David O’Reilly on the Pointlessness of the Safe Area

Animator/director David O’Reilly recently made a post on his blog proclaiming the death of the safe area:

The Safe Area is part of a long list of rules which I find useless in modern image making. They reoccur as default, unquestioned laws which will unfortunately paint all which we see as the 00’s style in 10 years.

I really believe we [ought] to be questioning every rule we are told, especially with animation, when—as trite as this remark will always sound—you can do anything.

The debate over the relevancy of title safe has been going on for some time now, and David’s remarks will prove to be more timely with each passing day. But I’m more interested in David’s general iconoclastic approach to animation. If you’ve had the pleasure of checking out his work, you know that he practices what he preaches.

While 99% of us still need to make “safe” projects—both literally and figuratively—to pay the bills, it’s still encouraging to know that gadflies like David are out there buzzing loudly.

Big thanks to Sean Starkweather for the tip!

About the author

Justin Cone

/ justincone.com
Together with Carlos El Asmar, Justin co-founded Motionographer, F5 and The Motion Awards. He currently lives in Austin, Texas with is wife, son and fluffball of a dog. Before taking on Motionographer full-time, Justin worked in various capacities at Psyop, NBC-Universal, Apple, Adobe and SCAD.



Is there really even a ‘debate’ happening on this, and if so, aren’t there better things to be ‘debating’ over in the industry? Perhaps not.

Btw, it could still be considered marginally elitist to write off the hordes of lower to no income families around the globe that don’t have updated tech, regardless of the 2009 digital switch.

But I guess their eyes don’t deserve such delights.


jack west

I like the wofl composition but the type in “Nerds Guide to RGBXYZ” just looks bad.

Guess I should stop using margins when printing a letter just because my printer can print to the edge of the frame eh.


But it isn’t pointless. I create ads for national TV airplay in the UK and we certainly do have to stick to the rule.
Brand new TV’s still cut off your image. Even with 16:9 creatives we have to keep the most important type info in 4:3 because of a certian percerntage watching on old style TV’s! (Not sure what that percentage is though).


James, you’re right. I think safe areas are still very important for us broadcast kids. Until the whole world is using a 16:9 tv and thrown the whole 4:3 in the trash…. safe areas live on. And they may continue to live on for lower 3rd supers, ots graphics, full-screen info… and especially tickers across the bottom (some tvs might be cropping the image tightly, and some may show every pixel possible).

and microdot, your comments were microdumb.


Um, he was saying the same thing you are agreeing to.


Bob, Are you mildy retarded, or just a severed head?

You agree with my point, I was simply using hyperbole, and exaggerating, in an effort to make it. So in fact, you are the idiot here, you just happen agree on safe areas – congrats.

I think you really just wanted to change microdot to micro’dumb’.

well played, douchebag.


I don’t think he called you “microdumb” in regards to safe areas, but more likely your rotten attitude and delivery.


Bah, I’m cynical, sue me.

And frankly, my attitude was based on the frivolity of an artists desire to ‘throw away the rules’ based on inexperience and a lack of proper understanding of the issues.


Actually, microdot has a good point.

Also, as a broadcast/digital signage artist, safe areas are still required even when producing 16×9 spots.

I’d love to ignore them as much as the next guy, but until everyone on the planet is using the same screen/signal, there will always be a need for safe areas, pure and simple.

I’m wondering if David does so much web-based art where this is not an issue, that his lack of experience in the broadcast/signage market clouded his rant a small bit.


ESPN, ABC and CBS run a simulcast of their HD and SD broadcasts meaning they only except one 16:9 HD Master that’s 4:3 safe and then center extract during their broadcast. Unfortunately this is the wave of the future – at least until SD broadcasts go away entirely – and it’s only a matter of time before all major networks and their sub networks pick up this type of delivery system. It’s a much more simple and affordable way for networks to broadcast. Agencies should know by now that unless they want to create different spots for each network, all work should be created 16:9/4:3 safe and their aren’t too many media buys that don’t include those major networks

So in short… I don’t know where there’s room to debate really… it’s just the way things are. Unfortunately most of us work for clients who are trying to sell something and kinda have to abide by the rules.


I don’t get it? Title safe isn’t a rule it’s merely a guide to show you where the edge of the frame is. If I’m working at HD I’ll use an HD title safe grid or at 2k then a 2k grid. Obviously if it’s online then I don’t need title safe because I can see where the edge of the frame will be. At some point I’m sure we can get rid of it-once we’ve got all our delivery platforms sorted out, but it just seems that whoever did the Boing Boing video(see the blog link) simply made a mistake of using title safe when they didn’t need to rather than conforming to some kind of industry standard. Loved the trees image though!


defmech understands.

rotten attitude and delivery, mircodot…indeed.


