Aspect Ratios for Video Production

It's all storytelling, no matter your frame size.

I was on vacation this summer, and one of the places we visited was Hearst Castle in California. Hearst was big into motion pictures and tons of stars of the day had visited the castle, including his girlfriend. So Hearst had a first-rate screening room in the castle. I had to smile, because the screen in the castle wasn't what you'd think you'd see in a movie theater. It was square. 

Just like all the social video ads you see on the Internet these days. So I did some digging. Yeah, back then the usual film aspect ratio was 1:1. Square.

Also this summer, we did three video projects and every single project had its own aspect ratio. I know that's kind of unusual, but each project had its own delivery needs.

The first was a very cinematic corporate film for a Fortune 50 company. It was designed to screen on a 100 foot 4K screen in front of 10,000 people, in ultra-widescreen 3:1 aspect ratio. That's wider than anamorphic, and it was something to see.

The second was a scifi web series, and its aspect ratio was the classic old school TV of 4:3. This was done to evoke an old-time feel but also on a practical basis it let us get away without building out bigger sets.

The third was a series of social video ads, and they were all in 1:1 aspect ratio, or square.

Aspect ratios are fun to play with, and I don't feel any allegiance to one over another. It's all storytelling and just like you adjust a story for its audience it makes sense to adjust the aspect ratio to suit the medium it's intended for. 

And sure, that includes the 9:16 "skyscraper" style, too.

The image of the movie screen is © California State Parks, and taken by Patrick Ortman on vacation with his family.