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All Movie Talk

Welcome to All Movie Talk! In this audio podcast, Samuel Stoddard and Stephen Keller talk about old and new movies, famous directors, historical film movements, movie trivia, and more.

All Movie Talk

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All Movie Talk, Episode 28

Show contents, with start times:

  • Series Spotlight: Dirty Harry (1:29)
  • Trivia Question: Longest Production (17:03)
  • Film Buff's Dictionary: Aspect Ratio, Anamorphic, Open Matte (17:44)
  • Top 6: Movie Dates (29:08)
  • Industry Trend: Animation, Part 4 (46:35)
  • Closing: Trivia Answer, Preview of Next Week (53:50)
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Show Notes:

Series Spotlight: Dirty Harry

Well, do ya, punk?

When Clint Eastwood stepped into the role of Harry Callahan in 1971 and uttered those words, the tough guy was defined for at least a generation. The Dirty Harry series consists of five films:

The series created many of the modern cop movie cliches (e.g., the cop who plays by his own rules), but those cliches become cliches for a reason. The movies vary in quality, but all are probably worth watching.

More important than any single one of the films, though, is the character. Whereas most earlier movie heroes work within a just system, suddenly here is a hero pitted against a corrupt bureaucracy in addition to the conventional badguys. Harry is a renegade, willing to do whatever it takes to do the right thing. Eastwood's performance really helped define the modern movie antihero. He's cool, unflappable, and he carries a ridiculously large handgun.

Trivia Question: Longest Production

This week's mystery movie took 28 years to make and thus holds the record for the longest production time of a completed feature film. And people thought Coppola spent too long on Apocalypse Now?

Film Buff's Dictionary: Aspect Ratio, Anamorphic, Open Matte

The aspect ratio is the ratio of an image's width to its height. The larger this ratio is, the wider the image is. For example, a standard television has an aspect ratio of 4:3, as it is 4 inches wide for every 3 inches it is tall (1.33 times as wide as tall). A widescreen television is 16:9, meaning it is 1.78 times as wide as it is tall.

This is important to consider, because the width of a movie image determines a lot about how shots will be composed. In particular it is interesting because humans tend to prefer more rectangular images as they are more akin to our natural vision than square images.

In the early part of movie history, movies were roughly 1.33:1, the same as standard television. This ratio (or one extremely close to it) was commonly referred to as "Academy Ratio," the standard width used by Hollywood as it reflects the natural ratio of 35mm film, with some space on one side being used for a sound track. When widescreen was introduced in the 1950s, aspect ratios were all over the map. 1.33:1 films continued to be made for some time, but there were also aspect ratios ranging from about 1.6:1 all the way up to 3:1 on certain 3-screen projection systems.

But because 35mm film is still ultimately a fairly square medium, filmmakers had to find new ways of recording widescreen images. The most simple method is what is called matting, in which the top and bottom of a print (or sometimes a negative) is covered. Think of a letterboxed movie on a standard TV: by shrinking the available space, you can reshape the remaining space, giving you a wider canvas. Alternatively, consider cropping a photo: if you discard information, you can resize what remains.

When the matting is not done in the camera, the negative still captures a 1.33:1 image. Before it is shown theatrically, the projectionist applies a matte (a "soft matte") to the projector, meaning that only a part of the film is projected, but what is projected is wide. For video releases or television showings intended for standard 4:3 televisions, directors and studios can choose to simply not matte the image. Showing it without mattes is called open matte. Audiences who watch films shown open matte on video actually see more of the image than those who see it in the theater.

The other popular way to capture widescreen images is the anamorphic system, which uses special lenses to compress an image along one axis -- it distorts the filmed image, making people appear tall and skinny. Projectors then project the squeezed image through another anamorphic lens which stretches it out, making everything look normal. In this way directors can capture a very wide image while still using the entire 35mm frame.

Today, almost all Hollywood widescreen movies are filmed on 35mm film, using matting or anamorphic lenses (matting tends to be more common). Most modern matted films have an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 (which is pretty close to that of widescreen televisions) while the standard anamorphic ratio is 2.35:1.

Top 6: Movie Dates

See our separate Top 6 entry for more information about our picks.

Industry Trend: Animation, Part 4

3D computer animation is a recent new medium that achieves a whole different look from any traditional animation medium. While computer animation dates back as far as the 1970s, as our trivia question in Episode 16 reveals, the first fully computer animated feature film is 1995's Toy Story, whose immense critical and commercial success spurred every other studio to ramp up their own 3D animation houses.

By far the best and most successful 3D animation studio is Pixar, a spin-off of sorts from LucasFilm. Pixar's eight-for-eight record of good-to-great, commercially successful animated films is remarkable, to say the least. Besides Toy Story and its sequel, Finding Nemo (2003) and The Incredibles (2004) are also landmark films, not just in computer animation but in animation and family films in general.

It took several years for other studios to establish their own 3D animation houses, but eventually DreamWorks staked a strong claim with Shrek in 2001, winning the first ever Best Animated Feature Oscar in the process. Today, traditional animation has unfortunately fallen by the wayside. Hopefully this is temporary. Some stories are best told with 3D animation, but others are best told with other forms.

The process of 3D animation is quite different for an animator, despite the underlying principles being the same. Rather than the animator doing the manual work of performing a movement one frame at a time, he instead establishes key frames for each movement of an object, indicating that between two specified frames, some certain movement should occur. The computer interpolates and figures out the object should appear in the intervening frames. Lighting changes and camera moves are defined in exactly the same general way.

Potentially, there are thousands of individual movements in a single scene. If a character is to be seen with one facial expression that gradually evolves into another, that alone may involve hundreds of little movements that combine together into one.

All of these movements have to be established by the animator, which makes it painstaking work. It is an interesting paradox that using a computer to take care of some of the grunt work of animation somehow doesn't seem to lessen the number of man-hours required to make an animated film. If anything, computer animation generally takes longer to produce than hand-drawn animation.

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