Is 4:3 Ratio Making a Comeback in the Filmmaking Industry
Did you know that the 4:3 ratio is making a comeback?
To a lot of us, the 4:3 aspect ratio belongs to the past. Due to the fact that it is quite restrictive in terms of presenting visual information, not a lot of modern film projects have opted for the 4:3 style. However, recently, the filmmaking industry has witnessed a re-incorporation of the 4:3 ratio. And, for the most part, this comeback has gone well!
In this article, we will not only look at the comeback of the 4:3 aspect ratio, but also take a look at its history, and why it is considered to be such a classic.
Let’s start with the basics: what is the 4:3 aspect ratio?
In order to answer that, we will have to backtrack a little and find out what aspect ratios are. Luckily, it is not that difficult of a concept to grasp. Aspect ratios are similar to the height and width of your video. Just like other ratio values, this value is also usually represented by two numbers separated by a colon. The first number (4) represents the width, whereas the second number (3) represents the height.
As you can imagine, there are many different aspect ratios that can be found in film projects today. However, the main examples include 1.85:1, 1.37:1, 2.35:1, 16:9, and of course: 4:3.
The 4:3 ratio pixels have traditional and classic appeal to it, which is why we have seen it resurfacing recently in a lot of works. More of that later!
Before we jump to why and how the 4:3 ratio pixels have been making a comeback, let’s consider the history of this ratio type.
4:3 (technically 1.33:1) turned out to be a revolutionary advancement to the film industry (as it was introduced in the 40s and early 50s). Actually, this form of the film was invented way before, but it took a rise during these decades. It was first created by William Dickson in 1892. It became slightly more popular when silent films like A Trip to the Moon (1902) employed this style of video.
However, it was only in 1940 that 4:3 became the standard ratio. With movies like Citizen Kane (1941) and Casablanca (1942), 4:3 quickly became the industry standard and was also dubbed the “Academy Ratio.”
Seriously - it was to the point that they created TV sets based on this aspect ratio! This is exactly where the box-style picturization stemmed from. Movies, tv shows, news: all sorts of media were being presented to viewers in the 4:3 aspect ratio on their TV sets. And viewers loved it because it means that every sort of media that they were experiencing, was made to fit their screens!
Well, that’s where filmmakers realized that in order for their films to stand out from stuff that could easily be experienced from the comfort of people’s homes. That’s why cinemas opted for wider screens, and filmmakers opted for a wider image in their movies. Quickly, the 4:3 ratio became a thing of the past and was decided to be more or less redundant in the modern filmmaking industry.
However, today, the 4:3 ratio size is not completely redundant. There are some filmmakers who have gravitated back to this aspect ratio for their projects; some very notable examples are The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) by Wes Anderson and The Lighthouse (2019) by Robert Eggers.
One of the biggest reasons behind this has been flexibility. Thanks to the advancement of cameras today, it is pretty easy for filmmakers to pick the videography style they want to. You no longer have to print your movie to different pieces of film to accommodate an aspect ratio. You can simply record it in the aspect ratio you want.
Ultimately, this means that there is no standard that you need to follow for your film to fit the specifications. There is no set way for TV media to be presented, just like there is no set way for movies to be shot. This means that the earlier distinction associated 4:3 ratio size with TV only doesn’t make sense anymore. If anything, filmmakers are increasingly choosing to deviate from standards to ensure that their films are more memorable and stand out from the produced generic media.
So - it is filmmakers who choose and implement the 4:3 ratio. But why do it in the first place?
Firstly, its a great artistic choice and can set your movie apart from all the other modern movies out there. With that, however, there is a risk of your project being brushed aside as yet another pretentious snippet of media. After all, there are other ways you can set your film apart that have nothing to do with its ratio. This is one of the leading criticisms of film critics and even film enthusiasts on Twitter.
However, in today’s day and age it can be used as an important storytelling tool. For example, in The Grand Budapest Hotel, the ratio is employed to differentiate the past and the present. 4:3 represents the past, whereas the widescreen ratio is representative of the present.
Similarly, the fact that The Lighthouse uses the 4:3 ratio helps amplify the connotation that the film is based in a historic time period, and also acts as an ode to the cinematic influences that go into the film. More importantly, the 4:3 ratio resolution helps inculcate a sense of claustrophobia in the movie - which makes it even more memorable.
The one thing that we must take away from this is that the aspect ratio of a film is very important, especially today. And no, it is not because of the aesthetic value or for the technical side of things. It is because it can really help you put your message across, and help you establish a stronger storyline.
If you are anything like us, then this whole talk about 4:3 films has got you wanting to watch one yourself.
Here is a list of 4:3 films that you can view. Most of these are modern movies. It should be interesting to draw comparisons and see the difference between these and some other films mentioned under the “The History of the 4:3 Ratio” section.
- Elephant (2003)
- The Romance of Astrea and Celadon (2007)
- Fish Tank (2009)
- Meek’s Cutoff (2010)
- Laurence Anyways (2012)
- No (2012)
- Post-Tenebras Lux (2012)
- Ida (2013)
So, that’s the 4:3 aspect ratio for you guys. Long story short, the 4:3 aspect ratio is NOT a thing of the past. It can still make a powerful storytelling tool, but only if it is used correctly to amplify the right messages.
As far as we are concerned, we do see the 4:3 ratio making some rounds in the future. It might be a more risky choice to implement when it comes to filmmaking. But considering the way it can supplement, there is no doubt that more filmmakers will be gravitating towards it in the future.
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