Creating a cinematic (travel) video is way more than only adding black cinematic bars to it in Premiere Pro. These days you will find a lot of videos on YouTube with the so-called cinematic black bars, also called a letterbox. The reason for this is that video editors want to achieve a similar look you see when watching a film on the big screen in a cinema. I want to emphasise this not means putting cinematic bars on every video makes it look cinematic. There are several creative ways in video editing to achieve the widescreen look. In this blog, I will not only explain how to create cinematic bars in Premiere Pro. I will also share other creative ways to achieve the 2.39.1 aspect ratio for a cinematic look. Also, I will describe how I create cinematic bars and what to think about when shooting a video where you want to add cinematic bars for.
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Why adding cinematic bars to your video??
Most cinematographers are adding cinematic bars to their videos to achieve the 2.39.1. aspect ratio. Adding the black bars is a creative way to give your video a cinematic or film look. It will crop your 16:9 video footage which results in a wider look. There are different ways, and opinions, on how to achieve this. For example, you can find several websites providing png images with a top and bottom black bar for different aspect ratios to put on top of your video footage in Adobe Premiere. Another way is to add an adjustment layer in Premiere Pro and use the crop effect. Finally, you can also achieve the cinematic widescreen look to adjust the actual aspect ratio of your video sequence. Let’s go through the different steps.
Visualize cinematic aspect ratios in your camera when shooting.
As mentioned before, just putting black bars on top of your video doesn’t mean it looks cinematic. There are so many factors that affect the cinematic feel and look of a video. Factors like, camera settings, light, composition, different camera angles, and of course storytelling. Most cameras shoot video in a 16:9 ratio which makes it harder to compose your shots correctly for the wider aspect ratio 2.39.1. With the 16:9 aspect ratio, you will have more space (in height) to frame your shots. When adjusting the 16:9 footage to 2.39.1. may result in poor composition, because of the crop.
The best way to avoid this is by activating “video guidelines” for cinematic aspect ratios on your camera. Not every camera has this, but most mirrorless 4K cameras do, like the Panasonic GH5 we’re using. This setting will add guidelines on the camera’s LCD screen to mark the desired aspect ratio. With these guidelines its way more convenient to compose your shots correctly for the wider aspect ratio. In case your camera doesn’t have this setting I advise to compose your shots with more space taking into account the crop when adjusting the aspect ratio in post-production. Or, you can simply tape the black bars on your LCD screen to help to compose your shots properly.
Video guidelines for cinematic aspect ratio 2.39.1 on the Panasonic GH5.
Adding cinematic bars using PNG images.
To be honest, I personally not recommend using PNG images for adding cinematic bars to your video. You will literally put an image over your video which can cause several downsides. First of all, it will increase your video file unnecessarily. Second, when rendering in a low(er) bitrate the black bar will lose detail and it won’t look black anymore. Adding cinematic bars in Premiere Pro in this way is quite easy. Just download the given PNG image for the right resolution and drag it into your timeline on top of your video. Thereafter reposition your shots to fit the wider aspect ratio and you’re done! You can google for “PNG images cinematic bars or black bars” to find some websites which providing them.
Watch the video to see how to create cinematic bars with a PNG image.
How to add cinematic bars in Premiere Pro with an adjustment layer?
Another way to add cinematic black bars in Premiere Pro is with the help of an adjustment layer and the crop effect. If you never used an adjustment layer before, I definitely recommend reading my other BLOG first which is all about how to add them in Premiere Pro. And if you want to know everything about the crop effect you have to read this COMPLETE TUTORIAL about how to use the crop effect in Premiere Pro.
Most of the time I’ve used this way to create cinematic bars in Premiere Pro. Just add a new adjustment layer in your project panel, rename it to “cinematic bars” and place it on your timeline on top of your video footage. Then you drag the crop effect to the adjustment layer and crop the top and bottom with 12% to achieve the desired widescreen aspect ratio of 2.39.1. The final touch is to reposition your shots to fit this new aspect ratio and you’re good to go!
Watch the video to see how to use an adjustment layer to create cinematic bars.
How to adjust the Aspect Ratio in Premiere Pro to create cinematic bars?
Save the best for last, which certainly applies to the way we are going to discuss now. What is better to create a widescreen aspect ratio by adjusting the actual aspect ratio of your video. You can adjust the aspect ratio in Premiere Pro by changing the resolution of the sequence. Please realise there are tons of resolutions for specific aspect ratios. For example, have a look HERE for a free extensive cheat sheet to find the matching resolution for the aspect ratio you desire.
So, how to adjust the Aspect Ratio in Premiere Pro to create cinematic bars? In my case, I want to adjust 4K (UHD) 16:9 footage (3840*2160) to 2.39.1. According to the cheat sheet the new resolution needs to become 3840*1609. To achieve this, drag a shot of the 4K(UHD) footage in your timeline. This way, the sequence setting will match the resolution and frame rate of the shot. In my case 3840*2160/25 fps. Select from the menu Sequence > settings and change the vertical frame size to 1609. Hit ok and confirm the “warning” pop-up by clicking OK. After this, you will notice the preview panel changes to the new resolution!
Watch the video to see how to adjust the Aspect Ratio in Premiere Pro to create cinematic bars.
Edit your video the way you want and reposition the original 16:9 shots to achieve the proper composition. After rendering your video (make sure to match the resolution in the render settings) and playing it on your device you will still see the cinematic “bars”, but now properly created. The huge advantage to create it this way is that your video will adjust itself to any device and platform it will be played on.
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Do you want to learn more?
I hope you learned a lot about how to create cinematic bars in Adobe Premiere Pro. If you still have any questions don’t hesitate to ask me in the comments section!
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