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Unveiling the Magic: Anamorphic Filmmaking with Young One Studio

Updated: Sep 30, 2023



At Young One Studio we've had this burning desire to dive headfirst into the mesmerizing world of anamorphic filmmaking for quite some time now. The only hitch? Traditional anamorphic lenses often come with price tags that are way over budget. However!! Anamorphic adapters are making a comeback. And guess what? We got our hands on an original Iscorama 54 non-multi-coated 1.5X anamorphic adapter, that granddaddy of all adapters, and we're extremely excited.


So, let's talk about anamorphic lenses. To me, they're like the rock stars of the lens world – they break all the rules of optical physics. They squash, compress, and blend images in a way that's downright magical, leaving you with a cinematic quality that's nothing short of awe-inspiring. It's a passionate love affair with the way the depth of field takes on this unique texture, how bokeh transforms into these distinctive shapes, and how focus gracefully dances when you rack focus to accentuate those captivating anamorphic distortions that paint the backdrop of your scenes.


As we learn the ins and outs of our shiny new anamorphic adapter, we want to share with you the subtle, yet mind-blowing differences between spherical and anamorphic lenses. For eons, camera lenses have been all about that spherical design, they're named after the curvy glass elements they house. And the standard aspect ratio for 35-millimeter film? Well, it stood at 4:3, which meant that films were captured and projected in nearly square images.


But go back to the early 1950s, and you'll find a different story. American cinema was facing a bit of a crisis, attendance was plummeting fast. The solution? Filmmakers wanted a massive, wide image. But how do you fit a rectangular image onto a square piece of film? Enter Henri Chrétien and his game-changing anamorphic widescreen process, scooped up by 20th Century Fox.


Henri Chrétien, the optical genius from Sorbonne, unveiled the anamorphoscopic lens for the revolutionary CinemaScope system. Anamorphic lenses had this incredible ability to squeeze a wide image into a square format, only to stretch it out again through another anamorphic lens during projection. This technological leap gave birth to widescreen filmmaking, pretty much changing the look of cinema overnight.


What are anamorphic lenses?


Anamorphic lenses, at their core, are essentially fancy dressed-up spherical lenses with extra elements known as an anamorphic block. Regular lenses have elements with curvy surfaces, but anamorphic elements, they're all about that cylindrical curve. This anamorphic block, whether it's upfront, in the middle, or hanging out at the rear of the lens, is the secret sauce that lets anamorphic lenses capture a wider field of view.


But wait, there's more! Anamorphic lenses come with a squeeze factor, which is basically the degree of horizontal compression. It ranges from 1.33 to 2 times the original width (The iscorama being 1.5X so not obnoxiously wide, but full of all the anamorphic characteristic goodness) Nowadays, we unsqueeze the image in post-production (and in real-time in camera, and on our monitors), but that wider image is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what makes these lenses so sexy.


There are SIX big differences in the way anamorphic and spherical lenses paint pictures, but keep in mind that these characteristics can vary from one lens maker to another. Let's take a look.



I.BOKEH


Bokeh, the enchanting play of out-of-focus elements in an image, is a critical aspect of the visual language in filmmaking and photography. It's the art of rendering background highlights and distant points of light as beautifully blurred shapes, adding depth and dimension to the composition. Bokeh often becomes a signature element in a cinematographer's toolkit, often lending itself to their look and style and we're aching to make this new Iscorama our distinctive look at the Studio.


In the realm of spherical lenses, bokeh typically presents itself as soft, circular orbs of light. These circular bokeh shapes are a result of the spherical lens design and the way it handles the out-of-focus highlights. They provide a gentle background creating a sense of separation between the subject and its surroundings. This circular bokeh is a hallmark of many classic and contemporary films, offering a timeless and prevalent look.


Stepping into the world of anamorphic lenses, bokeh takes on a whole new dimension. Anamorphic lenses, with their cylindrical elements and unique squeeze factor, transform the way bokeh is rendered. Instead of the customary circular shapes, anamorphic lenses produce charming oval or elliptical bokeh with a torn or shredded, some say painterly-like quality.


