How to Choose Custom Aspect Ratios from your Footage

In this post I will explain how you can use After Effects and/or Final Cut to create different aspect ratios from your footage (which can be any size, within reason).

There are different reasons for changing the aspect ratio of your production:

  • You might need to make a 4:3 into a widescreen production
  • You might want to chop off the top and bottom for some reason
  • You might want to make your film look more cinematic

These are just a few, but the middle reason applied to me this week, as I shot a production where I had to use the whole width of the frame, but the top and bottom had extraneous detail.

Now these aren’t the professional solutions for cinema and top-end video production, but they work well for DVD and web – and that’s all I’m concerned about for the time being. If anyone has their own workflow, tips – or even information about professional methods, I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

For DVD Output (Final Cut Only method)

Now my project is destined for DVD production and I did intitially try the After Effects/For Web route, but found that the workflow and processing time were convoluted and ridiculous*.

Final Cut has a built-in letterboxing effect that creates an aspect ratio for you, with the use of black bars. This means that the aspect ratio of the frame is technically still the same 16:9, but, for the viewer, will appear much wider. This is basically the same as drawing black bars onto your tv – but for outputs like DVD, where the screen size is generally standardised, it’s quite an appropriate technique.

So I had two different angles of the same footage and I synced them up in a new sequence. Then I applied the Video Filter > Matte > Widescreen filter to both pieces of footage. There are multiple widescreen ‘types’ to choose from here, I chose 3.00 : 1, not quite the biggest but much wider than the average video.

The next thing to do is Offset. This basically means shifting the footage up or down so that the most appropriate areas is visible between the bars. I had one camera locked off, so this offsetting could be done for the whole clip quite quickly and easily. The second clip was panning and tilting and zooming as it was b-roll. So what I did there was to not adjust the offset setting until after the edit, so I could keyframe the offset setting, allowing me to choose what looked best for each couple of seconds I used.

Widescreen Options in Final Cut Pro

I left border and colour switched to 0 and off respectively.

At this point I could colour-correct and output to DVD as normal, with a nice widescreen video properly prepared for burning to disc.

* However, I do plan on using the method below, using the edited footage, to create a web version – if and when needed.

For Web (After Effects/Final Cut Method) and Media Players

Now this technique is ideal for creating those videos in Vimeo that are super-widescreen (see this example for an extreme instance), without any letterboxing and can look really smart in a browser. You also often see videos of this nature on things like HD downlaods from Apple Trailers.

The great thing about this method is that it’s a preset that will take any footage you throw at it and put it into the aspect you choose. It also allows you to make up your own aspect ratio that fits your project perfectly.

The problem with this method is you either need to keyframe a lot, so that every shot is offset like you want or pre-edit the footage with the above Final Cut technique and then do it – that is, unless you taped-off your monitor when you were shooting, like the professionals do..

Basically go to this page on Video Copilot and download the preset. There is also a great video guide, so I won’t repeat that here. If you follow the instructions to crop your composition, you can then render out some letterbox-free footage to your custom size.

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Automatic Duck Products FREE for a Limited Time

Automatic Duck make have been hired by Adobe, which is great news. It could see Adobe’s integration with other products become even more seamless than it already is, with Premiere Pro. For those who don’t know, Automatic Duck make/made import plugins, the most relevant of which was their Final Cut Pro to After Effects.

As someone who has been using AE a lot over the past 12 months, jumping between it and my NLE, Final Cut Pro – I have looked into a way to have After Effects import my projects without just exporting a Quicktime video from FCP. I came across Automatic Duck’s Pro Import AE – but the $500 price tag wasn’t justifiable at the time. There was also Popcorn Island’s effort: Final Cut 2 After Effects, which had similar features, but wasn’t as advanced – but was free. I downloaded this months ago, but never got round to using it.

However, Adobe’s buy-out has led to Automatic Duck’s expensive products being released for FREE – perhaps for a limited time only. I’ve just downloaded the Pro Import AE, but they have other plug ins for Pro Tools, Avid etc. too. Grab them while you have the chance, it might speed up (post)production!

