TRON Legacy Update


I’ve received several messages since posting TRON Legacy…from IMAX Digital 3D to Blu-ray: is there even a difference? requesting more information about the varying aspect ratio of the TRON Legacy IMAX theatrical presentation and the home video Blu-ray presentation. This update should provide some enlightenment…

Virtually every scene in TRON Legacy was shot with the Sony F35 CineAlta digital cinema camera. This camera has a native 1.78:1 (16×9) aspect ratio and captures footage in the 1080p high-definition video format (1920×1080 pixels). The 2.39:1 aspect ratio of the TRON Legacy theatrical presentation (2.35:1 on the Blu-ray) was accomplished by matting out the top and bottom portions of the recorded image with black bars to create a letterboxed projection. Unlike The Dark Knight, which also had a changing aspect ratio because of the different camera systems used, no IMAX film cameras were used to shoot TRON Legacy.

Tron Legacy scene with 1.78:1 (16x9) "full-height" aspect ratio

The 1.78:1 (full height) aspect ratio  of some of the scenes in the TRON Legacy IMAX presentation was created by simply not including any mattes on the top and bottom of the recorded image and allowing the full native 1:78:1 recorded image to be projected. The non-IMAX digital projections and the 35mm film projections of TRON Legacy all had a fixed 2.39:1 aspect ratio throughout the entire film.

DCP-compliant digital theater projectors including ones manufactured by IMAX, Christie and Sony have a native aspect ratio of 1.9:1, which is slightly wider than the 1080p format, so a slight conversion or matte of the recorded 1080p image needs to take place.

The IMAX presentation of TRON Legacy was used as the master for the production of the Blu-ray so we see the changing aspect ratio when viewing at home, just as we did in the IMAX showings. During most of the movie, we’re presented with a letterboxed 2.35:1 image with the special “IMAX” scenes in full 1.78:1 (16×9) framing, filling our TV screens with picture image.

Tron Legacy scene with a 2.35:1 (scope) "matted" aspect ratio

The sequences from TRON Legacy presented in a 1.78:1 “full-screen” format are as follows:

“The Grid”

From the moment Sam first sees the first Recognizer upon entering the digital world of The Grid until he is going down the elevator lift on his way to the Sirens to be outfitted for the games.


From the moment Sam enters the arena for the disc games until he is retained by Clu’s sentries and brought to Clu’s transport.

“Lightcycle Battle”

From the moment Clu’s transport leaves for the lightcycle grid until Sam and Quorra are on the elevator lift entering Flynn’s dwelling.

“Freight Train”

From the moment Sam, Flynn and Quorra leave the elevator platform to board the freight transport after escaping Castor’s (Zuse’s) club until the three of them exit the transport after it docks at Clu’s flagship. Note that the scenes of Clu and his team inside Castor’s club cut within the freight train sequence are in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio.

“Clu’s Toast”

From the moment Clu rises to the podium inside his flagship to address the army of programs he’s assembled until he has completed his speech to them about entering the real world. Note that the scenes of Clu’s flagship disembarking for the portal cut within the toast sequence are in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio.

“Air Battle”

From the moment Clu’s team leaps from the flagship to chase after Sam, Flynn and Quorra in their stolen fighter through Flynn’s sacrifice until end of the scenes inside the computer on the grid.

“End Titles”

The end credits sequence of the film is in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio.

Again, note that these special vertically-extended scenes, produced exclusively for viewers of the IMAX presentation (and now the Blu-ray), were simply created by removing the mattes at the top and bottom of the screen that are in place throughout most of the film to reveal the remainder of the full, native 1.78:1 recorded image.

The manner of creating a 2.39:1 aspect ratio film, sometimes referred to as scope or anamorphic, by matting a native 1.78:1 aspect ratio recording brings up some interesting discussion points. Traditionally, a wide aspect ratio film is created because a director or cinematographer wants to create an image larger in scope than what the traditional 35mm film width can provide. This wider scope can be created by using multiple cameras and projectors like the now-obsolete Cinerama system, by using a wider gauge film such as 55mm or 65mm formats or by using an anamorphic camera lens system that squeezes a wider image onto standard 35mm film by means of lens distortion. An anamorphic image on standard 35mm film is un-stretched by using a corresponding anamorphic projection lens that widens the image back out to its natural look. All of these methods provide a director with a means to create a wider image than what standard 35mm film can provide.

