Bruce Block. The Visual Story: Seeing the Structure of Film, TV, and New Media. Boston: Focal Press, 2001.
Sergie Eisenstein, Vsevolod Pudovlan, and Alexander Dovchenko developed some initial film theories circa 1928. They presented montage theories. Slavko Vorkapich expanded these theories and included theories on movement and editing in the 1950s. In addition, Lester Novros used fine art theories and applied them to motion picture visual aspects. These visual principles are important in understanding film production.
The building blocks of visual characters are 1. the Script, 2. the Music 3. the Sound, and 4. the Visuals. The basic visual components are 1. space, 2. line, 3. shape 4. tone, 5. color, 6. movement, and 7. rhythm.
Space is what physically exists in front of a filming camera. It is what we watch.
Line is what we perceive but isn’t real. Shape is constructed from lines and appears when an object is a silhouette. Tone is what appears along a black and white and gray scale. Color is seen visually. Movement is key to capture one’s visual attention. Rhythm is what is heard.
Music can cue audiences what to expect. Color can also communicate cues if so defined. A recurring event associated with color can provide a color cue.
A “screen” is one for viewing pictures. The “real world is the environment. Images shwon on a screen create a “screen world”. The changing structure creates a “visual progression”. this is framed by the “picture plane”.
Many great films create visual progressions that build intensity. A point expanded into a line than a plane, and then having volume added shows that simplicity turns into complexity, whether doing so visually or in music or in story structure.
“Contrast” refers to differences. “Affinity” refers to similarity. Visual intensity can help create emotional reactions. It can be either simple, or full of affinities, or complex, full of contrast, or what is better, a combination of affinities and contrasts.
“Deep space” is what two dimensional screen shows as a three dimensional illusion. This uses “depth cues” where a viewer perceived depth, which is a “perspective”.
A one-point perspective can turn parallel lines and show they are no longer parallel and they could meet on a vanishing point. A two point perspective can have two vanishing points. Additional vanishing points create illusions of depth. The audience is drawn to a vanishing point presented on screen.
Depth that is presented from changing texture and color details is textual difference.
The illusion of depth can be created by object movement, if the object moves parallel or perpendicular to the picture plane. Relative movement is depth illusion created by multiple objects in motion parallel to the picture plane.
Camera movement can create a feeling of depth. Dolly in creates more depth. Dolly out will make actors look smaller. Dolly left and right are tracking shots.
Aerial diffusion uses air particles to obscure distance. This requires a previous presentation of an unobscured view.
Shape change of an object can create depth.
With tonal separation, a brighter object often appears closer.
Warm colors (red, orange, and yellow) appear closer. Cooler colors (blue and green) appear further away.
Overlay creates depth illusion.
Things higher in a frame are often perceived as farther away than things in the lower frame.
Things closer to a horizon appear father away than objects further away from the horizon.
Depth cues are lost when one loses focus.
The average TV screen of 19 inches (circa 2001) is too small to affectively show some size differences, tonal separation, color separation, and textual diffusion.
Flat space emphasizes the two dimensions. Objects are presented parallel to the picture plane. Things that create depth, such as textural diffusion, are generally avoided. Walking parallel produces flat space. A camera pan, with all objects remaining in position, produces flat space.A camera tilt, up or down on its vertical axis, creates flat space.
A zoom presents flat space. Relative sizes don’t change. It may not appear well. Depth decreases and appears blurry.
Keeping all tones to one third of the gray scale creates flat space.
Flatness can be reduced with showing all warm or all cool colors.
Since overlap creates depth, it should not e used for flat space.
Depth cues can be reversed to create opposing depth perceptions.
Flat space frontal planes can produce deep space longitudinal plans in limited space
Objects in limited space will not show depth by moving towards or away from a camera in limited space.
Ambiguous space, where the viewer can not determine space, results form 1. lack of movement, 2. unfamiliar shapes, 3. camouflage of tonal and texture patterns, 4, mirrors and reflections, 5 using objects whose size is unknown and using camera angles that are disorienting. This is difficult to continue for long as the audience usually finds enough data to comprehend cues where an object is.
To use deep space, shoot with an emphasis on longitudinal plane, have movement towards or away from the camera (i.e. perpendicular to the picture plane), use tonal separation depth cue, move the camera with a dolly, dolly track or crane and use a wide-angle lens.
To shoot with flat space cues, remove longitudinal planes perspective and use frontal planes, place actors parallel to the picture plane with movement parallel to the picture plane (i,e, “flat staging”), use condensed gray scale lighting, use a tripod and zoom lens and possibly a telephoto lens and blue backgrounds.
The ration of a frame;s width to height is the aspect ratio. Standard 35 mm fils is about 1.33:1 aspect ratio. Standard NTSC TC and many computer screens have about a 1.33:1 aspect ration. Most U.S. theater screens have a 1.85:1 aspect ratio. 70 mm films have a 2.2:1 aspect ratio.
