General Question

warpling's avatar

What are those black ovals that always show up in the top right of movies?

Asked by warpling (846points) August 7th, 2007

Yellow outlined black ovals, you know them. When you are watching a movie in a theater and every few minutes one pops up in the top right for a few frames.

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13 Answers

jrpowell's avatar

Cue dots.. They indicate when a reel is going to end. They are four frames long.

A two hour film usually comes in about six pieces. Those pieces get spliced together now so the film is one continuous long piece of film when it runs through the projector..

A long time ago they had two projectors aimed at the same screen when a movie would play because each projector could only hold a single reel (20 minutes) of film. The projectionist would use the dots to know when to switch projectors.

I was a projectionist for three years during college.

Fallstand's avatar

Go watch fight club, lol :)

hannahsugs's avatar

They're usually referred to as "cigarette burns" and indicate when the operator is supposed to switch from one reel to the next. From my observation, one shows up, then another, and then the reel is supposed to switch.

In big movie theaters, there's not actually an operator running the movie, the reels are just patched together. At my school movie theater, however, there's a student in charge of switching reels and half the time they mess up and miss the crucial moment, so you can see how important watching for those dots are. Also, if you notice during movies, they usually don't happen in the middle of an important scene, and there's usually a few seconds of "fluff" after the second dot to give the projectionist a little bit of leeway so if they don't switch it over precisely, it's no big deal.

warpling's avatar

Wow, never would of known. Thanks!

Modern_Classic's avatar

would of known
would've known
would have known

thank you,
your friendly neighborhood grammar cop

hearkat's avatar

@ Modern Classic: I am so glad to see that I'm not the only one!!!

segdeha's avatar

I never noticed them until a friend of mine worked for the campus cinema in college. He told me about them and ever since I've not been able to not notice them (if that makes sense).

donok's avatar

just to add to the nerd factor: warpling asked about the oval circles. They are only ovals when you are watching a wide screen Panavision (anamorphic) release print. The projector is actually running a standard square(ish) film frame, but the image is sqeezed on the film. A special (and friggin' expensive) lens in the projector stretches the image back to its wide state.

This fancy lens also stretches out the round circle cut into the top right corner of the frame into an oval.

And while I am at it... The hole has a gold (or yellow really) because the hole has cut through some of the emulsion, revealing the yellow layer. Kodak release prints will always have yellow, cyan or magenta scratches depending how deep the scratch is in the emulsion. The scatch can be black, too, if it is on the base side of the print.

Okay, I will now shutup.

sam's avatar

of mice and men

rovdog's avatar

Donok, that is good info. How do you know so much?

donok's avatar

I used to work at a film to tape transfer house in the early 80's. We were transfering some old films that hadn't been seen in years for the early HBO. I was in charge of inspecting prints and determining if the svratches were fixible. Great college job: sit in a room and wstch movies all day.

samkusnetz's avatar

one more detail: you’ll notice there are two burns, separated by a short span of time. the first burn tells the projectionist to start the second reel and get ready to switch, and then the second burn means switch.

hearkat's avatar

I just want to add that since reading this post, I am even MORE aware of the ovals now that I have been in years, and now find them distracting! Bah! :P

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