Pan and scan

Pan and scan

Pan and scan is one method of adjusting widescreen film images so that they can be shown within the proportions of a standard definition 4:3 aspect ratio television screen, often cropping off the sides of the original widescreen image to focus on the composition's most important aspects. Some film directors and film enthusiasts disagree with pan and scan cropping, because it can remove up to 45% (on 2.35:1 films) of the original image, changing the director's original vision and intentions. The vertical equivalent is known as "tilt and scan" or "reverse pan and scan".


In the U.S., television sets from the last several decades displayed television images with a "4:3" aspect ratio in which the width is 1.33 times the height. (Internet and DVD packages refer to the 4:3 aspect ratio as a "1.33:1 aspect ratio".) When television first started to become popular in the US, the motion picture industry had to devise strategies to give people something extra which they would not get on television. Thus, "widescreen" was invented, and film images became longer, rectangular projected images with an aspect ratio greater than 16:9. Film widths are often 1.85, 2.35, or 2.39 times the height of the image, though there are other less common ratios as well.

To broadcast a widescreen film on television, or create a videotape or DVD master, it is necessary to make a new version from the original filmed elements. One way to do so is to make a "letterbox" print, which preserves the original theatrical aspect ratio, but produces an image with black bars at the top and bottom of the screen. Another way to turn the wide aspect ratio film into a 4:3 aspect ratio television image is to "pan and scan" the negative.

With the popularity of HDTVs increasing, films are now starting to be panned & scanned at 1.78:1 instead of 1.33. While there is almost no loss for movies at 1.85:1, films at 1.33, 2.20, 2.35, and 2.39 still suffer from noticeable image cropping.


thumb|320px|right|Pan and scan technique shown as 1.33:1 aspect crop over "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers", MGM, 1954.] During the "pan and scan" process, an operator selects the parts of the original filmed composition that seem to be significant and makes sure they are copied—"scanning". When the important action shifts to a new position in the frame, the operator moves the scanner to follow it, creating the effect of a pan shot. This method allows the maximum resolution of the image, since it uses all the available video scan lines—which is especially important for NTSC television, it having a rather low number of lines available to begin with. It also gives a full-screen image on analog television. For this reason, Pan and Scan versions of DVDs are often called Fullscreen. But this method can also severely alter compositions and therefore dramatic effects.

For instance, in the film "Jaws", the shark can be seen approaching for several seconds more in the widescreen version than in the pan and scan version. For the opening crawl in each Star Wars film, on the pan and scan versions the viewer has to wait until a line of text of the opening crawl reaches the center of the screen to read through that whole line. On the widescreen versions, each line of the opening crawl text appears in its entirety beginning at the bottom of the screen.

In some cases, the results can also be a bit jarring, especially in shots with significant detail on both sides of the frame: the operator must either go to a two-shot format (alternating between closeups in what was previously a single image), lose some of the image, or make several abrupt pans. In cases where a film director has carefully designed his composition for optimal viewing on a wide theatrical screen, these changes may be seen as changing that director's vision to an unacceptable extent. One notable example of this technique is in the film "Emma", where a scene with Gwyneth Paltrow and Alan Cumming and two other performers, the VHS version of the movie pans back and forth across a row of people, never showing all four at any one time.

Once television revenues became important to the success of theatrical films, cameramen began to work for compositions that would keep the vital information within the "TV safe area" of the frame. For example, the BBC suggests program makers who are recording in 16:9 frame their shots in a 14:9 aspect ratio which is then broadcast for non-widescreen televisions with small black bars at the top and bottom of the picture, while owners of widescreen TV sets see the full 16:9 picture.

In other cases film directors reverse this process, creating a negative with information that extends above and below the widescreen theatrical image (this is sometimes referred to as an "open matte" composition). "The Sting", "Swing Shift", and "Top Gun" were all filmed in this manner. Often pan-and-scan compositors make use of this full-screen negative as a starting point, so that in some scenes the TV version may contain "more" image content than the widescreen version while in other scenes where such an "opened" composition is not appropriate a subset of the widescreen image may be selected. As a general rule (prior to the rise of DVD), special effects would be done within the theatrical aspect ratio, but not the full-frame one (due to expense). Thus, "Back to the Future, Part II" (for instance) in full frame is open-matte, but the effects shots are pan-and-scanned. This can be quite distracting, as the pan-and-scanned shots are grainier, due to the technique.

The danger with this method is that information deliberately left out of shot in the widescreen version—such as cables, microphone booms, jet vapor trails, or overhead telephone wires—may appear in the TV version. In some cases (notably many of the films of Stanley Kubrick) the original 1.33:1 aspect ratio of the negative is transferred directly to the video master (although these versions also represent a new aspect ratio compared to the original theatrical release; these are not properly "pan and scan" transfers at all but are often called "full-frame" or "open matte" transfers).


Some directors still balk at the use of "pan and scan" versions of their movies because they feel it compromises the directorial vision with which their movies were created. For instance, Steven Spielberg initially refused to release a pan-and-scan version of "Raiders of the Lost Ark" but eventually gave in; Woody Allen refused altogether to release one of "Manhattan", the letterbox version is therefore the only version available on VHS and DVD. Any tampering with the original image of a film, particularly to crop it to fit a television screen, implies a compromise of the original image, and the cropping of a widescreen image to a full screen image for standard televisions requires skill by a film editor to prevent undue loss of elements of the composition.

Changes in screen angle (panning) may be necessary to prevent closeups between two speakers where only one person is visible in the pan-and-scan version and both participants seem to speak alternately to persons off camera; this comes at the cost of losing the smoothness of scenes.

Inversely, the cropping of a film originally shown in the standard ratio to fit widescreen televisions may cut off foreground or background, such as a tap-dance scene in which much attention is directed appropriately at a dancer's feet. This situation will commonly occur whenever a widescreen TV is set to display full images without stretching (often called the zoom setting) on images with an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 or less. The solution is to pillar box the image by adding black bars on either side of the image, which maintains the full picture height.

In Europe, where the PAL TV format offers more vertical resolution to begin with, "pan-and-scan" broadcasts and "pan-and-scan" DVDs of movies originally shown in widescreen are relatively rare. However, on some channels in some countries (such as the United Kingdom), films with an aspect ratio of more than 1.85:1 are panned and scanned to fit the broadcast 1.78:1 ratio.

One modern alternative to pan and scan is to directly adjust the source material. This is very rare: the only known uses are computer-generated features, such as those produced by Pixar and video games such as Bioshock. They call their approach to full-screen versions reframing: some shots are pan and scan, while others are transferred open matte (a full widescreen image extended with added image above and below). Another method is to keep the camera angle as tight as a pan shot, but move the location of characters, objects, or the camera, so that the subjects fit in the frame.

The advent of DVDs and their use of anamorphic presentation, coupled with the increasing popularity of widescreen televisions and computer monitors, have rendered pan and scan less important. Fullscreen versions of films originally produced in widescreen are still available in the United States.

ee also

*List of film formats
*Motion picture terminology
*Open matte

External links

* [ The Letterbox and Widescreen Advocacy Page]
* [ List of Pan & Scan-only DVDs produced by the Walt Disney Company]

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