The intensity and character of these oval bokeh shapes are closely linked to the lens's squeeze factor. The squeeze factor, which determines the extent of horizontal compression applied to the image, directly influences the shape of the bokeh. Anamorphic lenses with a higher squeeze factor tend to elongate the circular highlights into more pronounced ovals. This characteristic is a distinctive feature of anamorphic cinematography, instantly recognizable to those familiar with its visual language.


The oval bokeh shapes introduce an element of elegance and uniqueness to the visual storytelling. They create a sense of elongation in the background highlights, adding a touch of drama and sophistication to the frame. This distinctive bokeh can be particularly effective in enhancing the overall cinematic quality of a scene, making it a sought-after choice for filmmakers aiming to achieve a specific look and feel.


It's important to note that the oval bokeh isn't just an aesthetic choice; it can also serve a storytelling purpose. The elongated shapes can draw the viewer's attention to specific areas within the frame, guiding the eye and reinforcing the narrative focus. Filmmakers often leverage these unique bokeh shapes to underscore emotional moments or highlight key elements within the composition.


Bokeh is one of those cool, artsy bits of photography and film. It’s super important for the look of both anamorphic and spherical lenses. It’s not just about blurring the background; it’s about adding a unique, creative spin to the images. It’s like the special sauce that can make visuals more flavorful and rich, allowing photographers and filmmakers to play around with the mood and focus of a shot. Over time, the way we use bokeh has changed and evolved, opening up new doors for how we tell visual stories. Its distinct vibe and adaptable nature have made it a favourite trick of many creatives, helping to bring a touch of magic and emotion.


II. DISTORTION


In the world of filmmaking and photography, distortion can be broadly categorized into two types: spherical distortion and anamorphic distortion. Each type presents distinct visual effects and considerations for filmmakers and photographers.


Spherical Distortion:

Spherical lenses, as the name suggests, have curved glass elements with spherical surfaces. This design has been the standard for many years and is known for its relatively minimal distortion compared to early anamorphic lenses. However, it's not entirely free from distortion:

  1. Barrel Distortion: One of the most common forms of distortion in spherical lenses is barrel distortion. This phenomenon causes straight lines to appear slightly curved, particularly towards the edges of the frame. Barrel distortion can be noticeable when shooting architecture or scenes with prominent vertical or horizontal elements. It gives a subtle curvature to lines, which can be corrected in post-production if needed.

  2. Pincushion Distortion: The opposite of barrel distortion, pincushion distortion causes straight lines to bow inward, creating a pinched or cushion-like effect. This type of distortion is less common in high-quality spherical lenses but can still occur in some situations.

Modern spherical lenses are engineered to minimize distortion, providing a more accurate representation of the subject. This makes them suitable for projects where maintaining a natural and distortion-free image is essential, such as documentary filmmaking or interviews.


Anamorphic Distortion:

Anamorphic lenses, especially in their early iterations, were known for their distinctive and sometimes exaggerated distortion characteristics. This unique distortion added a cinematic quality that became synonymous with the anamorphic look. Two primary forms of distortion were associated with early anamorphic lenses:

  1. "Scope Mumps": This term refers to a specific type of distortion that was prevalent in early anamorphic lenses, particularly during close-up shots. "Scope mumps" caused faces to appear elongated and stretched, often leading to distorted facial proportions. While this effect may not have been desirable in all situations, it became an iconic feature of vintage anamorphic cinematography.

  2. Barrel Distortion: Similar to spherical lenses, early anamorphic lenses also exhibited barrel distortion, resulting in curved lines towards the edges of the frame. However, this distortion was often more pronounced in anamorphic lenses, contributing to the unique visual language of the format.



