A word about . . . aspect ratio

The importance of keeping your fan video in proportion.

You’ve heard it all from me many times before, so I’ll spare you the lengthy tutorials (and just link to them at the end of this page). I just wanted to share a few thoughts about this, maybe in an attempt to make things clearer (or maybe just to ramble—this is my vanity site, after all).

I know, I know, I’m a freak, in that this is one of my pet issues and I have a really sharp eye for it. Some of you probably roll your eyes and wonder what the big deal is, while many others secretly are glad that someone is insane and obnoxious enough to finally bring this whole thing out into the open. (I know that plenty of you feel this way, because you’ve told me! LOL.)

But whatever you may feel about it, please realize a few things:

First, if you “don’t see it,” it doesn’t mean you’re an idiot. Some people are tone deaf. They are not idiots. It’s not something they can help. Some people have no sense of direction (raises hand). Again, not something they have any control over. Not idiots. Same thing here. Besides, a lot of times those who don’t notice distorted aspect ratio at first can start to become more sensitive to it in time. So they can learn to see it. I only wish the same could happen with me and my nonexistent sense of direction!

It’s still really annoying to a lot of people when you don’t get it right. So you don’t see differences in aspect ratio right off, and that’s not your fault. But others still do, and they don’t like it when it gets messed up. I’m just saying. LOL. No, it’s not “stifling your creativity” to point this out. It’s simply a fact, just like how most of us don’t like off-key singing is a fact.

Even if you don’t think you can see it, you can still figure it out. Let’s go back to my mention of having no sense of direction. I just. can’t. get. it. I have no idea what people are talking about when they claim they can “feel” what direction they are facing. It makes no sense to me. But, I still manage to get around, mostly by analyzing what time of day it is, and what direction the sun is coming from. But I have to really think about it—stop and think about it—and use other tricks or guidelines to get around. And so must you if you don’t easily see errant aspect ratio.

If you can see the difference between these two images:

Or these two images:

Then you are capable of discerning the differences between correct vs. incorrect aspect ratio well enough. Okay, so maybe you won’t be able to tell when Richard Armitage’s face is 3% longer than it should be (I swear, this only happens occasionally with me) but you can still tell the bigger differences, and that’s enough to keep you from committing the grievous squishing/squashing.

There are tutorials (which I will link to) which will explain how to tell a widescreen DVD vs. a fullscreen DVD (look at the two magenta rectangles above and that will give you the idea of the differences between widescreen vs. fullscreen). If you know the aspect ratio of your DVD, then you’re golden. You match your fan video’s settings to that DVD’s aspect ratio, and there you go—perfect aspect ratio every time. So it really can be that simple, and that uncomplicated.

But then, when it gets complicated:

At the core of these two images is a circle. Just a circle. But because they are more elaborate, with lots of textures and goodies to look at, you sometimes lose sight of the fact that . . . they’re circles. And a circle should be round. But wait—that one image isn’t round, it’s oval. And that’s not the way it’s supposed to be.

I think that’s what throws off some people when it comes to noticing incorrect aspect ratio—the images we see in photos and videos are full of details and things set at different angles, and sometimes it is easy to miss that the overall shape of something (whether it be the shape of a person’s head, or the roundness of a clock face, or the shape of a box) is not quite right. So, another way to help yourself see aspect ratio is to stop and look harder, and try to see the simple shapes, and not all the complexities.

And when you’re simply not asking yourself the right questions:

When faced with something unusual going on with your video clips, please remember to think and also to ask yourself, “Does this make sense?” and “What’s going on here?” before forging ahead and editing your video anyway.

So let’s say you’ve got a lot of clips that you’re going to use in a fan video. Let’s say that these clips are all from a recent film or TV show. So you import your clips into your video editor, and you get this (images represent the clips in your video timeline).

Do you notice the odd man out here? That’s right, that middle image (representing a video clip) is much taller and boxier in shape than the other two. So, when you try to edit this clip in with the others, you know you’re going to either have to crop off the top and bottom of that one clip, or you’re going to end up with a video with black letterbox bars at the top and bottom of some clips, but no black bars on other clips.

