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I've been watching The Mandalorian lately, and I noticed something strange: it noticeably suffers from some pretty severe letterboxing, even on my wide-screen display. I understand that some filmmakers do such things deliberately to make their movies not look like they were made for TV, but this isn't a movie. So why inflict such an ultra-wide aspect ratio on the audience even in its primary intended medium?

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    There's nothing wrong with a question about why creators chose a particular aspect ratio. You might just want to consider rephrasing the 'inflict' sentence - lots of people like a wide aspect ratio on some TVs. – iandotkelly Jan 31 at 19:25
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    IMO Most of these comments are non-responsive / self-serving and should move to chat. The question is readily understood by anybody who wants to understand it. It's entirely appropriate and excellent answers have already been given. This question comes up in a lot of places, and AFAIK there is no better place to look for an answer than here. – Craig.Feied Feb 2 at 20:31
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Napoleon Wilson Feb 2 at 20:40
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It's shot in anamorphic widescreen - the same ratio as many movies (2.39:1).

"Why" could be either…

  • Because of the lenses they chose* or

  • It's fashionable. Letterboxing is 'cool' They used to letterbox music videos in the 80's back when everyone still had square TVs, to make them 'look like movies'.

Take your pick.

Since many home TV screens these days are 55" or more, it gives you a greater cinematic feel, without you getting the claustrophobic quality of watching something like Cinemascope on a 4:3 18" CRT TV from the 80s.

After many comments…
*Initially I only mentioned this in passing, that their lenses are specifically anamorphic lenses. These do far more than just make the image 'wider'. They affect not just framing but focus and focus pulls, they change the shape of specular highlights and bokeh. They change the apparent depth of any shot, at any focal length. There is considerable artistic decision way beyond whether you get black bars or not. Entire books could be written on what they influence and why people choose them.

Additionally, anamorphic widescreen is not cropped to that ratio. Well, yes, it might be slightly - but the crop would be on all the monitors in production and on the camera operator's screen, so that the aspect ratio for the release would be what was shot inside that marker, intentionally. It is not just artificially cropped later to make it look cooler, it's shot that way right from the start.

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – A J Feb 5 at 5:14
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According to this article:

Cinematographers Greig Fraser, ASC, ACS and Barry “Baz” Idoine and showrunner Jon Favreau employ new technologies to frame the Disney Plus Star Wars series.

[...]

Shot on Arri’s Alexa LF, The Mandalorian was the maiden voyage for Panavision’s full-frame Ultra Vista 1.65x anamorphic lenses. The 1.65x anamorphic squeeze allowed for full utilization of the 1.44:1 aspect ratio of the LF to create a 2.37:1 native aspect ratio, which was only slightly cropped to 2.39:1 for exhibition.

“We chose the LF for a couple reasons,” explains Fraser. “Star Wars has a long history of anamorphic photography, and that aspect ratio is really key. We tested spherical lenses and cropping to 2.40, but it didn’t feel right. It felt very contemporary, not like the Star Wars we grew up with. Additionally, the LF’s larger sensor changes the focal length of the lens that we use for any given shot to a longer lens and reduces the overall depth of field. The T2.3 of the Ultra Vistas is more like a T0.8 in Super 35, so with less depth of field, it was easier to put the LED screen out of focus faster, which avoided a lot of issues with moiré. It allows the inherent problems in a 2D screen displaying 3D images to fall off in focus a lot faster, so the eye can’t tell that those buildings that appear to be 1,000 feet away are actually being projected on a 2D screen only 20 feet from the actor.

[...]

“Our desire for cinematic imagery drove every choice,” Idoine adds. And that included the incorporation of a LUT emulating Kodak’s short-lived 500T 5230 color negative, a favorite of Fraser’s. “I used that stock on Killing Them Softly [AC Oct. ’12] and Foxcatcher [AC Dec. ’14], and I just loved its creamy shadows and the slight magenta cast in the highlights,” says Fraser. “For Rogue One, ILM was able to develop a LUT that emulated it, and I’ve been using that LUT ever since.”

Note that is merely a relevant excerpt from a loooong and extremely detailed article that offers a magnitude of technical background on how The Mandalorian was made.

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    One could argue they chose the LF for its CCD, 4,5k, slightly larger than 35mm full-frame (& of course, larger sensor automatically gives the shorter DoF). That the lenses designed for it are the current state-of-the art for that CCD size. No-one's going to shoot TV on film these days, so the LUTs they had are a bonus to get that specific film stock look. This is about the closest it's currently possible to get to fully mimic 70mm. That still leaves the 'why', of course, but the decision for sure was artistic. (btw, I'm not intending to demean your answer in any way. Hard to express in text :) – Tetsujin Feb 1 at 17:54
  • All this pseudotechnical talk to warrant what is clearly sub-optimal technical solution (cropping the viewing window with black bars). The concept of anamorphic squeeze dates to the time when the footage has been shot on film. It is just ridiculous in the digital era. – Tegiri Nenashi Feb 1 at 20:17
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  • @BCdotWEB Digital cameras nowadays are what, 8K resolution? Therefore, it is much more straigtforward to put a normal (or wide angle) lens on it, and then crop the image to 21:9 in postproduction, than to use anamorphic lens. I suspect that might be actually the case how it has been shot, and all this talk about "anamorphic lens effect look" is just marketing speak. – Tegiri Nenashi Feb 2 at 19:20
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    @TegiriNenashi your understanding of "glass" in photography and cinematography is incomplete, and that is leading you to believe you understand things that you do not understand. Classic Dunning-Kruger syndrome. Easily corrected with some study. – Craig.Feied Feb 2 at 20:37
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One other reason they probably went with the anamorphic CinemaScope aspect-ratio is that it best-enables them to take advantage of this brand new technology they're using for the special-effects in lieu of a greenscreen, as can be seen in this YouTube video:

Screenshot:

enter image description here

In short, they now have a cylindrical chamber that is 1 giant screen, and they play the background on it while having the actors act inside of it. With a wider aspect-ratio they can include a larger portion of the background created by the cylinder in the shot.

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  • The article I linked to in my answer goes into this and explains that the reason they use these specific lenses etc. is to avoid getting a moiré effect WRT the background. – BCdotWEB Feb 1 at 23:45
  • I am not following how this is related. A green screen background can also be wide, and letterboxed or cropped/zoomed, and so on. Including more background / more to the side is almost certainly a reason they chose the aspect ratio, but they could do that fully independently of the Stagecraft set -- and conversely, they could still fully leverage that set in terms of lighting, actor immersion, parallax, etc. while cropping the final result. – Matthew Read Feb 3 at 21:24
  • @MatthewRead: I think the point is that when using such a set, the aspect ratio of the portion of the camera's field of view which stays within the set is rather wide. If they tried to use a taller aspect ratio without reducing the width of the field of view, the top and bottom of the field of view would extend beyond the boundaries of the set. – supercat Feb 3 at 22:11
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    Ah. I am not sure I buy that they went wide purely because they couldn't show more vertically, but I suppose it's possible. – Matthew Read Feb 3 at 23:08

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