However, in the case of TRON Legacy and other films shot with a digital acquisition system that uses a native 1.78:1 aspect ratio, the only practical way to create a wider aspect ratio is to letterbox or matte the top and bottom of the recorded image to create a seemingly wider projected image. This matting creates a loss of image resolution as fewer vertical pixels are used for picture information. This is not an ideal situation and one that needs to be addressed for future digital cinema production.

The use of anamorphic lenses may be one solution. Using anamorphic lenses to squeeze a wider image onto a native 1.78:1 capture area will result in a wider aspect ratio without the need to waste pixels on black matte bars. Future camera systems that utilize wider aspect ratio image sensors is probably a better way to go. To gain the full benefit of a wider sensor, digital projection systems will need to be developed that can project a wider presentation than the standard 1.9:1.

Below are two images which will help illustrate the differences between various film aspect ratios:

Ratios from the standard 35mm full frame (1.33:1) to Scope (2.39:1) and beyond

Three common film aspect ratios compared

The digital cinema world is in its infancy. Digital acquisition and projection offers many advantages over traditional film systems. However, we still have a way to go before we can fully replace the tried-and-true picture quality and aesthetic of 35mm film. Figuring out how to record, edit and project a motion picture digitally was the hard part. Now we move on to the refinement. Good things are yet to come.

I hope readers will leave comments, share thoughts and ask questions. I’m glad to share the feedback from the curious, the critical and the creators.

(Screen captures courtesy of

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3 Responses to “TRON Legacy Update”

  1. Justin Says:

    Hi. Since I got my first widescreen telly about 9 years ago I have been interested in aspect ratios. To be honest although I prefer picture quality over most other things I DO like movies like Avatar that are formatted to fit my screen (16:9) mainly to display the actual movie imagary then being as large as my screen will permit. I recently bought a samsung 50′ plasma and am enjoying it immensely although when viewing a movie in a wider format than my screen I do use my media player to zoom (not stretch) my picture just enough to rid me of black bars. I know purists would not do this but it just looks better in my opinion. Onto Tron. I really thought I have something wrong with my equipment the first time I viewed this when it switched aspect ratios. I am glad to find out i was wrong although I am still finding it hard to understand why they would produce a blu ray in this way especially if originally the extra footage at top and bottom was actually there and they have blacked it out with bars! Surely most people would rather have a larger picture utilising all of the TV screen? Also while burning my plasma TV in for the first 200hours it was imperative that I did not display anything with black bars for fear of permanent burn in damage. I really wish they would produce 16:9 movies to fit my screen and especially NOT mess about with the aspect ratio while a film is being watched it completly wrecks the experience for me.

    • digitalmediaservices Says:

      Good comments, Justin. It’s great to hear that picture quality is important to you. I’d estimate that the vast majority of home movie watchers simply have no idea whether or not their TV is producing a picture accurate to the source image, whether that be a Blu-ray, an HDTV broadcast or a video game. Clearly you care about what you see on your home theater screen.

      As you know, the reason for the black bars at the top and bottom of some Blu-ray movies is to preserve the original aspect ratio of the theatrical presentation of the film. The black bars bother some viewers who feel that presenting a film in this format doesn’t make use of the full resolution of their HDTV but, to others, are a fair trade-off for being able to see the film as the director and cinematographer originally shot it. The zoom function on your HDTV and/or Blu-ray player offers at least some sort of option to help fill your TV, as you note. Understand, though, that by zooming in, you cut off some of your picture and thereby slightly recompose the director’s and cinematographer’s framing. You also loose a bit of resolution as your blowing up a fixed-resolution image. Conversely, though, if the Blu-ray version of a widescreen film was produced to fill the HDTV screen by cropping the edges and zooming in to fill the full height of a 16:9 aspect ratio, the viewer who wishes to see the entire frame as it was shot would be left with no option to see the film as it was originally produced. Therefore, I think the black bars are the best solution to present a widescreen (2.35:1, for instance) film on a 16:9 screen.

