The Comprehensive Guide to Editing Anamorphic Footage and Anamorphic Visual Effects
Once you’ve shot your beautiful anamorphic footage, how is it different than editing normal footage? Mostly, it’s pretty straightforward, but there are a few key differences that you need to keep in mind, as well as certain effects that can no longer be used. This guide will continue to be built out with new ideas as we run into new situations in filming and editing anamorphic footage for anamorphic footage. Although this guide covers Adobe Creative Cloud (Premiere Pro and After Effects), the settings should be similar in any major editing program.
INJESTING FOOTAGE & SETTING PIXEL ASPECT RATIO
To begin, simply drag and drop your footage into your project just like any edit. Even though cameras like the Panasonic GH5, Panasonic SH1 anamorphic, or Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera properly recognize anamorphic lenses and de-squeeze the image in your monitor, the actual recorded file will be in 4:3 (or 6:5, for the Blackmagic Ursa Mini) compressed by a factor of 2. For example, on the BMPCC 4k, the files are 2880×2160.
The fastest way to edit your footage is NOT to unstrech your using your height and width scale, but by setting the pixel aspect ratio on all of your footage to 2.0 (or 1.3, or 1.5, if you are using a 1.3x anamorphic or a 1.5x anamorphic lens). If you change your height and width scale settings, for example, 2880 x 2 = editing at a resolution of 5760 x 2160, your editor will process all effects and render at this extremely large resolution. This can slow down your timeline and seriously bog down your project even on the fastest editing computers
2880 x 2160 with a 2.0 pixel aspect ratio is half the pixels that your editing computer has to process and render.
Avoid this simply by setting the pixel aspect ratio on your anamorphic footage to 2. By doing this, you can edit your anamorphic footage at its native resolution of 2880 x 2160, but it will display properly de-squeezed without using additional space, bandwidth, or processing power.
EDITING AND SEQUENCES
Now that your footage properly displays in editor, in Premiere Pro, the easiest way to get started is to simply drag one of your anamorphic clips on to the composition icon. This will create a Sequence timeline with the proper resolution, with pixel aspect ratio set, and you’re good to start editing right now.
Of course, if you have to deliver at a certain resolution for a content provider (say, standard 3840 x 2160) , you’ll need to create a Sequence with the proper settings. This will almost certainly create a mismatch with your anamorphic footage, so make sure your editor has a setting to automatically resize your footage to scale to the size of the sequence. In Premiere Pro, this setting is highly recommended and can save you a lot of time copying and pasting motion settings to every clip in your sequence timeline. This will also hard-encode the anamorphic letterboxes, which is fine for delivery through platforms such as Netflix, but inadvisable through platforms such as Youtube or Vimeo.
We will cover this more in the delivery section- but keep in mind that if you DO NOT export a 16:9 sequence (with hard-encoded anamorphic letterboxes), YouTube will play your film properly, but YouTube will unfortunately not allow you to create any end cards or title animations, as of April 2020.
STABILIZING ANAMORPHIC FOOTAGE
First of all: Warp Stabilization. This effect in both Premiere Pro and After Effects is an incredible savior to shooting handheld with small non-IBIS cameras, such as the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Cameras. Warp stabilizer works by tracking points identified automatically within the frame and calculating a stable path throughout the shot based on user settings. And if your settings are too strong, you may see unpleasant bokeh rotation or skewing that would usually go unnoticed in stabilization of spherical footage.
Warp Stabilizer contains an important setting called Method. The settings are detailed below:
- Position: Stabilization is based on position data only and is the most basic way footage can be stabilized.
- Position, Scale And Rotation: Stabilization is based upon position, scale, and rotation data. If there are not enough areas to track, Warp Stabilizer chooses the previous type (Position).
- Perspective: Uses a type of stabilization in which the entire frame is effectively corner-pinned. If there are not enough areas to track, Warp Stabilizer chooses the previous type (Position, Scale, Rotation).
- Subspace Warp (default): Attempts to warp various parts of the frame differently to stabilize the entire frame. If there are not enough areas to track, Warp Stabilizer choose the previous type (Perspective). The method in use on any given frame can change across the course of the clip based on the tracking accuracy.
You need to make sure that if you see any anamorphic skewing due to your stabilization to change the default setting from Subspace Warp to Position. This may reduce the effectiveness but should eliminate most of the annoying anamorphic lens skewing that may be forced into the image by Warp Stabilizer.
BETTER STABILIZATION OF ANAMORPHIC FOOTAGE
Adobe’s Warp Stabilizer is a powerful plugin included with Premiere Pro and After Effects (with more settings available in the AE version), but it does not have a ton of flexibility and the ability to delete unnecessary track points is a sore missing point (even if it can be forced by using masks or track mattes). In this scenario, for more robust tracking, we recommend using a paid but effective solution such as Mocha Pro. Mocha Pro also allows you to set Position, Scale, Rotation, Perspective, and Shear individually- meaning you can exclude Rotation or Shear when stabilizing anamorphic footage, so you don’t experience any of the dreaded skewing.
