Overview of Aspect Ratio

November 13, 2016 Panorama Film, Production Practice 4

As we have decided to do the panorama film. Then the next question popup that which ratio we should use ? I start research about film ratio for the better understanding of  Panorama ratio.

The aspect ratio is the ratio of the width of the image to the height. It can be demonstrated as two numbers like 4×3 or 16×9 or as a decimal such as 1.85 and 2.35 – though these can be written as a ratio as in 2.35:1.

Before we talk about why panorama lets have a look at all video ratio we have and the changes of the ratio during past decades. Also an overview of aspect ratio.


The Kid (1921)


1.37 – ACADEMY RATIO (1932)

Casablanca (1942)


The following Aspect Ratios listed include the first film ever used in that format.


4.1 – POLYVISION (1927)


Napolean (1927)


2.77 – CINERAMA (1952)


This is Cinerama (1952)


2.55 – CINEMASCOPE (1953) 20th Century Fox


The Robe (1953)


2.00 – SUPERSCOPE (1954) RKO


Vera Cruz (1954)

1.85 – VISTAVISION (1954) Paramount


White Christmas (1954)


1.75 – METROSCOPE (1955) MGM


The Glass Slipper (1955)

2.20 – TODD AO (1955) Michael Todd


Oklahoma! (1955)

2.55 – CINEMASCOPE  (1956)


The King and I (1956)

2.35 – SUPERSCOPE (1956) RKO


Run for the Sun (1956)

2.35 – REGALSCOPE (1956) 20th Century Fox


The Black Whip (1956)


2.35 – TECHNIRAMA (1956)


Monte Carlo Story (1956)


2.35 – WARNERSCOPE (1958) Warner Brothers


The Naked and the Dead (1958)

2.76 – MGM CAMERA (1959) MGM


Ben Hur (1959)


2.20 – SUPER PANAVISION  (1959) Panavision


The Big Fisherman (1959)

2.20 – SUPER TECHNIRAMA (1959)


Sleeping Beauty (1959)

2.35 – NIKKATSU SCOPE (1959)


The Rambling Guitarist (1959)

2.00 – PANASCOPE (1961)


Fury At Smuggler’s Bay (1961)


2.75 – ULTRA PANAVISION  (1962) Panavision


Mutiny on the Bounty (1962)


2.35 – PANAVISON (1966) Panavision


The Sand Pebbles (1966)


2.20 – DIMENSION  (1966)


The Bible (1966)


1.43 – IMAX (1970)


Tiger Child (1970)


2.39 – THEATRICAL and BLU RAY (current)



Greatest Hits of Aspect ratio :

Original Silent Film ratio – 1.33:1

Academy Ratio – 1.375:1

Cinerama – 2.59

VistaVision – 1.85

CinemaScope – 2.35

MGM 65 – 2.75

Todd AO & Super Panavision – 2.20


Genesis of Motion Picture

Kinetoscope is the starting point all of this motion picture which is invented by Thomas Edison in 1888.


The Kinetoscope is an early motion picture exhibition device. The Kinetoscope was designed for films to be viewed by one individual at a time through a peephole viewer window at the top of the device. The Kinetoscope was not a movie projector, but introduced the basic approach that would become the standard for all cinematic projection before the advent of video, by creating the illusion of movement by conveying a strip of perforated film bearing sequential images over a light source with a high-speed shutter. – Wikipedia


William Kennedy Dickson is the person who assists Thomas Edison to make Kinetoscope. During this process, he set the ratio on 4:3/1.33 but till now there is no clear explanation anywhere that why he choice this ratio. Edison’s 4:3/1.33 ratio become the most popular ration for 2oth century film industry and stay remain in the industry without having any other ratio beside this. Since 1909 to 1929 it was the only ratio used by the film industry. After 20 years of maintaining new ratio invented known as “Academy Ratio” . Key motive of creating this ratio was to synchronized sound was added to film reels as a strip that had to be added next to the images. In the year of 1930 Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences declared that as a new standard ratio of the film industry and all film should use 1.37 ratio rather than 1.33