III. FOCUS FALL OFF AND ROLL OFF

In modern filmmaking, the quirks and challenges posed by early anamorphic lenses have been significantly mitigated through advancements in lens technology. Contemporary anamorphic lenses are designed to minimize "Scope mumps" and barrel distortion, providing filmmakers with greater control over the distortion characteristics. This allows for a more versatile and controlled use of anamorphic lenses in a wider range of storytelling scenarios.


However, for those seeking the vintage anamorphic vibe and looking to replicate the distinctive distortions of early anamorphic lenses, there are options available. Filmmakers can track down vintage anamorphic glass (or adapters, i.e. our lovely Iscorama 54 which blends a rich tapestry of modern and old visual aesthetics. But being an adapter, also greatly enhances the characteristics of the chosen taken lense), which may exhibit more pronounced distortion effects. Additionally, some lens modifications and optical filters can be employed to introduce or accentuate specific distortion characteristics, providing a creative toolset for filmmakers who wish to evoke the nostalgic charm of classic anamorphic cinematography.


Distortion is an intriguing aspect of lens characteristics that has evolved over time. While early anamorphic lenses allowed for mumps and distortion galore, modern lens technology has allowed for greater control and correction of these effects. Filmmakers now have the flexibility to choose lenses that align with their creative vision, whether it involves the precision of spherical lenses or the nostalgic charm of vintage anamorphic distortions.


Let's discuss fall-off and roll-off.


Focus Fall Off:

Focus fall-off refers to the gradual change in focus as one moves away from the central subject or point of interest within an image. This optical phenomenon is a fundamental aspect of lens behaviour, and it has a significant impact on how the audience perceives the depth and dimensionality of a scene.


In the world of lenses, both spherical and anamorphic, focus fall-off is a shared trait. When a lens is focused on a specific subject or object, elements in front of and behind that subject gradually lose sharpness and clarity. This blurring of the foreground and background is essential for directing the viewer's attention and creating a sense of depth within the frame.


In the case of spherical lenses, focus fall-off tends to exhibit a relatively linear and consistent progression. As objects move away from the point of focus, they gradually become less sharp. This behaviour can be controlled and predicted with precision, making spherical lenses ideal for scenarios where maintaining a predictable and realistic depth of field is crucial.


However, the magic of anamorphic lies in the unique flavour they bring to focus fall-off. Anamorphic lenses introduce a subtle, and sometimes not so subtle, characteristic to this phenomenon. Due to their cylindrical lens elements and specific optical properties, anamorphic lenses often produce a focus fall-off that is less abrupt and harsh compared to spherical lenses. The transition between in-focus and out-of-focus areas is smoother and more gradual, creating a sense of organic blending between different image planes.


Focus Roll-Off:

Focus roll-off, on the other hand, delves into the interaction between the foreground and background elements within a scene. It pertains to how these elements transition in terms of focus and clarity, particularly when the depth of field is shallow.


In the realm of lenses, anamorphic lenses once again bring their unique touch to focus roll-off. Anamorphic focus roll-off is known for creating a softer and more organic transition between the foreground and background. This quality is highly regarded by filmmakers for its ability to blend subjects and surroundings seamlessly.


Spherical lenses, while capable of delivering smooth transitions, may exhibit a slightly different character in focus roll-off. The nature of the focus roll-off in spherical lenses can vary depending on factors such as the lens design, aperture setting, and sensor size. In some cases, spherical lenses may produce a more distinct separation between the in-focus subject and the out-of-focus background.


The focus roll-off in anamorphic lenses, with its gentler transition aligns well with the cinematic desire to create immersive and emotionally resonant visuals. It allows filmmakers to craft scenes where the background elements become an integral part of the storytelling, contributing to the overall mood and atmosphere of the narrative.


Focus fall-off and focus roll-off are two facets of lens behaviour that wield immense creative potential in the world of visual storytelling. While both spherical and anamorphic lenses exhibit these phenomena, anamorphic lenses introduce a distinctive aesthetic quality characterized by smoother, more organic transitions. This unique touch adds depth, dimensionality, and a touch of cinematic magic to the images they capture.



