have used a 5D (old hacking, not raw) but I was so disturbed by lot of shallow DOF everywhere, on the trees, on people, I feel so "myopic" XD The only drawback was 30fps: in silent shot the movements weren't dramatically soap-opera like, but the 30fps was more evident when sound is synchronous with an action (I thinks it should be a Gestalt-perception phenomena).

  • @AlbertZ Glad to hear it went well.

    I see 5D footage day in, day out and I'll no doubt get shot down but it was always a more powerful political tool than movie camera.

    It doesn't help it gets murdered in transfer to being shown at a cinema. So glad to help anyone with questions about dcine projection because it really to me, at least in those I read and and deal with, that's its somewhat forgotten as the natural final showing if your movie!