a CSC meeting in November last year at Eyes Post,
Jim Hardie mentioned about the importance of
proper framing chart information when transferring
film to video. After that meeting, Richard Stringer
CSC did some research and realized proper pre-made
charts were hard to find, so he set to work developing
his own framing or “rack leader” chart
(see product release). He had already designed
a resolution chart system in 1997, so he used
the same name - Target - for this new product.
This article reviews some points Richard discovered
while developing his chart, which CSC members
might find useful.
WHY USE A FRAMING CHART?
- To define the principal frame format being
recorded so that the frame composed during production
is properly rendered in the many steps encountered
in post production.
- To match camera framing on multi camera shoots,
especially when productions are shot by different
crews, in different locations using different
cameras, or separated over a long time.
- To get feedback on any cutoff or loss of information
caused in post production or transmission.
- To set guidelines for any format combination
you have to deliver - for example, shooting widescreen
but also composing for 4x3 TV.
- Troubleshoot problems within a viewing system,
like ground glass selection errors, mismatches
on multi camera shoots, improper mounting of
the ground glass, and inaccurate or wrong choice
of video viewfinder markings.
- To compare reflex or video framing to other
non reflex or optional viewfinder systems.
- Film production insurance policies require
that all equipment be fully tested before production
begins. Shooting frame tests is the best way
to establish proper image references before any
costly misunderstandings occur during the post
A PRIMER ON FORMATS
Film people have always looked at frame or aspect
ratios in how much longer the horizontal length
is compared to the vertical sides. If the frame
was a square box it would be described as one
to one (1:1). When 35mm was invented, the frame
worked out to be 1.37 to 1 - this was called “academy
frame”. When shooting for TV, framing was
adjusted to television’s 1.33:1 format.
Some other significant film formats are Super
16mm (1.66:1), standard widescreen at 1.85:1
and anamorphic widescreen at 2.35:1.
Video engineers thought they would try to be
different. They looked at the TV’s 1.33:1,
and thought “if we call the vertical side
3 units, that makes the horizontal 4 units” -
so they called it 4 by 3 (4x3). Same thing (4
divided by 3 = 1.33) - but different. When television
decided to go widescreen, they also wanted to
be different from the film standard of 1.85:1.
So they picked 16x9. If you do the math 16 dived
by 9 equals 1.777... or 1.78:1 in film language
- not quite as wide as 1.85:1. One wonders why
it’s not written 16/9 (dived by), but the
accepted standard form is 16x9 with the multiplication
sign. The common TV frames are 4x3 (1.33:1),
14x9 (1.55:1) which is a more in-between widescreen
used in letterboxing, and 16x9 (1.78:1).
One thing going for the film system is accuracy.
Any format can have a number. If video people
wanted to define 1.85:1 in video terms, it would
be 16.65x9! This might seem very confusing, but
it keeps students who are new to the industry
busy having to learn all these numbers to be
accepted into show bizz!
FRAMING CHARTS AND FILM
Framing charts are a traditional tool for the
motion picture industry. Originally the term “rack
leader” was given to a frame chart on film
prints so the projectionist could “rack” the
proper fame into view as the projector did not
discriminate which of the four perforations was
the frame edge. Without a frame reference, the
projectionist would not be sure where the exact
edge of frame was or which projector mask (the
format “window”) to use.
Now, with film transfer to tape or digital,
frame charts are even more important, as there
are many formats within the “canvas” of
a film frame, especially in 35mm. Frames can
be allocated to the Academy area (off to one
side), or the Super 35 area (using all the space
into the sound track area).
There are many ground glass framing options
for Super 35mm: you could choose 4x3 TV frame
or widescreen, either centered vertically or “offset” to
use a common top of frame. You might shoot Super
16mm 1.66 but only compose for 1.85 within that
frame. You must define the limits of your framing
with a chart.
The issue of more than one format being used
in one production calls for major compromises
and this becomes an operator’s nightmare.
So the operator has to keep the main action in
the primary coverage areas and minor details
in other areas. Mark Woods, a DOP in California,
who has written articles about formats, has heard
rumours about a new standard to avoid multi framing
problems called “K” frame. This involves
a fixed frame format halfway between 16x9 and
4x3, then squeezing the image for NTSC 4x3 broadcast
and stretching out for widescreen 16x9 distribution.
Actors would probably not like to have pounds
added on like that, so I doubt it will ever happen!
FRAMING CHARTS AND VIDEO
Video production has not been in the habit of
using frame charts. The belief is that the frame
is defined and set in place - unlike film which
has many frame boundaries. But now that video
is using a variety of frame formats, a frame
chart is more useful. First of all, it defines
the format you have chosen and communicates this
to post production. An accurate frame chart will
help in marking special limits on the various
monitors used in production and post production,
and therefore keep everybody on the same page.