A 1.85:1 film can be shown on TV letterboxes, Larger aspect ratio films are often presented so only part of the film’s films is shown on TV.
Anything dividing a frame into smaller areas is a surface divider. Surface divisions can be used to show similar or show differences between objects, to divert emphasis in attention to an area, change the aspect ratio, or add visual rhythms to surface divisions.
Rotating a camera’s lens on an axis can create a visual space.
The linear motif considers the basic lines in a shot.
A straight line often represents aggressive strong, direct, honest, order, industrial, adult, or rigid.
A curved line often represents passive, childlike indirect, nature, romantic, soft, safe, organic, or flexible
The angle of a line in motion is direction. A shot moving objects in the same direction creates maximum affinity.
The inherent intensity of a line is its orientation. The most intense are diagonal lines, followed by vertical lines, with horizontal lines as least intense.
The basic three dimensional shapes are the sphere, cube, and the three sided pyramid.
The circle and the triangle have the most two dimensional contrast. The sphere and the three sided pyramid have the most three dimensional contrast.
An object’s silhouette, rather than the object by itself, should be considered in controlling shape.
Tone considers the brightness range of objects in a shot A viewer is dran to the brightest object. Darkness usually represents tragedy. Brightness usually represents happiness or comedy.
Films often use complimentary hues, often orangish blush.
Using a pair of almost complementary hues is split complementary hues.
A three way split uses any three hues. A four way split uses four hues, such as magna and green for evil and orange and blue-cyan for good.
Audiences have poor recollections of color.
Camera filters can remove specific colors. Lighting can use filters. Note that colors photographed may vary form observable colors. The ASA of a film determines its sensitivity to light, with lower ASAs more prone to color saturation.
Flashing, or exposing film to light twice, may desaturate color and reduce contrast.
Developing film longer, or force developing or pushing, desaturates color.
Various chemicals and film processing techniques change color.
Labs can color correct, or time, film which changes brightness/darkness of black and white film.
Digital uses could provide much color flexibility.
Actual movement is reality. Showing motion of different non-moving objects is apparent movement.
Individual movement occurs when a moving objects makes a stationary object appear to move.
Relative movement is when the motion of an object is observed relative to a stationary object.
Simple moves are horizontal, vertical, diagonal, or circular.
A camera move’s length of travel is scale.
Camera motions can occur at slow, medium, and fast speeds.
When the audience looks is the point of attention. A camera that doesn’t move creates the most contrast. A camera that moves and stops creates visual contrast.Three dimensional moves are needed to create relative movement. Pan/track creates visual affinity. Tilt/crane is often less intense. Dolly lens/dolly with wide lens changes changes objects in frame at the same rate except when a snap zoom quickly zooms.
A tripod or dolly-in mounted camera, or level/un-level, usually creates more affinity compared to a hand-held camera move.
Greater visual intensity usually occurs with a larger camera move, or scale of movement.
The less intense object/camera movement is when the object and camera are stationary The most intense is when both move.
Over-cranking, or slow motion, and under-cranking, or fast motion change an object’s speed.
A smooth cut, with affinity of continuum of movement, is usually not noticed by a viewer.
A contrast of continuum of motion may appear harsh.
Audiences should not observe edits. Shots should appear continuous. The “Lubitsch Touch” of Ernest Lubitsch had affinity of continuum of movement.
The alteration between sound and silence produces rhythm. White sound is continuous and has no rhythm. Visual rhythm is produced by objects that are stationary, that move, and by additional cutting.
“Positive space” refers to a frame’s accented areas. Unaccented areas are “negative space”.
Primary visual rhythm enters and exits a frame, moves behind or in front of something else, starts and stops, or changes direction.
A second rhythm is when an object in primary rhythm has part of it creating a different rhythm.
Editorial repetition happens by the beat of each edit or cut. Pictorial repetition occurs when the same shots are intercut multiple times. Editorial tempo has fast rhyth with quick cuts or slow rhythm with less cuts.
An event is a single action, scene, or group of scenes.
There are no camera cuts in a continuous event. A fragmented event has separate shots.
A fragmented sequence has emphasis when it follows a continuous scene.
The director may change the affinity or contrast.
A script and what works best determines using fragmented or continuous techniques.
Faster tempos usually indicate excitement, happiness, or comedy. Slower tempos indicate calm, tragedy, or sadness.
Fragmentation permits using jump cuts.
A story begins with exposition, has a middle of conflict and climax, and ends with resolution.
Visual intensity is shown through basic visual components.
Choose various components that are best for a film.
Keeping the lens optical center in an axis directly in frton of a pan and tilt moving the camera is nodal point panning and tilting.
Standards lenses, or spherical or flat lenses, photograph 1.33: 1.66, and 1.85 films. Cinemascope deliberately distorts images.