Tagged: tutorial

Aspect Ratio!

I’m about to begin story-boarding so I’m currently looking into what aspect ratio to use for my film. Although it seems like a it’s pretty small and inconsequential decision, it will impact how I compose and edit the shots and the overall look of the film. It’ll also be really hard to change even half-way through pre-production.

Everything I’ve previously worked on (except for a few old 4×3 projects) has been 1.78:1 (or 16×9). This is pretty much because 1.78:1 is the main standard for HDTV and web based videos these days, so it has almost become the default choice. However, there are some other aspect ratios that are worth looking into.

There have been many aspect ratios used throughout the history of cinema. Here’s a great video from FilmmakerIQ on the history of aspect ratios for those interested.

I’ve also found a great vimeo channel called Unsusual Aspect Ratios which highlights the diversity of aspect ratios people are using out there.

Most contemporary feature films use one of these three aspect ratios:
2.39:1 – ‘Scope’
1.85:1 – ‘Flat’ or ‘Theatrical Widescreen’
1.78:1 (16×9) – HDTV

Of course there are exceptions to this, such as Mommy (2014) by Xavier Dolan which is mostly uses a 1:1 square aspect ratio, or The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) which changes between 1.37:1, 1.85:1 and 2.35:1. These rare aspect ratios are interesting but I’m mostly interested in using the 2.39:1 ‘scope’ and 1.85:1 ‘flat’ aspect ratios. There are several pros and cons to both which has made it pretty difficult for me to decide on which I want to go with.

2.39:1 ‘Scope’ aspect ratio (sometimes referred to as 2.35:1) gives a wide field of view which is great for panoramic shots, landscape shots and tight close-ups. The wide frame can lend your cinematography theatricality and gravity.

The cons of 2.39:1 lay in distribution. Depending on your digital distributor, your film may be required to be ‘pan and scanned’ (cropped) down to 16×9. This is unacceptable as it will ruin the framing of your shots completely. Thankfully this seems to be getting less common as digital distributors are happier letterboxing the film to fit 16×9 screens.

Many of my favourite live-action films such as Kwaidan (1964), Kuroneko (1968), The Sword of Doom (1966), the Lone Wolf and Cub series (1972), The Devils (1971), Onibaba (1964), Dogtooth (2009), the Female Convict Scorpion trilogy (1972) and Old Boy (2003) have been shot in 2.39:1 scope ratio.

OctoberTheDevils4The Devils (1971) ~2.39:1

maxresdefaultWe Are The Strange (2007) ~2.39:1

kuroneko 2Kuroneko (1968) ~2.39:1

1.85:1 ‘flat’ is wide yet not excessive. It’s the middle ground of theatrical aspect ratios. It is also close to 1.78:1 so on 16×9 screens the letter boxing is minimal or optionally (but in-advisably) you can cut a little off the sides to fit the frame.

Many great films such as A Clockwork Orange (1971), Fitzcarraldo (1982) and The Birds (1963) were shot in 1.85:1; as well as many great animations such as Ghost in the Shell (1995), Akira (1988), Angel’s Egg (1985), Princess Mononoke (1997), Waltz With Bashir (2008).

g1Ghost In The Shell (1995) ~1.85:1

a-clockwork-orange (1)A Clockwork Orange (1971) ~1.85:1

angels-eggAngel’s Egg (1985) ~1.85:1

One of my initial hesitations for using 2.39:1 is that until pretty recently there just isn’t that much animation done in that aspect ratio. Some early Toei animations such as Magic Boy (1959), as well as the more recent Evangelion 3.0 (2012) used 2.39:1, however nearly all theatrical anime has, and continues to use 1.85:1 ‘flat’.

With the exception of a couple of 2.39:1 Disney animations such as Brother Bear (2000) and Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001), the majority of Disney films were shot in their preffered aspect ratio of 1.66:1.

Another rare example of 2.39:1 aspect ratios being used in animation is M Dot Strange’s feature films We Are The Strange (2008), Heart String Marionette (2012) and I Am Nightmare (2014) which all use the 2.39:1 aspect ratio.