ANAMORPHIC VISUAL EFFECTS AND CGI
Now that you have your edit in place, how do visual effects and CGI apply to anamorphic. Anamorphic visual effects are generally similar to traditional VFX, however, you will need to keep a few settings and best practices in mind.
WHY IS MY FOOTAGE SO WIDE!?
If you’re not shooting with a DSLR or cinema camera that can shoot in a square aspect ratio (reminiscent of Super35 film which was the original anamorphic look), you’re going to get a very wide anamorphic stretch. 16:9 aspect ratio becomes 32:9, or roughly 3.55:1! This is a unique look although it may not be useful for many deliverables or networks. Ultra-wide anamorphic is perhaps more suited for anamorphic music videos or anamorphic art projects.
So if you cannot shoot 4:3, your first simple anamorphic VFX might be simply to crop to 4:3 in post! The math behind this is simple. In After Effects, create a composition for your desired final resolution and aspect ratio. Set your pixel aspect ratio to anamorphic 2.0, then divide your shooting aspect ratio by 4:3 (1.333). For 16:9 (1.778), this is 1.778 / 1.333 = 1.33. This is the scale factor (133% in After Effects) you need to apply to your anamorphic footage you create a perfect cinemascope image.
If you’re worried about losing resolution- you’re probably be OK. Many cameras, such as the Blackmagic line, simply crop the sides when they record 4:3. This gives you a greater ability to capture a higher data rate, but you’re basically doing the same thing if you shoot 16:9 and then just crop the sides in post. For full frame anamorphic camera users like Canon or Sony A7s, these cameras can only shoot in 16:9 (unless you’re using Canon Magic Lantern, which has some excellent anamorphic features)
PIXEL ASPECT RATIO
One of the great features of Adobe Creative Cloud is the ability to seamlessly jump from Premiere Pro to After Effects with the Replace Footage with After Effects Composition. So if you’ve set your pixel aspect ratio to anamorphic 2.0 in Premiere Pro, your footage is going to import into After Effects also with a pixel ratio of anamorphic 2.0. This may create some confusion because your Premiere Pro sequence settings and your After Effects composition settings will mismatch! Just think of After Effects of trying to work with original footage as much as possible.
There is a small button that can easily go unnoticed in After Effects that will change your composition viewer to properly desqueeze After Effects anamorphic footage. Click this and you can edit with 2.0 anamorphic footage but in a proper, original-sized After Effects composition.
EDITING ANAMORPHIC VISUAL EFFECTS
For editing anamorphic footage in After Effects, you’ll again need to make sure that you set your composition’s pixel aspect ratio to Anamorphic 2.0. Oddly, After Effects doesn’t automatically activate the correct view for you, so you will have to select this manually. After setting this up, you can proceed with any visual effect work as normal. Please see the Warp Stabilizer notes above for specific anamorphic concerns with using stabilization.
EXPORTING ANAMORPHIC VISUAL EFFECTS
If you’re using dynamic link as a part of your workflow, then everything will automatically update properly in your Premiere Pro timeline.
If you’re rendering your After Effects compositions and importing the rendered files back into your Premiere Pro timeline, then you can simply export your After Effects composition as normal via the Render Queue.
Make sure to export your footage with a codec that supports pixel aspect ratio, such as Cineform, or ProRes. This should be automatically read by Premiere Pro and import perfectly into your anamorphic sequence.
EXPORTING YOUR FINAL ANAMORPHIC PROJECT
When you’re done with your project, you can export your footage in any export codec that supports setting the pixel aspect ratio. H264 and H265 (HEVC) both support setting a 2.0 pixel aspect ratio. You can simply export your project to match your sequence settings and you should be good to go. Nearly all players support reading the pixel aspect ratio metadata within an exported mp4 container. You can also upload this file to YouTube or Vimeo and it will play properly anamorphic on their platform.
Why would you not just export your composition in a normal 1.0 pixel aspect ratio, and double your horizontal resolution? The benefit to working with a 2.0 pixel aspect ratio (2880 x 2160), instead of a 1.0 pixel aspect ratio (5760 x 2160) is simply because the throughput to process such data is so much lower. 2880 x 2160 is half the pixels that your editing computer has to process and render. You can even export in codecs like H264 that do not support resolutions larger than 4K- for example- you can export 2880 x 2160 H264 without issue, but exporting 5760 x 2160 will require the more processor-intensive H265. Editing and exporting in a 2.0 pixel aspect ratio will save you processing power, hard drive space, and bandwidth.
We will continue to build out this guide with more helpful anamorphic editing tips over the next few months, including possibly using other video editing software.
If you have found this anamorphic editing guide interesting and are further interested adding anamorphic lenses o your toolbox as a cinematographer, please visit our anamorphic lens store for demos and examples. We have spent several years collecting, modifying, and testing anamorphic lenses to weed through the junk, make needed modifications, and assemble ready-to-shoot packages.
If you are interested in learning more on working with anamorphic lenses and DSLR, please check out our anamorphic tutorial blog for more anamorphic tips and tutorials!