Safe area isn’t a rule we must live by, but a suggested guideline put out there by a collection of engineers many years ago. You don’t have to follow them, if you don’t care about getting paid.

But it does seem ridiculous that we have the same safe area in HD as we did in SD. The technology behind the TV’s themselves has changed so much since safe area was established, and yet noone thought to re-evaulate the possibility of changing the safe area. What an after thought.


Where does he get the info that “most video is viewed today, digitally, online and on modern screens”? Very few people I know have new “modern” screens. 2 of the TVs in my place have horrible issues with overscan. ESPN has a lot of their graphics cut off when I view on the non up to day TV. It is true that a lot of content is viewed online, but is that the only outlet for distribution? If so, then you optimize for that outlet.


I like getting paid for my work, and I’d like to continue to work…so I’ll respect the delivery specs. You want title/action safe…you get title/action safe.


Well said KMFIX.
And I thought microdot’s post was quite amusing.
joe you need to lighten up a bit. If you need a hug my mograph brother, i’m here for you.


what a pointless argument!
Broadcast and online delivery are two completely different things! Why would anyone ever use broadcast safe margins for an online delivery anyways? We know they were designed for TV, not for internet.

I agree that the title safe margin is probably a bit harsh for todays modern TVs, but safe areas are still very important considering that the whole scan doesn’t get displayed on even the most modern flat screen televisions.

With the Nerds Guide thing, if that original source was broadcast on digital TV to the newest flat screen TV half of the first line would still be cut off … now that wouldn’t be very good design, would it?


This sounds like a print designer’s complaint about designing for television…

I work in the UK, and not only do I have to worry about respecting 4:3 safe areas on a 16:9 image, I also do work for an interactive TV platform that has all sorts of function bars on top, and the text also has to be legible when the screen is reduced to smaller than half size in the electronic TV guide…meaning my title area is pretty much in the centre of the screen and my text can’t be too small. To say that these standards are passé is pretty uninformed, quite frankly. Where I work the title safe issue is even more restrictive, and to ignore them would be bad design. When SD finally goes away, it will simplify things, but we’re not there yet.

bloody crackdown

I think that the guy was just pissed that someone scaled his graphics for boingboing tv, and decided to write a bitchy post about how title safe needs to go away. And while he’s right that title safe has no use in online distribution, the problem is that boingboing tv does get broadcast on Virgin Airlines aircraft, and therefore probably needs to be title safe.

This seems like a bit of a non-story. But I am still amazed at the number of local spots I see here in KC that don’t use title safe at all. I don’t understand how some people can keep working when you can’t even read half their graphics on a furniture store spot.


Wow, I’m surprised such faulty logic got this much attention. Motionographer – please don’t start making a post out of everything someone posts on the Cow.


Sorry David O’Reilly, you just got served. Your rant is not an intelligent rallying cry to designers to stop following blind traditions; all it amounts to is ignorant whining about the realities of your discipline.




wow, i’m surprised how many of you are standing up for commercial delivery standards (should i be?). i always thought they were annoying guidelines we all followed but hated. i feel what o’reilly is getting at is that its ok to think outside the box (sorry for the horrible pun). especially if you’re doing personal projects and outputing online.

we all understand, o’reilly included, that tv has delivery standards. good god forbid that the nike swoosh be cropped on my 13in B+W set… “then people won’t buy our shoooes”. but when you’re making work/art sometimes its ok to paint to the edge of the canvas. dare i say, its even ok to paint off the canvas and onto the wall. if he puts his title half in “title-safe” and half out… i’m guessing that’s where he wants it to be, cropped or otherwise.

it would obviously be a hard sell to nike, but who gives a shit. in art, rules are meant to be thoughtfully broken.


I think it’s time someone rethought the palette of those darn color bars – they’re so last season.


Those color bars ARE so last season, I agree. And you know what else? Small SWFs on the net. Why do designers conform to the unquestioned law of bandwidth speeds? Hey, we can do what ever we want, we’re designers! I just made a 100 GB SWF for my website, and I’d be dammed if someone tells me a can’t put it online! And you know what else bugs me? That TV screens are 2D. Why not bring it into the third dimension? Why can’t I have kinetic sculptures pop out of my television? Hey, why not have 4, 6, 10 dimensions? Why not add the sense of smell and taste to your broadcast design? Sticking to old ‘2D standards’, in my view, is completely outdated and unnecessary, and may be officially forgotten about immediately!!!

jack west

err…well that last bit about 2D/3D…check out

Safety In Numbers

Yes there is debate. You are currently reading a debate about safe title.

We are unfortunately in a hideous half way zone where some of the population has bought 16:9 and some haven’t.

