I think most of us have experienced the frustration of shooting a film, and then, considering our familiarity with still cameras, try to turn the video camera on its side to change the orientation to a “portrait.” Alas. As we all know, that never works, and if we don’t catch ourselves before we get too much footage we end up slapping our foreheads while looking at a bunch of unusable video that is rotated by 90 degrees.
It occurs to me that the only reason there is a standard aspect ratio for film and video is because there used to be a standard means of distribution. In order to distribute media to televisions, it had to be in a 4:3 format, otherwise the content creators could be sure that their media would not be presented in the way that they desired. We are still living in an era when video is distributed for particular devices (theaters, televisions, widescreen format) etc. Because content providers generally have the intention of their media being portable between a wide variety of devices, they generally stick to the standards: 4:3, 16:9, 720p, etc.
The vast majority of online video distribution sites (YouTube, Vimeo, etc.) are locked into these aspect ratios, and they are locked into these ratios for no good reason, other than the fact that their users are relatively locked into those formats by two things: habit, and the dearth of features in hardware and software to support non-standard video sizes. If a computer is used as the medium for video distribution then there are no good reasons to stay locked into these standard formats and aspect ratios. What about portrait oriented videos? Vertical videos that are thin slices like the banner ads we get pummeled with on a daily basis on virtually every site we visit (including this one :))? What about big wide thin videos?
We might think that these “strange” dimensions for videos are rather unpractical, as they don’t lend themselves very well to presentation and storytelling. Hogwash. I see paintings in strange dimensions all the time that tell better stories than the latest garbage from Hollywood. I’m not suggesting that Steven Spielberg adopt a strange format for his next feature-length film, but I am suggesting that video and media artists who have no intention of having their content viewed or presented anywhere else other than a computer screen or specialized installation, ought to at least consider different dimensions. In many cases, it is already a form of painting anyway: video painting.
All of this talk, of course, is assuming that film and video are in some incarnation of a rectangular size. What about circular movies? What about arches? Crescent moons? Lattices? The possibilities are endless, and once you begin to think about it you realize how limited and boring the visual “box” is that we cram all of our media into.
I’ve made a simple example below. 3:4 portrait format video. Tweaking my software to make a vertical video took some time (sucks to these standards!), and I couldn’t find any software that would support a crescent shaped video 🙂
Update: Some readers reported problems viewing the previously posted video due to some complications I encountered during the encoding process. It has been fixed, and should work now.