When this happens to you, please consider the possibility that some of the clips (often the taller/boxier ones) were processed incorrectly, and need to have their aspect ratio adjusted. This is often the case (but not always, which is why you need to do a little investigating to confirm it one way or another). Even if you can’t tell when an image is distorted (“squished”) or not, you can tell when there are borders in some clips but not others, and that should be raising a red flag for you.

You should be thinking, and questioning, and asking, rather than importing any old clip into your editor and editing away. Do not tell yourself, “That’s just the way the clips came to me, so they must be right.” You need to confirm that your software settings are correct, and that you’re processing your clips from the DVD properly. And just so you know, no, masking off pesky black bars or cropping them off is NOT a solution for fixing bad aspect ratio. That’s like putting lipstick on a pig. Anyone who can detect image distortion will still immediately see it when you do this.

And that’s all I really have to say right now. Other than to repeat (to those of you who are hard cases, LOL) that it can be really annoying to see something (like your favorite actor’s face) all distorted. It’s not just me (obnoxious freak that I am) who feels this way. I’m just more vocal about it. LOL.

But, please, please, please, don’t feel bad if you’ve been getting it wrong. I don’t feel bad about not having any sense of direction. It’s not my fault, and I’m not alone—a lot of other people have no sense of direction as well. I’ve just learned some methods to work around it, and so can you with aspect ratio.

LOL—I couldn’t help myself . . . BOD (the guy in this YouTube video) is notoriously cranky and somewhat contemptuous at times, but he brings up a lot of good points about why getting the aspect ratio wrong is annoying. If you think it’s just me that is bothered by it, you’re mistaken.


Identify your DVD’s aspect ratio (YouTube tutorial)

Aspect Ratio for YouTube (widescreen edition) (YouTube tutorial)

Aspect Ratio 101: Just the barebones facts.

Aspect Ratio Overkill: (I get very anal-retentive and somewhat strident. I was driven to it, I swear.)

No more elongated faces, please! (Foolish Passion forum tutorial—no membership required to view.)

The Proportion of Man: (LJ tutorial/rant about basic aspect ratio issues and proportion, partly as a response to those who want to claim that it’s all “a matter of opinion” and that anyone who objects to mindless and wanton squishing and squashing is trying to stifle creativity. LOL.)

Aspect Ratio Lunacy: Blog discussion about exactly this thing—distorted video. It bothers a lot of people, not just me!

Stamp out Aspect Ratio Crime: NOT started by me, I swear! A Facebook group which is on a mission to stop the wanton squishing and squashing. I’m behind them 100% by the way!

Are Some People Just Visually Dull?: And yet another blog discussion expressing puzzlement over this issue. Great discussion.

Aspect Ratio Fail: Another blog discussion, another group of people wondering what is going on and how to stop it.

(Note: the blog with “Aspect Ratio Fail” has gone down, so I’ll quote some of what the blog says for posterity.)


“Aspect ratio fail occurs when an image’s display dimensions are different from it’s original dimensions.  [...] Often they appear on your friend’s brand new HDTV because he “doesn’t like those icky black bars” and much prefers seeing Gregory House stretched to Fred Flintstone-esque dimensions.”


Perhaps I’m too sensitive, but I honestly can’t sit through a movie that makes Indiana Jones look like a tan q-tip (sounds like a Pixar).  The consequence of this apparently unique  hindrance is that I either have to politely ask people if I can fix a problem they don’t notice and don’t understand, or I have to try to steal the remote and fix it without permission.  Both of those scenarios can potentially not end well.

I’ve even had one of my polite requests escalate into a full-blown shouting match.  A friend of a friend wanted to see “the whole picture” on his ginormous rear-projection behemoth.  Unfortunately for me, that meant Tom Hanks’ head was warped into some sort of grotesque monstrosity from the bar scene in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (for the unenlightened, Johnny Depp was tripping some serious hallucinogens).  I just couldn’t watch Apollo 13 like that.”

Keywords: Fan video, vidding, vidders, frame dimensions, AR, tutorials, fanvid tutorial, squished, proportions, aspect ratio.