Birth of Wide Screen

Academy Ratio remains the standard of the film industry for 23 years until Cinerama hit the theater (This is Cinerama – Director : Merian C. Cooper) in 1952. Cinerama hit the industry at the crucial moment when film industry struggling to bring viewers towards the theater as Television capture more popularity and film losing their audience. This is Cinerama was the very first widescreen film. Cinerama is inspired by the Polyvision technique. They used three 35mm cameras to shoot 3 6-perf images side by side to create a combined 147-degree panoramic field of view. As a resulted it creates the ratio of 2.59 which is the most extreme wide for that time. But the main issue was that it was very expensive, as its required three cameras (means more films) also three projectors for screening on top of that curved screen. Simply its too expensive, and eventually Cinerama technology was only used to create 2 feature films, including 1962’s How The West Was Won. But interesting thing was that audience did like the widescreen film which was strongly noticed by other film studios and one of them is Paramount Films. 

Paramount release their first flat widescreen film (Shane – Director : George Stevens) on April 23rd, 1953  shooted using single camera which was more cost effective rather than Cinerama. After five months of the paramount film release, Twentieth Century-Fox introduced (The Robe – Director : Henry Koster) CinemaScope to the film audience on 16 September 1953 through New York’s Roxy theater. Twentieth Century Fox uses Anamorphic lens for the very first time in order to achieve CinemaScope ratio 2.35:1.


The process of anamorphosing optics was developed by Henri Chrétien during World War I to provide a wide angle viewer for military tanks. After the war, the technology was first used in a cinematic context in the short film Construire un Feu. Anamorphic widescreen was not used again for cinematography until 1952 when Twentieth Century-Fox bought the rights to the technique to create its CinemaScope widescreen technique. – Wikpedia


Wide Screen War

By the time CinemaScope made revolutionary changes in the film industry, within 4 years almost 90% of American screens, and over 50% of worldwide screens had installed it. The scope had become a new “standard”, replacing the old academy ratio of 1.33:1 with a new one of 2.35;1. Paramount  developed VistaVision without any delay in response to CinemaScope. Vistavision was the first film-shooting technique to turn film strip sideways (because that way each image could be wider) and record 8 perforation images at 1.85 aspect ratio. The first VistaVision film was “White Christmas” Directed by Michael Curtiz (1954), but the most famous are “The Ten Commandments” Directed by Cecil B. DeMille (1956) and many of Alfred Hitchcock’s films, including To Catch a Thief (1955), Vertigo (1958), and North By Northwest (1959). This is how the widescreen war began. After that lots of film, studios invented more ratios. The most common thing about all of these studio is that they created their own widescreen format and all of these formats were based on using larger image areas, from 55 to 65 mm wide, as well as wider aspect ratios.


In the end of the 1960 “Widescreen war” were full in swing. Many techniques hit the theater like Superscope, Cinemiracle, Nikkatsu, Technirama, and Vistarama. Among all of this techniques, there was another popular format was Todd AO which is invented by Mike Todd at American Optical Company. Todd AO was a 70mm format that used a 2.20 aspect ratio. Oklahoma Directed by Fred Zinnemann  (1955) is the first film using Todd AO format.


Modern Ratio

Aspect ratios kept changing during last decades, but more and more changes happen because of taste rather than technology. It is better that  filmmakers today have plenty of options at their disposal, but the most common ratios for modern films are 1.85:1 and 2.39:1/2.35:1


According to SMPTE most  of the cinematographer and directors prefer to use anamorphic lenses to shoot your films. Though many studio and producer think that using anamorphic lenses is more expensive to use and its required big film set for that.

Cinematographer Van Oostrum (ASC) recounted a similar experience when he and a director he was working with failed to convince a production executive that he would not have to invest in building 50 percent larger sets if they framed a film in anamorphic format.

