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Univisium: Vittorio Storaro’s universal 2:1 film format

I’ve recently binge-watched the first two seasons of House of Cards on Netflix and one of the first things I noticed was the black bars showing on my 16:9 television. Why would such a modern show be filmed in anything but the most common modern aspect ratio?

'House of Cards' aspect ratio

This odd aspect ratio turns out to be the brainchild of a famous cinematographer:

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).Wikipedia

Storaro writes:

Vittorio Storaro In the jungle of different aspect ratios in today’s Cinema and Television, the upcoming advanced High Definition Video system will introduce yet another one, an aspect ratio of about 1:1,79.* For a while, we will have three different visual proportions, and therefore three different compositions, of the same movie.

I don’t know who made this decision for a new aspect ratio, since it doesn’t resolve any past, present or future problems for a common composition between different media. I am not aware of any Directors or Cinematographers who have been asked for their opinions about the possible new area or new composition for future audio-visual systems.

[…] Considering High Definition and 65mm, I think it would therefore be sensible to propose a new standard for both. A new aspect ratio that will fit future, present, and past compositional needs. Currently 65mm is set at an aspect ratio of 1:2,21 and High Definition at about 1:1,79, so, if we remove the 0,21 from the 65mm, and if we add the same number on top of High Definition TV, we will have a perfect balance between the two: that is, 1:2.

Though this new standard doesn’t seem to have taken off yet, House of Cards is far from the first the first film or television series to adopt Univisium. The first seems to be 1998’s Tango and the first television example is 2000’s fascinating mini-series of Frank Herbert’s Dune. Storaro was responsible for the cinematography of both.


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