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Editing Set-Up For HD Video Production

Apple Mac Pro
I left early to work from home on Wednesday lunchtime, I had a head-cold and was deteriorating as the day went on and I had no meetings in the afternoon. When I got up bright and early yesterday I was happy to see my editing set-up had arrived.

I had constructed a spec list for the basic equipment and software that would be necessary for the task but was unsure the exact items that would be provided. I have a Mac Pro on my home set up, with an Apple Cinema Display and secondary monitor and most of the software I’d like, so I knew what would work. I was definitely looking for more cores and more RAM as my system does get slow rather easily.

There’s a lot of discussion about where and when and what it is possible to edit with; there are minimum requirements for editing software and there are lists of people’s ‘ideal scenario’ set-up (which would usually increase the price dramatically). There isn’t so much talk of solid real-world systems or “What hardware and software SHOULD I be using?” because it is different for different people and purposes and also changes rapidly, as software and hardware are in a constant state of change.

So here is what I will be working with initially, let’s see how soon this becomes archaic:

Hardware

Mac Pro
2x 2.26 GHz Quad-Core Intel Xeon
6GB 1066 MHz DDR3

2x 22″HP L2245wg monitors

Software

OSX 10.5.8
Final Cut Studio
Abode CS 5 Production Premium

The total price of this is around £6980, with tax and without any discounts. The hardware and software are quite evenly divided.

So that’s the core of what I’ll be using. Obviously monitoring speakers are coming in (but are part of the camera budget..), I will be using a tapeless workflow (SDHC cards), so good card readers will be added. The monitors are not 1920×1080, like I wanted (they top-out at 1680×1050) but they will do for now. I have ordered in a pair of Western Digital 2TB drives for all the HD footage I will bringing in. I’ll probably cover this stuff in workflows, archiving, etc. sometime soon.

As for the software, I am likely to use Final Cut Pro to edit, After Effects and Photoshop for graphics and basic effects, Compressor for conversions and DVD Studio Pro for making hard copies. I will probably also be using: Cinema Tools (conforming), MpegStreamclip (transcoding), Soundtrack Pro (audio), Color (colour correction) and other applications that I have missed but are probably absolutely essential – but I forget about them until I have a real problem!

Now I just need some footage to play with!

Editing Set-Up: Hardware and Software for Macs and Final Cut Suite

For creative computing, I prefer to use Macs. I was originally taught to edit video on a Mac and use them for photo editing, web development and so on. However, I was also taught Avid and my previous job was all PCs, where we used Avid Media Composer to create broadcast television. I found there were some things I preferred on Avid, that Final Cut Pro just did differently. The way they handled files, the way you would control it and other things that I forget after a Christmas break.

But I am running this show and prefer Final Cut Studio for the whole package of software, as well as using it for my own projects so am comfortable with updating it and adapting it to suit my needs. I am sure I would achieve the same results whether I had chosen FCS, Avid, Vegas, Premiere etc.

Now that I have chosen Final Cut Studio, getting a Mac is the way to go.

I know I haven’t discussed camera equipment yet and there is a reason for this: the editing suite is going to be okay-ed and installed first. You’d maybe think the post-production hardware would follow the production hardware, but really neither is of much use without the other. I could start shooting and just keeping all the footage on a hard drive, but I want to test everything out and create a workflow that I am happy with, from start to finish. The main reason, though, is that getting a computer around here is much easier than all the production equipment I want, from lots of different sources.

I know I am likely to be shooting a lot of hefty HD footage, which will probably need transcoded and edited without bogging down the system. Deadlines are going to come pretty rapid around here and I don’t want to be held back with a machine that has difficulty doing what I need it to on a day-to-day basis.

So, the economics of the situation have led me to the following basic set up:

  • Mac Pro (mid-2010 model), dual quad cores with 6GB memory.
  • Dual 22” monitors.
  • Final Cut Studio
  • Abode CS Production Professional

Now, as I am unfortunately not in control of what precisely gets bought, I will have to wait until I am sitting using the Mac before I can be more specific about anything. That’s just the way things go. If I run into any obstacles with this, I will document as I go – but I think this set-up should suit my purposes.