Many of my favourite western and independent animations had extremely tight budgets, so they tend to be a mix of 1.37:1, 1.66:1, or 1.85:1, such as Fantastic Planet (1.66:1), Midori (1.37:1), Hair High (1.66:1) and Alice (1.37:1).

Let’s look at the DCP frame sizes.
. Flat (1998×1080 or 3996×2160), ~1.85:1 aspect ratio
. Scope (2048 x 1080 or 4096×1716), ~2.39:1 aspect ratio
. HDTV (1920×1080 or 3840×2160), ~1.78:1 (16×9) aspect ratio

The majority of my audience will access my film through VOD or from downloading it, which means the film will most likely be watched on TVs or computer monitors; the majority of  which have an aspect ratio of 16×9. This means that if I went with 2.39:1 for my film, most people will see the film letter-boxed. Letter-boxing isn’t such a big deal for me (I actually kind of like it), so I’m not going to let that influence me.

What could influence me is if a distributor makes me crop the finished film to 16×9. That would be the worst possible scenario for a 2.39:1 film. While it’s worth considering hypothetical situations and problems that may come down the line, it isn’t enough to sway me. It also seems to be coming less frequent as network bandwidth’s improve across the globe.

I’m instantly drawn to the 2.39 scope ratio. But is it the right choice for my animation?

To help me decide I made some 1.85:1 and 2.39:1 (or 2.35… whatever!) viewers from cardboard and duct tape so I could frame some shots and find what feels better to me.

aspect ratio viewers
I framed multiple shots of various types to get a feel for the frame ratios. I looked at framing human figures, objects and landscapes in Extreme Close-ups, Very Close-ups, Close-ups, Medium Close-ups, Mid Shots, 3/4 Shots, Long Shots and Extreme Long-shots and in a wide variety of angles.

aspect ratio viewer 1 aspect ratio viewer 2Sketch by Jared Brown

The shot framing tests pretty much just confirmed what I already thought.

1.85:1 is a solid aspect ratio. It excels at framing MCU’s, CU’s, MS’s and 3/4 Shots. Framing long shots or ECU’s with it is ok, but it has less room to create interesting compositions. I feel that this aspect ratio would be great for framing scenes inter-personal conflict and intimate subject matter.

2.39:1 was good at framing at CU’s, MCU’s, MS’s and 3/4 shots but it was a little harder to frame them effectively due to it’s width. This aspect ratio was excellent at ECU’s, LS’s, ELS’s, panoramic and scenic shots. The 2.39:1 aspect ratio will be great for impressive scenic shots, grand, intense or epic subject matter as well as dynamic compositions.

Ultimately (as you may have guessed), it really just comes down to taste. What kind of film do I want to make? What kind of actions will be occurring on screen? What kind of cinematography will suite the style and content? What am I most comfortable using?

After thinking about this for some time and swaying back and forth multiple times I’ve decided to go with 2.39:1. The wide frame gives heaps of room to create dynamic and expressive shot compositions. I also feel that the wide frame will suite my film better, as the subject matter is intense and will contain a fair amount of large set pieces and spectacle.

Maybe I overthought this, but as it’s something that will be hard to change once I’ve begun, I thought I should really try to figure out what I wanted. I hope this helps any other filmmakers or animators out there trying to decide which aspect ratio they want to go with. If you have any questions hit me up.

-Hamish .S

People Will Try To Discourage You – Especially Other Animators Pt. 2

Continuing from Part 1.

You’ll likely face derision, disapproval, opposition or even disbelief when you tell people you plan to create a feature animation by yourself. I guess a key question to ask yourself when facing this kind of response is, “Why is this their response? What is going on with them to form these opinions?”.

There are many reason that the regular person might disapprove of you or what you’re doing. Perhaps they don’t value the arts, or maybe they’re a family member who thinks your time is better spent becoming a breeder or earning money for your family. There are many many reasons why someone who doesn’t have similar values may disapprove and you’ll learn pretty quickly to ignore or reject these opinions as they don’t really have firm basis. They can’t know really know anything about your goals/ambitions, what you really want to achieve or how you want to live your life. As you’ve probably already found out the best bet is to ignore them, live your life how you want to and do it for yourself.

