Behind the Lens: The Importance of Aspect Ratio and Scale

Hello everyone. Chance here with another edition of BMD’s tech blog series “Behind the Lens!”

As we get close to the end of the year many clients are looking towards their spring shows and the inclusion of projections in what are usually the bigger budget productions of the year. In these discussions we’ve discussed projectors at length and I’ve come across one recurring issue that I’d like to address at large for anyone who is thinking about using projections: Unless you have a perfect stage size, you will probably have to either make adjustments to the stage or the projections in order to fill your desired size.

For the entirety of this discussion I’m going to use the measurements of an actual company that has worked with us. In fact, these measurements have popped up in many theatres recently, but even if it doesn’t match yours the idea should be the same. This theatre has a wide and short stage, leaving a 40’ x 15’ space on the back curtain to fill with projections.

Aspect Ratio:

We’ve spoken about this at length, but remember that almost any projector you can go out and buy will have either a 4:3, 16:9, or 16:10 aspect ratio. The first unit represents the width, while the second represents the height it will scale to (For example; a 16:9 projector will auto-scale to 9’ high when the width reaches 16’). There is NO WAY to easily change this. There is no way to tell the projector “I want this specific size.”

Going back to our example theater, if you wanted a 40’ wide projection you’ll get a height of 22.5’. This ends up being an excess of 50% along the top and bottom of the projection screen. In this case, the easiest solution is to bring in the curtains slightly and go for something more akin to 30’ x 16’.

Many clients I speak to are incredibly hesitant to do this. They seem to think that if they aren’t filling the entirety of the back screen the projections won’t look good. However, if you are in this boat I would challenge you to try the projections at the 30’ width. I think you will be pleasantly surprised by just how large it actually is (and brighter too).

However, if you absolutely NEED to fill that space then it is possible using a 2-projector blend.

Using two projectors and some blending software (possibly built into the playback) you can achieve the desired result. In this setup, you would have two projectors side by side (22’ x 14’) for example, and use a 2’ overlap to create the desired size. This is advanced and highly discouraged for someone new to projections. If it is your first time using projections I would just try using on projector and seeing how the results go from there. Not only is using 2 projectors difficult, but filling a screen of that size will completely mess up the scale.

Scale:

Scale refers to the relative size and placement of the images within the projection area. All of BMD’s content is designed to fit a 16:9 scale, and if you stretch the scale the content will also be stretched. The best way to explain this is visually, so see below the two different screenshots from LEGALLY BLONDE.

The top image has a special resolution designed for a stage close to 40’ x 15’. The bottom is the standard 16:9 aspect ratio. As you can see it isn’t a deal breaker in any means, but on a larger scale the stretched content will be more noticeable.

Ultimately you have to decide one of two things: Do you want your projections to fill the stage completely, or do you want your projections to fill a lot of the stage while maintaining its proper scale? You’ll either have to deal with some empty projection surface area or chairs that are out of scale and look too big for people to even sit on.

Either way, I do not want to dissuade you from utilizing projections, but rather help guide you down the right decision making path. I’ve worked with many clients who have used multi-projector setups to fit the content in their space, and others who have used it as is, both of which have been very happy with what they were able to accomplish. It is more of a matter of how much time and experience you have. If this is your first venture into projections, keep it simple! You’ll still be amazed by the results. If you are a seasoned veteran of projections, give us a call. We can discuss exactly what will work best for your space and production.



chance-thumbnail-1.pngCHANCE CROFT, Support Technician

Chance is from Visalia, California and grew up performing in theatre. He attended California State University, Fullerton, where he studied theatre, focusing on theatre technology and education. If he wasn't BMD's awesome Support Technician, he'd likely be a voiceover artist (he has a very deep voice). He enjoys video games and finding new restaurants in town. Chance lives in Fresno, California with his girlfriend Sam, his two cats and his dog Lady. His favorite musical is Seussical.