I feel that David O’Reilly’s proclamation that

“This rule is, in my view, completely outdated and unnecessary, and may be officially forgotten about immediately. It simply lacks any practical application considering how most video is viewed today, digitally, online and on modern screens.”

hints at both a lack of experience which should not be judged and an equally beautiful sense of rebelliousness which IN MY OPINION is a great quality.

However, we are not dealing with opinion here. These are definitely RULES.

Here in Australia there is a very strict approach to broadcast and it must be adhered to OR we have to adjust the TVC and resubmit the commercial at our studio’s expense which I might want to point out in some cases can be much more than the budget of the entire project.

So what would you do ?
Rebel against old established and what seem like completely ludicrous boundaries of design and live in a tent while eating dog food OR get paid, sleep in a warm bed and eat cat food ?

What is being confused here is the delivery process. Sure, we all know a QT on a web page will show us every pixel but safe title and safe action are rules for delivery on broadcast TV.

Hey! why not charge your clients for a 2nd version for the web ?

And IF you are thinking that I like to conform to these boundaries, you may be wrong. Take a look on the web site of our governing body
In the engineering section and read up on
Issue 3 – January 2007
As you can see there are very specific rules. To ignore them can be expensive.

Now for my opinion….
Having to create 16:9 material and still work to 4:3 center cut safe title is a complete JOKE !

Joe Clay

Safe areas suck but they are still needed. In my opinion, the standards for HD should have rid us of both safe areas and interlacing. The problem was getting television manufacturers to forget their old ways as their electron guns improved in technology. We probably could have dropped safe areas in the 80’s but at that time it wasn’t feasible as the switch would have affected older televisions. The jump to all digital television was the perfect time to fix it and we dropped the ball.

Honestly, I don’t know how long it takes for an older television’s image to shrink, but I have seen it and it’s not that bad. I realize that televisions were expensive in those days, but I think people could have lived with it until they upgraded. Really, I think safe areas should have never existed in the first place. They should have come up with a better solution to fix televisions or decrease cost rather than cripple an industry for years to come. But that’s how America works—short term fixes and long term problems.

Joe Clay

By the way, reading over my comment, I didn’t mean that the all digital jump has occurred, just that the HD standards have already—for the most part—been set. 1080p30 I’m looking at you.

Also, I wish they had finally rid us of drop frame timecode. I thought sync problems were a thing of the past. Like way past. Technically they are, but it’s yet another holdover from a problem—phase problems—back in the early days of television—when color debuted.

Again, it’s not a huge deal, but it is a minor annoyance.

Kevin G

I am in somewhat agreement.
I think we are close to discarding the rules of title safe and eventually safe area. I was a staunch believer in the title safe rules coming from the commercial post online world (ala working the type deko and grass valley 5000).
Now having worked in commercials for the web (AOL) and HD formats.
I have developed a specific thinking for each, but the trouble comes when having to prepare these materials for SD programming.
The reason I say that soon the safe area and title safe rules will be out in
3-4 years is based on my HD work.
See I have had instances where I was forced to place end card info out of both title safe, so it fit right up to the action safe. Of course I was horrified until I saw the broadcast and saw nothing was affected by this.
My realization being, the HD audience see’s what I see meaning the entire frame.
The entire world switching to some form of digital broadcast in 2 years and HD in about 10 years. This is leading to thing the HD parameter will prevail in the coming years. Just my thoughts on the matter.

Joe Clay

This is somewhat true. Not all manufacturers design their HD sets to show all of the pixels. Some actually, for some reason, account for safe areas when they make their sets.

I have seen HD broadcasts on HD televisions that crop station logos and other content.

When manufacturers stop doing this, and everything is HD, we’ll finally be able to drop it, unless something stupid comes along to foil it.


This discussion seems to be confused.

Is modern technology capable of doing away with interlacing and safe areas?
Yes, of course it is.

Does that mean graphic designers can stop respecting them and declare them pointless and ignore them?
Of course not. That wouldn’t be good design.

Not only is it up to television manufacturers to modernise and co-operate to agree on standards, it’s also up to consumers to buy into the new technologies. This takes time, and there are all sorts of things that affect this organic evolution. The motion designers job is to design moving images to suit the environment. If you are doing a national ad, damn rights it has to look good on older television sets which are still common, and this has to be respected, and bitching about the restrictions only shows that you a whiny self-centred fine artist, not a designer. Web designers have had to deal with the evolution of web browsers for well over a decade, and yes it’s a pain in the ass, but if you’re a good designer you’re up for the challenge.

The fact that graphic designers are annoyed by these legacies of old technology is a given. Of course we would get rid of them if we controlled the technology. But we don’t. We can’t arrogantly ignore the realities of the state of technology as it currently is.

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