When the audience laughed, he said, “It’s actually not funny. It is both sad and unfortunate that the industry doesn’t do a better job of educating people who are making these decisions without really understanding the possibilities of modern technology.” – SMPTE Meeting Report 12 Nov 2002


Movies that change their aspect ratio midway/ New Use of Aspect Ratio

Of course, plenty of filmmakers loves to play with aspect ratio. I mention few movies that change their ratio midway also the reason why they change ratio:

Oz: The Great And The Powerful: Film director Sam Raimi give us a better example in Oz: The Great And The Powerful, changing aspect ratio mid-shot – from 4:3 to 2.35:1. (See trailer below first 40 seconds). The movie began the ratio 4:3 and when the protagonist of the movie enter to a new world its change the ratio to 2.35:1.

The Grand Budapest Hotel: In this film, Wes Anderson used three different aspect ratio in order to tell the story in different time period. For the scenes of the 1980s the aspect ratio used is 1.85:1 then again travels back to time to the 1960s where the aspect ratio is 2.40:1 finally the mid part of the film took place in the 1930s which is presented in 1.3:1 ratio. Aspect ratio is selected by the ratio that could have been used for that time period.



LIFE OF PI: Director Ang Lee gives us out of the box experience through Life of Pi when the fish are literally jumping out of the frame. Ang Lee also use four types of aspect ratio 1.33 : 1 (some scenes) 1.85 : 1 , 2.00 : 1 (some scenes) 2.35 : 1 (one scene). (See the clip below from 40-50 seconds)

There are lots of films out there in our film industry nowadays. But the question is why they use different aspect ratio?


Why Aspect ratio changes over the time?

After the Academy of Motion picture and Science Merian C. Cooper is the first person of the film industry who changes the aspect ratio (2.77) for the very first time and introduced “This is Cinerama (1952)” to the audience. Later on, many film studios present more than 20 aspect ratio and the no is still growing up. I identify some of the key reasons why aspect ratio changes and still changing:


Sound: When sound sticks to the film in 1929 and optically printed on the film itself as a strip and ran along with the film that time there was a slight shift in the aspect ratio. In 1932 Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences decided to take the vote and after this voting process declare that the image of the filsoundm should be masked off in the top and bottom in order to make space for the soundtrack. And this is the image size we known as Academy Ratio which is 1.37. This is the ratio lead the industry for 23 years.


Visualization (Story Telling): This is Cinerama was the biggest hit for that time period as well as revolutionary. This is the moment when the widescreen war began. In other sense, this is the film which one pull back the audience again to cinema from TV. In the 1950s when tv become more popular and film losing their audience that moment Merian C. Cooper uses this new method to telling the story through widescreen.

Widescreen War: This is one of the key reason why we got many ratios, some of them are not in use even like DIMENSION 2.20. Between 1950 to 1960 there was more than 14+ ratio was invented by using different types of technique. Among of this technique anamorphic lens is still hugely popular till now. The anamorphic lens gives you CinemaScope aspect ratio which is 2.55. Scope was the word they all use to make your own ration like RegalScope, WarnerScope, NikkaScope and its all start with CinemaScope.


Reference :

What is Widescreen? About Aspect Ratio  – by Elizabeth

A Brief History of CINEMASCOPE – by George A. Flaxman

A Complete History of CinemaScope – by Film Historian David Bordwell

ALEXA Anamorphic De-squeeze. White Paper, July 7, 2011, Retrieved 2014-06-21.

Future of widescreen format (Society of Motion Picture & Television Engineers Meeting Report 12 Nov 2002) –  by Bob Fisher


A Short History of Aspect Ratio – Australian Screen

Panoramic photography


The changing shape of the Cinema: The history of Aspect Ratio

Cinematography of  The Grand Budapest Hotel

Instructions for movie theater – The Grand Budapest Hotel

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