Pan and scan

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Pan and scan is a 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 disapprove of pan and scan cropping, because it can remove up to 45% (on 2.35:1 films) of the original image, changing the director or cinematographer's original vision and intentions. The vertical equivalent is known as "tilt and scan" or "reverse pan and scan".

Contents

Background

For the first several decades of television broadcasting, sets displayed images with a 4:3 aspect ratio in which the width is 1.33 times the height. Meanwhile, the producers of theatrical motion pictures began to use "widescreen" formats such as Cinemascope which enable more panoramic vistas and present other compositional opportunities. But at the height of a television screen, these formats might be twice as wide. To present a widescreen movie on such a television requires one of a few techniques to accommodate this difference. One technique is "letterboxing", which preserves the original theatrical aspect ratio, but not as high as a standard television, leaving black bars at the top and bottom of the screen. Another common technique is to "pan and scan", filling the full height of the screen but cropping it horizontally. High definition television offers a wider 16:9 aspect ratio (1.78 times the height instead of 1.33), which allows films made at 1.66:1 and 1.85:1 to fill most of the screen, with only small letterboxing or cropping required. Films shot at 2.20:1, 2.35:1, 2.39:1, 2.55:1, and especially 2.76:1 (Ben-Hur) are still problematic.

Techniques

During the "pan and scan" process, an editor selects the parts of the original filmed composition that seem to be the focus of the shot and makes sure that these are copied (i.e. "scanned"). 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. In a scene in which the focus does not gradually shift from one horizontal position to another—such as actors at each extreme engaging in rapid conversation with each other—the editor may choose to "cut" from one to the other rather than rapidly panning back and forth. If the actors are closer together on the screen, the editor may pan slightly, alternately cropping one or the other partially.

This method allows the maximum resolution of the image, since it uses all the available vertical video scan lines—which is especially important for NTSC televisions, having a rather low number of lines available. It also gives a full-screen image on a traditional television set; hence pan-and-scan versions of films on videotape or DVD are often known as fullscreen.

However, it also has several drawbacks. Some visual information is necessarily cropped out. It can also change a shot in which the camera was originally stationary to one in which it is frequently panning, or change a single continuous shot into one with frequent cuts. In a shot which was originally panned to show something new, or one in which something enters the shot from off-camera, it changes the timing of these appearances to the audience. As an example, in the film Oliver!, made in Panavision, the criminal Bill Sikes commits a murder. The murder takes place mostly offscreen, behind a staircase wall, and Oliver is a witness to it. As Sikes steps back from behind the wall, we see Oliver from the back watching him in terror. In the pan-and-scan version of the film, we see Oliver's reaction as the murder is being committed, but not when Sikes steps backward from the wall after having done it.

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