      A few directors choose to recompose their films for the home video market. James Cameron has a history of doing this going back to “Terminator 2: Judgement Day.” The Super 35-shot film was produced with a matte over the top and bottom of the frame to create a widescreen effect in the theaters. Upon home video release, this matte was partially removed to fill the frame of 1.33:1 televisions. Pixar has performed similar treatments, although since their films are computer animated, the process involves recomposing the film in the computer. The theatrical version of “A Bug’s Life” as well as the widescreen VHS and DVD versions was presented as a 2.40:1 film; for the pan & scan home video version, characters were actually moved closer to the middle of the frame to avoid being cropped out. I’ve long been a proponent of the original theatrical versions so I’d rather deal with black bars than missing picture information. However, I do agree that it’s asking a lot of a viewer to deal with the black bars. The worst case I can recall is watching the 2.76:1 widescreen version of the “Ben-Hur” laserdisc on my 1.33:1 TV – the black bars were taller than the actual film!

      The black bars required to maintain a widescreen aspect ratio would be even larger if we hadn’t moved from a 1.33:1 (4:3) TV aspect ratio to a 1.78:1 (16:9) aspect ratio. The majority of movies shot on film are still shot at a 1.85:1 aspect ratio which more closely fits the 1.78:1 aspect ratio of an HDTV. There are actually small black bars at the top and bottom of the Blu-ray versions of these films; you just don’t usually see them because of the overscan function of the TV. Films that are shot digitally are mostly captured natively at the 1.78:1 aspect ratio, as we’ve mentioned. If a director wants his or her film composed at a wider aspect ratio, the only option is to add black bars to the top and bottom. And even though more picture information may exist under those black bars, it doesn’t necessarily make sense to remove those bars for the home video market because doing so would alter the composition of the original framing of the film. There may even been unwanted elements like microphone booms, the tops of sets, etc.

      As for TRON, I tend to agree with you that it is a bit odd to have changing aspect ratios throughout the film. Again, this is done to preserve the original theatrical presentation of the IMAX version of the movie, but it does seem to take the viewer out of the story – at least for a moment – to adjust to the changing ratios. I guess we’re living in a world of modern digital filmmaking where directors can use one aspect ratio for parts of their film and another for other parts. Do you recall the opening scenes of Oliver Stone’s JFK? They consisted of old movie reel footage and were presented in the 1.33:1 aspect ratio before switching to the 2.40:1 aspect ratio for the remainder of the film. In the case of TRON, the director used the full height of the screen for the action sequences, which was supposed to make the scenes feel larger. I guess I can understand the concept but I’d almost prefer that action sequences go wider rather than taller. Oh, well…I guess it’s an evolving art form, as it always has been.

      Because we have so many different aspect ratios to deal with, there’s no perfect solution. On the one hand we want to see the full movie image but on the other hand we don’t want to see black bars on our TVs. Everyone has their preference and no one is right or wrong.

      I’ll leave you with a comment I once read from a noted widescreen evangelist about using black bars to preserve an original theatrical aspect ratio on a home movie release that I always thought was both humorous and effective at forcing viewers to understand the black bars…

      “If you don’t like the black bars at the top and bottom of a home video and prefer to zoom in or pan & scan to fill your TV, then perhaps I should come to the theater where you go to see films and pull the curtains partially shut so you don’t see the full widescreen image; it’s the same thing.”

      I appreciate your feedback Justin and wish you continued enjoyment of your HDTV and Blu-ray system.

  2. commorancy Says:

    Great post. The thing that bothers me most about the Tron Legacy transfer is this… what exactly makes the IMAX version of the film the official version of this film? I didn’t see the IMAX version in the theater. I saw the unchanging 2.35:1 version. Granted, I saw the black barred version apparently based on your description of the way this was filmed. What I don’t understand about the Blu-Ray version is why the IMAX edition? Or more specifically, why not all versions on one or two disks? If the entire film was filmed in 1.85:1, why not release 3 versions on Blu-Ray: the IMAX version, the 2.35:1 version and the 1.85:1 version? Even though the IMAX cut had the changing aspect, I don’t really think it was the correct version to use for the Blu-Ray release.

    Knowing Disney’s greed, though, they did this on purpose. I’m quite sure they are reserving the non-aspect changing versions for a later re-release of Tron Legacy to get people to buy it all over again. Which, of course, makes me extremely frustrated with Disney.

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