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Letterboxing Vs. Pan-And-Scan

by Jeremy Butler

Letterboxing preserves most of the original image, but shrinks it. This process closely resembles widescreen masking for the theater, in that the tops and bottoms of the video frame are blackened. In letterboxing, the anamorphic film frame is reduced and fit into the frame-within-the-television-frame. A small amount of the left and right sides of the anamorphic frame is sacrificed, but it is considerably more similar to the original framing than is a pan-and-scan version. In the letterboxed version of He Said, She Said (1991), the reader may see how the anamorphic frame from the original film has been shrunk and placed within the television frame. Most of the width of the original composition has been maintained. We can see both Kevin Bacon and Elizabeth Perkins on opposite sides of the frame as she bounces a coffee mug off his head.

The pan-and-scan process, in contrast, reduces the 2.40 anamorphic frame to television’s 1.33 by selecting the most “significant” part of the frame and eliminating the rest. In the pan-and-scan version, Bacon fills most of the frame and Perkins cannot be seen at all—quite a difference from the original film!

Letterboxing in He Said, She Said

Illustration of how letterboxing shrinks the original image, but keeps its proper aspect ratio.

from He Said, She Said (1991)
Creator: Ken Kwapis, Marisa Silver
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Posted by Jeremy Butler
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