Understanding Anamorphic Lens Flares.

Lens Flares Everywhere!

Anamorphic lens flares are one of the most coveted looks we Indy film makers desire to achieve. If you don't know what I am talking about, go watch any of J.J. Abrams movies. He uses this awesome technique far too much, but it always looks awesome so no criticism here.

So How does Hollywood achieve those awesome linear streaks of light and oval bokeh? To answer this question we need to understand aspect ratios.

Aspect ratio is the length of a screen times its height. Commonly written in ratios or decimals. 

Ever since the invention of cinema, to the time of television, an aspect ratio of 4:3 was the standard for shooting and projecting movies.

During the 1950's the golden age of television boomed. People began to watch classic shows on their boxy TV's at home. This caused movie studios to freak out because at the time, the only difference in television and the movie theater was the size of the screen. Movie goers began to sacrifice watching entertainment on a slightly bigger 4:3 screen for the comport of their small boxy 4:3 screen at home.

So Hollywood set out to create something new and awesome. This led to scientists and movie makers getting creative to get people back into the theater. 

Hollywood experimented with many inventions to create a new exciting look to cinema. The method that stuck, was the use of anamorphic lenses. Invented by Henri Chrétien, these lenses distort the video in one direction. Hollywood used this glass to stretch the video vertically to fill the entire frame of the 35mm film,

then they used similar lenses during projecting to squash the video back down to its correct dimensions. The result was a brilliant, clear, wide image with an aspect ratio of about 2.40:1. This became known as widescreen. 


What does all that have to do with lens flares? Well it wasn't long before directors realized that when they shot video light bounced around the glass creating a circular lens flare, but when stretched back to proper proportions, the lens flares turned linear, and the circular bokeh turned oval. These subtle things combined with the widescreen aspect ratio has defined the look of cinema across cultures. 

In the late 80's an aspect ratio of 16:9 was invented and has become the standard for digital video and TV's. 16:9 was chosen because it allowed the biggest variety of different aspect ratios to be displayed with minimum cropping or letter boxing. This is why when you watch a sports game it fills your entire TV because it was shot in 16:9 or 1920 by 1080, but when you watch a movie you get a black bar on the top and bottom because it was shot in 2.40:1 or 1920 by 800. 

So how do we achieve this look Hollywood has established and perfected when all our digital cameras shoot 16:9, and anamorphic lenses are incredibly expensive? Well, we simply use Blender. It just so happens that I have created a tutorial on how to do just that.