Disapproval from regular people is understandable as it’s expected and could be from a long list of reasons, but why would another animator or ‘creative’ try and dissuade you from trying your hardest and fulfilling your dreams as a filmmaker? One reason is that not all animators or ‘creatives’ are the same, or have even remotely the same values. To be an ‘animator’ you need to animate, that is all. It’s a term that covers from people who work for a company whose sole job making hair move in commercials, to people who want to craft their own films and stories with synthetic moving image. I use animation to create films and narratives that resonate with me, another animator might be perfectly content working as a cog in a studio system modelling rocks. We both do very different things even if we use similar tools. You shouldn’t expect other animators to really understand just because they’re an animator. Perhaps something I should consider is not labeling myself as an animator, even though I do animate. Perhaps filmmaker would be a better description of me even though I am a fan and addict of good animation.

Another thing that will really help you on your journey as a filmmaker is to take advice with a grain of salt unless the person giving it is where you want to be. After all how could your brother know the first thing achieving your goals as a filmmaker if he never did? How could a friend know the best way to become a great filmmaker if all they’ve ever done is motion-graphics for advertising? The only answer is that they can’t really know and their advice is likely more harm than good. Perhaps they are genuinely trying to help you or perhaps they are subconsciously trying to sabotage you, their intentions don’t matter either way if the advice they give comes from a bad source. I’m not saying you should dismiss all advice altogether unless it comes from your favorite filmmaker, but be hypercritical of it if it’s from someone who probably doesn’t know what they’re talking about.

You’ll have to take a lot of shit from people if you follow your dreams, especially if your goals are ambitious or push boundaries. That’s ok! You can’t appease these people and you wouldn’t want to. One thing I find really useful is to channel people’s challenges, doubts and disapproval of me into motivation. If someone says “I don’t think your film will be any good. One person can’t do all that!”, I’ll use it to feed the fire in my belly and think “Just you wait motherfucker! I’m going to make a great film!” and it’ll allow me to work even harder. Don’t let the haters make you doubt yourself, and don’t let people (even if they have good intentions) sway you from your path. You’ve got a fire in your belly making you push forward, don’t let them put a dampener on it.

Keep creating!

-Hamish .S

M Dot Strange Talks About How to Make Your Own Solo CG Feature Film

M Dot Strange is one of the foremost advocates for creating your own animated feature. After making 3 solo feature animations he’s got a wealth of knowledge on how to do it, and he’s also got really valuable ideas on personal auteur cinema and storytelling.

M Dot has a new feature ‘I am Nightmare’ that has just been released and he’s selling it here for real cheap. I’ll be reviewing it as soon as I’ve got the money to get a copy.

For now though check out this 30min presentation where he talks about how to create your own CGI feature and goes through his production pipeline. It’s a really interesting watch and invaluable if you want to follow a similar path.

Trying to get somewhere while you feel like you’re nowhere.

Sometimes I feel like I’m getting nowhere with my art. Actually I feel this way pretty often, even when I’m working hard at it.

I think I feel this way for a couple of reasons. One being that I constantly see other people’s good work being recognized, and I guess it looks like they do it easily if you’re on the outside looking in. Even though I really know they put in the super hard work to get there, I can’t help but think “why haven’t I done something as good as that yet?” or “i should have made twice as many works as I have by now”.


I also know that IF and when I do start getting more recognition or attention for things I do, it’ll still feel the same way. It’s just an illusion… one of the many headfucks that comes with taking your creativity seriously. It’s like everyone is looking at everyone else and saying “fuck, these dudes really have their shit together”.

In saying that, I have slowly learnt a few lessons on how to produce better work, and more of it.

Two Different Types of Work and How You Should Prioritise Them

When people tell me I work hard, I really know that I could be working twice as hard and still enjoying it. Sure, I’m starting to put in the hours. I try to work at least 8 hours a day or more on my art If I can, with one day off a week. But am I utilizing these hours to the full extent? Fuck no!

