Yesterday I spent four or five hours in another dark room preparing the "Pan and Scan" version of Hellboy: Sword of Storms. What's that? Next time you go to a movie look at the shape of the screen. It's roughly the shape of the picture above. Now look at a standard TV set. It's not as wide, is it? When movies went to a wider format, directors took advantage of it by placing characters on each side of the screen or letting a shot run longer because more story information could be contained in the image. But when those movies were run on TV, the audience only saw the center of the picture which may be two noses talking to each other because the actors are out of frame. "Panning and Scanning" let's you choose where you want to place that TV picture.
Okay, I just realized there's a better explanation of the process at Wikipedia so I'll concentrate on the kind of creative choices, compromises really, that I made on SoS. The image above approximates what was on the screen. Unfortunately, it looks like I made my TV insets too rectangular but you get the idea. I dimmed what is outside the frame so you can see the original image but in the edit bay anything outside the lines is black. A smaller monitor shows the full frame.
Why isn't it one square? Someday the industry will admit that just about everyone has a relatively modern TV and we won't have to worry so much, but older sets have "picture tubes" that cut off some of the broadcast picture. The outside rectangle is the "full screen" picture. It's what the industry is convinced people want. And that's actually true. Broadcasters get plenty of complaints when they broadcast a movie in letterbox format because viewers think they're being cheated of picture when in fact they're getting the full picture. ("Letterbox" comes from the idea that you're seeing a shorter rectangle view - as if you were inside a mailbox, peeking out)
The next smaller box is "action safe." This is the area that even older sets will see. If there's an important piece of visual info - the expression on a guy's face, an impact against a wall, something peeking through the crack of an open door - you want it within this box so no one misses it.
It was great seeing the movie in Hi Def again. Tracy Jones and Kim Bitsui did an award winning job on color choices. They certainly deserve awards. Other than that - well, there are few upsides to the process. At every other stage, artists and engineers are working to make the picture better and better. This is all about making it... less. I'm thankful that Cartoon Network agreed to broadcast the premiere in letterbox format because everything was composed for that.
I tend to be claustrophobic in my direction so cutting in closer wasn't wholly abhorrent to me. Most of the scenes played fine without adjustment. But there were plenty that needed it, about five hours worth. Imagine the above insets even smaller and compare the two screen grabs. Hellboy is fine in both shots but in this scene a psychic is sensing that there was an incredible blast of energy. It's sort of a "Well, duh." thing. I needed more wreckage in the background and more activity in general since this was sort of an establishing shot for the sequence.
In action sequences, using just the center frame can throw off the action. Imagine a giant Bat-god flying through a shot from right to left. The scene following is a continuation of the action. Using just the center frame will mean it will enter later and exit earlier. So instead of cutting from Bat-god action to Bat-god action, you'll be cutting from and empty frame to Bat-god action. If you set the frame all the way to the left, you'll cut from bat to bat but the frame will be empty for a longer time before it enters. I guess this would work best with a diagram. Sorry, draw your own. If you move the frame all the way to the right, it enters on the cut but then there's a longer empty frame at the end of the shot. What's the solution?
There is none. See, that's the problem with pan and scan. It screws up your film making. Outside of action, we tried to keep the important stuff in the safe area but there are three or four scenes where I threw up my hands in defeat, "They're just going to have to buy the DVD."
And I hope you do. I think I'm scheduled to see the rough cut of the DVD extras next week. There should be some really good stuff in there. Friday I do the commentary with Mike and Phil Weinstein. I'll let you know how it goes. -- Tad