Univisium (macaronic Latin for "unity of images") is a proposed universal film format created by cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, ASC, AIC and his son, Fabrizio, to unify all future theatrical and television movies into one respective aspect ratio of 2.00:1 (18:9). The proposed format also includes new standards for projection that maximize the efficiencies of the Univisium format.
The main proposal
In 1998, cinematographer Vittorio Storaro announced his plans for a new film format, originally to be called Univision, in an interview with International Photographer magazine. As Storaro stated in his written proposal "Recently, any movie - no matter how big or small, successful or not - will, after a very short life on the big screen, have a much longer life on an electronic screen. Today the Answer Print is made for both of these two different media. ...Having these two different media, with essentially two different aspect ratios, each of us (Directors, Production Designers, Cinematographers, Camera Operators, etc.) shares the nightmare of compromising the Composition of the Image. Looking through a viewfinder, a camera, or a monitor, we are always faced with at least two images of the same subject."
Storaro opines that, in the future of cinema, all films will be photographed in either high-definition video for small, intimate digital projection theaters, or in 65 mm for "big audience... large screen" films. In the cinematographer's opinion, as all films will be one of the two formats, he suggests a common aspect ratio compromise of 2.00:1 (mathematical average of 65 mm 2.20:1 and HD 1.78:1) be adopted for all films, 65 mm theatrical, HD theatrical and television.
As he told American Cinematographer writer Bob Fisher, "I believe it is very important for audiences to see films exactly the way they were composed by the director and cinematographer. This is a solution."
35 mm Univisium camera proposal
Storaro recognized that ubiquitous HD origination was not yet viable and therefore proposed an alteration to standard 35 mm photography to create a 2:00:1 aspect ratio and economize on film.
By using a negative area similar to that of the Super 35 frame (which utilizes the full width of a 35 mm film frame "perf-to-perf" as opposed to traditional 35 mm which utilizes a smaller area of the 35 mm frame offset to the right to accommodate space for an optical soundtrack) combined with 3-perf frame size (as opposed to standard 35 mm photography which uses four perforations per frame). The Univisium camera would use an aperture opening of 24mm x 12mm (.945" x .472") and three perforations per frame, which would eliminate the waste associated with 2.40:1 Super 35 mm photography (wherein nearly 50% of the frame is discarded) by creating a natural 2.00:1 aspect ratio utilizing the whole film area.
In addition to using the full film area, using three perforations per frame as opposed to four equates to using 25% less film for the same shooting time. With the traditional four perforations per frame, 35 mm film (at 24 frames per second) runs at 90 feet per minute (4 minutes 26 seconds per 400 feet of film), three perforations per frame runs at 67.5 feet per minute (5 minutes 56 seconds per 400 feet of film). This would mean each magazine of film would have 33% more shooting time and a production that shot the same overall length of time as a four-perforation film would use 25% less film.
The proposal also points out that the 2:00:1 aspect ratio can be achieved using standard spherical lenses, forgoing the need for anamorphic lenses, which are more expensive, slower (require more light) with less photographic depth of field than their spherical counterparts (which are higher quality, smaller, faster (require less light), with less aberrations (imperfections) associated with them. There are also a greater selection of spherical prime and zoom lenses than there are anamorphic lenses.
It is also pointed out that 3-perf will result in a quieter camera than 4-perf as there is less intermittent movement per frame.
The format also calls for shooting 25 frames per second, which eliminates problems associated with transferring film to video in the PAL and SECAM system and is still fairly simple to transfer to the NTSC video format.
35 mm Univisium projection proposal
Storaro suggests a renovation to standard film projectors to present a 3-perf frame and eliminate the need for an anamorphic print to be made (to optically squeeze the 2:1 3-perf aspect ratio into a 1.33:1 4-perf frame). As the image will fill the full film area (perf-to-perf) there is no room for a traditional optical soundtrack and Univisium requires two digital soundtracks, one for backup (which reside outside of the perforations on the edge of the film; DTS, Sony Dynamic Digital Sound, Dolby Digital). The projectors would run at 25 frames per second, just as the cameras do.
As a compromise to standard technology (for the time being), Storaro asserts that an anamorphic print can be made and presented in 24 frames per second with a digital and/or optical soundtrack.
Univisium in use
In just over a decade since Storaro presented his format proposal, only he has put portions of the proposal to practical use with the exception of a single film. Working with Technovision and Clairmont Cameras, both equipment providers have altered Arriflex 435 and 535B cameras for use on Storaro's films that use the Univisium aperture and 3-perf pull-down. In addition, Technicolor laboratories in Rome, London and Los Angeles also have the means to support the Univisium format. Although no film has utilized the full aspects of the proposal, especially with regard to the projection standards which have not been publicly adopted, Storaro has photographed a handful of recent films in the Univisium format.
- Tango (1998)
- Goya in Bordeaux (1999)
- Picking Up the Pieces (2000)
- Frank Herbert's Dune (2000)
- Exorcist: The Beginning (2004)
- Zapata: El sueño del héroe (2004)
- Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist (2005)
- Fair Trade (2006) - only Univisium film not shot by Vittorio Storaro
- Caravaggio (2007)
- Dare to Love Me (2010)
Additionally, Storaro has reframed many of his earlier widescreen releases for the 2:00:1 ratio upon DVD release, including Apocalypse Now, Reds, and The Last Emperor. This has however proved controversial with many film enthusiasts, who believe that regardless of Storaro's attempt to unify all aspect ratios, films should be viewed in the ratio they were filmed in, without any cropping.
- Univision is the original format name used in the proposal document (see External links) and in early interviews. It was likely changed to Univisium to avoid confusion with the Spanish-language Univision broadcast network.
- "3 Perforation - Same Image Quality at Lower Costs". Arri. Archived from the original on 2008-12-08.
- Storaro, Vittorio and Storaro, Fabrizio (1998). Univisium.
- Fisher, Bob (February 2001). "Guiding Light" American Cinematographer Magazine. pp. 72-83
- Holben, Jay & Bankston, Douglas (February 2000). "Inventive New Options for Film" American Cinematographer Magazine pp. 105-107
- Kodak In Camera Magazine. (July 2004). "Storaro discussed making of Zapata" Retrieved June 27, 2006.
- Stuart, Jamie. "Storaro Talks Shop", Filmmaker Magazine, 2007-06-08. Retrieved 2007-06-11.
- "Technical specifications for "House of Cards" (2013)". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 2013-03-11.
- Calhoun, John. Live Design Online "Two to Tango" Retrieved June 27, 2006.