IV. FOCUS BREATHING


This captivating optical phenomenon, especially prominent in anamorphic lenses, introduces an extra layer of cinematic allure and narrative subtlety to the craft of filmmaking. Focus breathing stands as a divisive topic among filmmakers, with some actively seeking this "breathing" effect to enrich their frames, while others vehemently classify it as a "distraction" to the overall image.

Imagine this scenario: you find yourself in the midst of a gripping scene, capturing a close-up of an actor delivering an emotionally charged monologue. The character's feelings surge and recede, and as you skillfully adjust the focus, the scene itself begins to inhale and exhale, mirroring the character's emotional rhythm.


This visual respiration can either enhance the moment or become an unwelcome hindrance. Whether you embrace or abhor it ultimately comes down to your discretion. Always bear in mind: does it serve the narrative?


Understanding Focus Breathing:

At its core, focus breathing is the perceptible alteration of the frame's field of view as the focus point is adjusted. When you rack focus, shifting the focus from one subject or object to another, the framing seems to subtly expand or contract. It's as though the image itself is breathing, gently swelling or shrinking in response to the changing focal point.


While focus breathing can occur in both spherical and anamorphic lenses, it is often more pronounced and noticeable in the latter. This distinctive characteristic arises from the optical design and internal mechanics of anamorphic lenses.


The degree of focus breathing can vary depending on several factors, including the design and make of the anamorphic lens. Some lenses exhibit a more pronounced and noticeable effect, while others offer a subtler, more restrained breathing motion. Filmmakers often select lenses based on the desired level of focus breathing to complement the emotional dynamics of a scene.


The Cinematic Appeal of Focus Breathing:

Focus breathing, far from being an unwanted optical quirk, is often embraced and sought after by filmmakers for its cinematic allure. Why? Because it serves as a visual storytelling tool that can amplify the emotional impact of a scene.

  1. Emphasis on Emotional Dynamics: When a character experiences intense emotions or undergoes a significant internal change, the focus breathing effect can accentuate the emotional resonance of the moment. As the focus shifts, the audience perceives a subtle yet poignant visual response, heightening their connection to the character's journey.

  2. Visual Punctuation: Focus breathing can be used strategically to punctuate key moments in a narrative. By intentionally adjusting the focus to emphasize the breathing effect, filmmakers draw the viewer's attention to critical plot developments or shifts in character dynamics.

  3. Artistic Expression: Just as a painter uses brush strokes to convey emotions and moods on canvas, a filmmaker can use focus breathing as a brushstroke on the visual canvas. It adds depth and texture to the composition, transforming a scene into a work of art.

  4. Cinematic Realism: Focus breathing, in its subtlety, also mirrors the way our eyes naturally adjust when we focus on different objects or distances. This semblance of realism can enhance the immersive quality of a film, making the audience feel like active participants in the unfolding story.

Focus breathing in anamorphic lenses is not a technical flaw but a creative tool. It allows filmmakers to infuse their visuals with a dynamic quality that resonates emotionally with the audience. The artful deployment of focus breathing, whether to evoke empathy, emphasize a narrative beat, or enhance the overall cinematic experience, showcases the power of lenses as instruments of storytelling in the hands of skilled cinematographers and directors. It's the cinematic breath that gives life to the moving image, making it an indelible part of the storytelling lexicon in the world of film.


V. LENS FLARES


You're watching a blockbuster sci-fi movie, and as the camera pans across a futuristic cityscape, brilliant beams of light cascade across the screen, creating mesmerizing streaks and halos. Those captivating visual phenomena are none other than lens flares, and they have the power to transform a scene from ordinary to extraordinary. When it comes to capturing these epic lens flares that elevate your shots to cinematic heights, anamorphic lenses stand as your most reliable companions.


The Enchanting World of Lens Flares:

Lens flares occur when a strong light source enters the camera lens at an angle, interacts with the lens elements, and scatters or reflects within the lens barrel. This interplay of light results in the creation of streaks, halos, and glowing artifacts that add a touch of cinematic magic to the frame.