A frame chart is essential when transferring
video to film, because the specific film format
should be defined and there can be additional
cutoff during the transfer process which should
be evaluated with a chart.
In video, framing can be analyzed by checking
the viewfinder and / or outputting to monitors,
the larger the better. Monitor cutoff information
can be noted (in underscan setting). This information
will be helpful in choosing the viewfinder “safety
zone” markings in the camera’s menu.
If video projectors are to be used, the cutoff
should be checked. The cutoff limits must be
considered to be the realistic edges for the
operator who is framing the shots.
MORE ON CUTOFF
“Cutoff” is the term for lost information
due to various post production elements. Projector
gates and theater screens can cut into the frame.
Blow ups and other post processes like video
to film will effect cutoff. Television images
are cutoff at the edges, depending on the style
of television set, video projector or computer
monitor. There are many variables here and even
though televisions have improved, we still use
the older standards which are set at 90% safe
action and 80% safe title. “Safe action” and “safe
title” refers to the center area not affected
by the maximum amount of cutoff. “80% safe
title” means that critical information
like titles should stay within a 20% boundary
or you might not see all of it. Recent television
sets have less cutoff, but are still unpredictable
as they might be off in one direction more than
With letterbox distribution, top and bottom
might have less or no cutoff compared to the
side edges because the picture has a black matte
top and bottom but the sides are still susceptible
to monitor cutoff. But when that image is shown
on a full widescreen TV, top and bottom will
then be effected by monitor cutoff.
CHOOSING THE PRINCIPAL FORMAT
You have to decide on the principal format to
be transferred and/or viewed in editing. This
should be your primary and only frame you should
shoot with a chart for use by the transfer and
editing personnel. If you do not have any information,
line up to the widest limits in your viewfinder
and note the format details on the slate.
You do not have to record all the markings in
your viewfinder. You only need to record the
frame markings that will be useful in the post
path or that will help you interpret specific
framing issues that concern you.
If you are shooting widescreen film formats
like Super 16mm, 1:85, or anamorphic, but want
to distribute in 4x3 TV for now, you should probably
transfer the wider format now and adjust to 4x3
in the final conform. That way, you get to review
all the frame for any problems - unwanted items
like equipment in the shot, etc. Sometimes the
producers have decided different format priorities
and that will influence the framing decisions.
You might want to frame for TV transmitted rather
than the full camera frame. But be careful because
choosing a smaller TV frame might cause transfer
facilities to reduce or blow up the image which
will effect reframing in the future. Indicate
your intentions by proper slating.
Some operators might want to transfer only the
principle format they are composing for - which
might mean framing for 4x3 TV safe action only,
especially on commercials. Sometimes a smaller
inside frame like safe action is chosen to give
room to recompose in post. You might require
that TV safe on the chart be lined up with TV
safe guidelines on the scanner, rather than the
As you can see, there are many choices, but
it is essential that the selected format be clearly
chosen, shot, and especially slated and/or conveyed
to the transfer facility.
NOTES ON SHOOTING A FRAMING CHART
It is essential that the camera be centered
to the chart. If your lens is not centered, you
will see a “keystone” effect, where
the sides of the frame are not parallel. Longer
focal length lenses or the telephoto end of a
zoom is best for flat line results, although
be prepared for some amount of distortion, especially
with the horizontal lines. Take time to line
up the viewfinder markings with the chart lines
correctly and always focus before lining up,
as focus can change image size. With video, the
viewfinder is the best framing reference - monitors
might not agree.
Head slate the test roll or tape separately
with details like production company, production
title, test roll number, personnel and date.
Examples of slating on the chart itself would
be: production title, camera type or number,
original film or tape format shot, specific ratio
being recorded, TV cutoff margin requirements
or any other special instructions.
Shoot the chart for at least 30 seconds. Tests
to be projected should be 60 seconds or more.
Do not simply presume that a freeze frame can
be used in post - a running image is best.
Some productions require a framing chart to
be shot once at the beginning of the shoot, while
others might require a chart to be shot at the
start of every day.
When transferring film to tape or disc, the
colorist uses the chart to set up the proper
framing position. The colorist should be informed
of the roll # and the exact location of the chart
and that section of film should be kept available
for additional transfers of that show. Framing
footage should also be accessible down the post
path to the final online product. A film loop
can be made or have a separate transferred tape
Denny Clairmont of Clairmont Camera gave me
a good tip for checking film print formats. After
the chart is shot, the film image should be confirmed
using a piece of alignment film that is a known
standard like SMPTE RP 40. Use a tape splicing
block that has registration pins so the
alignment film and the camera test film can be
compared precisely, and this way, you can confirm
that the film image is in the proper position.