One big realisation I’ve come to recently is that when it comes to your art, there are broadly TWO types of work you must do. The first is your primary work which consists of creating NEW projects, artworks and pushing your artwork forward. The second is the auxiliary work, or the support work. This includes stuff like writing emails to people, networking, documenting your work, or even writing posts on your personal blog like I’m doing now.

I used to not see the distinction between the two different types of work and treat their priority equally, so they’d all end up in a jumble on my daily ‘to do’ list. But now I realize to make great work you have to actually spend all the time you were spending on everything and use it on your PRIMARY work. Then you’ve got to put in extra hours for the auxiliary stuff because that needs to get done too.

priorities of work
here is a basic table of the distinction

So this means that when I do 8 hours of work in a day, I do 8 hours on my most important primary tasks. Then once I’ve finished that in a day, I can go to the secondary stuff and complete that too before I finish. It seems really simple but somehow it’s something I’ve never realized :s


Here’s an example of my ‘to do’ list for today. The primary tasks are grouped up top and the auxiliary down the bottom. I also find it helps to number the priority of each primary task so you do all the important ones first and don’t leave them til last.

Figure Out Your Sleep/Work Pattern that Suits You

Everyone is different and everyone works better at different time of the day. I used to stay up heaps late under the excuse of ‘getting work done’ but I’d just end up watching movies or hanging with friends. Back when i was a teenager, working late seemed to really work for me and I’d get lots done in the shed in the early hours of the morning. But now I find that living in a sharehouse in the inner city there are too many distractions late at night so the chances of not finishing my work became greater.

I’ve recently figured out that if I get up at 9am and start work at 10am I get much more done and am less distracted by things going on around me, therefore much more likely to get work done. Now I tend to finish work at around 6-8pm and can keep going if I’m having a good time, or just finish for the day and watch a movie or spend some time being social.

Now this pattern is not for everyone. For instance I know M Dot Strange stays up working all night and sleeps during the day and that guy is a machine!

Once you figure out a good routine that works for you you will be able to be more disciplined and get sooo much more work done + become a badass like snake plissken!

Snake Plissken kurt russell


-Hamish .S

Cut-Out Animation Pt. 1

This last week I’ve been creating the scenes and characters for this cut-out stop-motion animation I’m working on. While it’s fun working on a handmade project, I can’t wait to get back into CGI and digital animation, so I’m really pushing to finish this within the next 6 weeks.

The main material I’ve been using to create these cut-out scenes and characters, is this black matte foil called ‘black wrap’ which is used to block out set lights or make gobos with. You can get it from most lighting stores but it’s not that cheap, so i’ve really been trying to use every last scrap to keep costs down.

The reason I’m using this instead of paper is that it’s more durable, heavier and gives cleaner lines then paper. I originally wanted to get some sort of soft black metal like Lotte Reiniger does in this video, but I couldn’t get my hands on the black lead she used… and i’m not sure how safe it is to use anyway. In my opinion, your health is one of the few things as important as your art so I might stay away from the lead.


I tend cut out the scenes the characters are in first so I don’t mess up the scale too much (like having a giant person in a small car etc.). I sketch out the characters in my journal and figure out their seperate parts, and what layer of glass they will go on on the multiplane bench, so I know what layers overlap other layers in a joint. Then I draw the characters onto the black wrap which takes pencil pretty well, and then I cut out the seperate parts with an x-acto knife. I’ve been told that small sharp nails scissors might be better for this though.


I think I’m just going to use small dots of blue-tack to keep the joints together, however I haven’t tested this to see if it works as well as I hope so that might change.

I’m also not sure how I’m going to paint the cut-outs, or if I even will. This animation was originally meant to be a silhouette animation but I’m drifting more and more away from that into coloured cut-out with maybe a couple of silhouettes.


And here’s my 3 legged cat giving me animation support.

There’ll be more to come soon!

-Hamish S.