While lens flares can appear in both anamorphic and spherical lenses, they are particularly renowned for their striking and distinctive appearance in anamorphic optics. The unique optical construction of anamorphic lenses, characterized by cylindrical lens elements and specific coatings, contributes to the creation of lens flares that are nothing short of spectacular.


The Anatomy of Anamorphic Lens Flares:

When a light source hits an anamorphic lens just right, several factors come into play, contributing to the mesmerizing lens flares:

  1. Streak Formation: Anamorphic lenses are renowned for producing horizontal streaks when exposed to direct light sources. These streaks can extend across the frame, creating a visually captivating effect. The number and intensity of streaks can vary depending on the specific lens design and coating.

  2. Colour Variations: The colour of lens flares can range from warm oranges and reds to cool blues and purples. This variation in colour is influenced by the lens coating and the type of glass used in the lens elements. Different lenses yield distinct colour palettes, allowing filmmakers to choose the perfect hue to enhance the mood of a scene.

  3. Halo Effect: Lens flares often manifest as circular or semi-circular halos around the light source. These halos add depth and dimension to the frame, creating an otherworldly and cinematic atmosphere.

  4. Size and Shape: Anamorphic lens flares can vary in size and shape, depending on the design of the lens. Some may produce slender, elongated streaks, while others create broader, more pronounced flares. The specific characteristics of the lens flare can be tailored to suit the visual style of the production.

Leveraging Lens Flares for Cinematic Impact:

Lens flares are more than just visual artifacts; they are storytelling tools that can be harnessed to enhance the narrative and emotional impact of a film:

  1. Elevating Atmosphere: Lens flares can evoke a sense of wonder, mystery, or awe, making them particularly effective in science fiction, fantasy, or epic adventure genres. They transport the audience to otherworldly realms and amplify the film's overall atmosphere.

  2. Emphasizing Light Sources: By strategically incorporating lens flares, filmmakers can draw attention to specific light sources within a scene. This technique can be used to highlight a character's perspective, emphasize a crucial plot element, or underscore the emotional tone of a moment.

  3. Creating Visual Poetry: Lens flares can infuse a scene with visual poetry, adding depth and symbolism to the storytelling. They can represent hope, enlightenment, or the arrival of a pivotal moment, contributing to the film's thematic resonance.

  4. Enhancing Realism: Lens flares, when used judiciously, can mimic the way our eyes perceive light in the real world. This semblance of realism can enhance the audience's immersion in the film, making them feel like active participants in the story.

The Artistry of Lens Flares in Filmmaking:

In the hands of skilled cinematographers and directors, lens flares become brushstrokes on the cinematic canvas. They transform scenes into visual masterpieces and elevate storytelling to new heights. Filmmakers carefully craft the presence and intensity of lens flares to align with their artistic vision, allowing these artifacts to become an integral part of the narrative.

So, if you're in pursuit of those epic lens flares that ignite the screen with cinematic brilliance, anamorphic lenses are your creative allies. With their ability to conjure streaks, halos, and colours that mesmerize and captivate, anamorphic optics unlock a world of visual possibilities, turning your filmmaking dreams into a captivating reality. Embrace the magic of lens flares, and let them paint your cinematic masterpiece with light and wonder.


VI. Depth of field


Often referred to as DoF, is a fundamental aspect of cinematography that wields immense creative power. When it comes to anamorphic lenses, this aspect takes on a unique and captivating dimension, significantly contributing to the distinctive anamorphic look with an almost three-dimensional quality.


The Basics of Depth of Field:

Depth of field is the range of distances within a scene that appears acceptably sharp in an image. It's defined by three primary factors:

  1. Aperture: The size of the lens aperture (measured in f-stops) determines how much light enters the lens. A wide aperture (e.g., f/1.4) creates a shallow depth of field, resulting in a blurred background (bokeh) and a sharp foreground. In contrast, a narrow aperture (e.g., f/16) deepens the depth of field, keeping more of the scene in focus.

  2. Focal Length: The focal length of the lens affects the perceived depth of field. Longer focal lengths (telephoto lenses) tend to compress the apparent depth of field, making the background appear closer to the subject. Shorter focal lengths (wide-angle lenses) exaggerate the depth of field, creating a sense of spaciousness.

  3. Distance: The physical distance between the camera, subject, and background plays a crucial role in determining depth of field. The closer the subject is to the camera, the shallower the depth of field becomes.

Anamorphic Lenses and Depth of Field:

Anamorphic lenses introduce a fascinating twist to the concept of depth of field. Unlike spherical lenses, anamorphic lenses inherently provide a wider field of view for the same focal length. This expanded horizontal perspective is a hallmark of anamorphic cinematography, and it significantly influences the depth of field.


Here's how anamorphic lenses impact depth of field:

  1. Wider Field of View: Anamorphic lenses squeeze a wider image onto the camera's sensor or film frame. This expanded horizontal view not only captures more of the scene but also affects how depth is perceived. Objects in the background appear farther apart from the subject, creating a distinct spatial quality.

  2. Shallow Depth of Field: Due to their wider field of view, anamorphic lenses can achieve a shallow depth of field even when using a relatively small aperture. This means that filmmakers can keep the subject sharp while rendering the background beautifully blurred. This unique characteristic contributes to the cinematic allure of anamorphic imagery.

  3. Selective Focus: Anamorphic lenses enable filmmakers to selectively focus on specific elements within a shot, drawing the viewer's attention to key subjects or details. By using a wide aperture and careful composition, filmmakers can create a visual hierarchy that enhances storytelling and emotional impact.

  4. Visual Separation: The wider field of view and shallower depth of field provided by anamorphic lenses enhance the separation between the subject and the background. This separation adds dimensionality to the image, making characters or objects pop off the screen and immersing the audience in the visual narrative.

The Distinctive Anamorphic Look:

The interplay of a wider field of view, shallow depth of field, and selective focus defines the hallmark anamorphic look. It's a look that has graced countless iconic films and continues to captivate audiences today. Filmmakers seeking to evoke a sense of grandeur, cinematic splendour, or emotional intimacy often turn to anamorphic lenses to achieve their creative vision.


Depth of field in anamorphic cinematography is a potent storytelling tool. Anamorphic lenses, with their ability to widen the field of view and create a shallow depth of field, offer filmmakers a unique palette for crafting visually stunning and emotionally resonant stories. Whether it's isolating a character in a sea of bokeh or conveying the vastness of a breathtaking landscape, anamorphic lenses bring depth and dimension to the art of filmmaking, enriching the viewer's experience with every frame.


However! anamorphic lenses, as beautiful as they are, can be a bit high-maintenance. They often come with a hefty price tag, and focusing up close can be a bit like trying to thread a needle in the dark. To tackle this, filmmakers sometimes use diopters. But if you're on a budget, oval iris inserts or streak filters can give you a similar vibe without breaking the bank.


SPHERICAL OR ANAMORPHIC?

IT'S UP TO YOU


In the real world, choosing between spherical and anamorphic lenses comes down to the story you want to tell. Spherical lenses generally deliver sharp, clean images that feel grounded and real. Think "Black Panther," where every detail of Wakanda's world-building needed to shine.

On the flip side, anamorphic lenses introduce cinematic artifacts that add a dreamy quality to your visuals. Take "Annihilation," for example, where they used anamorphic lenses to capture the otherworldly vibe of the shimmer.


While most filmmakers stick to one lens type for consistency, there are times when mixing things up adds depth to your storytelling. In "The Wolf of Wall Street," they used anamorphic lenses for Jordan Belfort's early career, creating a distinct visual language. Then, when Belfort's life took a different turn, they switched to spherical lenses for a fresh perspective.


How you play with anamorphic and spherical is entirely up to you. Just remember, whatever you choose make sure it serves the story!


- M.Young


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