Elements of Cinematography
Camera
: In film making multiple cameras (multiple camera positions of a single camera) are often used. In editing phase scenes/shots are assembled in a way that the story is told in an effective way. In computer animation, a considerable amount of time is spent on pre-planning (e.g., storyboarding and animatics) so that a maximum amount of fully rendered scenes an/shots will be used for the final animation.

The topics in this handout are:


Types of shots: The followings are types of shots commonly used in film, video, and animation.

1. Shots with different shot sizes. One of the major distinctions among types of shots is the shot size. The shot size identifies how large and area will be visible within the frame. Among the following common shot sizes the distance between the camera and subject varies.




extreme wide shot


wide shot


medium wide shot


medium shot


close-up shot

extreme close-up shot

The images are from "The Art of Technique: An Aesthetic Approach to Film and Video Production"
by John Douglass and Glenn Harnden


Notes: Indecisive cut and shock cut
When cutting from a shot to another shot of a different shot size (e.g, from a wide shot to a medium wide shot) while framing the same subject, the difference in image size must be decisive. If the size of the subject does not change sufficiently, you will get the unpleasant effect of an indecisive cut and the audience will perceive it as a mistake or a distraction.

On the other hand, when cutting
from a shot to another shot of a significantly different shot size (e.g, from a wide shot to a close-up shot), you will produce a shock effect which is most likely inappropriate. The usual compromise is to have a shot of a shot size that is inbetween the sizes of the two shots (e.g., from a wide shot to a medium shot, and then to a close-up shot).


2. Shots with different camera angles.
Another one of the major distinctions among types of shots is the camera angle. Changing the camera angle changes the appearance and function of your shot.

Horizontal camera angles. Moving the camera around the subject horizontally while aiming at the subject creates different camera angles below:

  1. Frontal. The frontal angle tends to flatten the three dimensionality of facial features and environments.
  2. Three-quarter front. The three-quarter front angle is more often used than the frontal angle or profile because it shows more depth and volumes.
  3. Profile.
  4. Three-quarter rear.
  5. Rear.


Vertical camera angles
. Moving the camera around the subject vertically while aiming at the subject creats different camera angles below:

  1. High angle. The camera is placed above eye level, looking downward. A high angle shot can make a character look smaller, younger, weak, confused, or more childlike.
  2. Eye level. Most commonly used.
  3. Low angle. The camera is placed below eye level, looking upward. A low angle shot can make a character look bigger, stronger, or more noble. It also gives the impression of height.

high angle


low angle

The images are from "The Art of Technique: An Aesthetic Approach to Film and Video Production"
by John Douglass and Glenn Harnden

Note: Indecisive cut
When cutting from a shot to another shot with a different camera angle (e.g, from a frontal shot to a three quarter front), framing the same subject, the difference between the two camera angles must be greater than 35 degrees. If the difference is less than 35 degrees, and the appearance of the subject does not change sufficiently, you will get the unpleasant effect of an indecisive cut and the audience will perceive it as a mistake or a distraction.

3. POV shots. In a point of view (POV) shot, the camera is placed at the eye position of a character. (Birn, 8.2.4 POV Shots, pages 180-1)

4. Two shot & over-the-shoulder shot


Two shot

Over the shoulder shot



180 degree rule
If you are using multiple cameras and plan to edit the different shots in a scene into a seamless sequence, an important rule to keep in mind is to place all the cameras on the same side of a line of action. A line of action is a path which your subject is traveling along or an imaginary line between two characters who are interacting. This rule is called "180 degree rule".

Look at the following camera placements:


If Camera 2 and Camera 3 are used, the audience stays on one side of the line of action. These shots are called
"reverse angle shots".



If Camera 2 and Camera 4 are used, the audience crosses the line of action. It's disorienting and confusing.

The images are from "The Five C's of Cinematography" by Joseph V. Mascelli


Camera moves
The camera position is often animated in computer animation for no good reason or no reason at all simply because the virtual camera can be moved easily. If you want to animate realistic and effective camera moves, study popular types of possible camera moves with a real camera. Try the following:


The image is from "The Art of 3-D Computer Animation and Imaging" by Isaac Kerlow.

Dolly vs. Zoom
The difference between dolly and zoom is that when you dolly, you are moving the camera in space, while zoom refers to changing the camera's focal length. When you move the camera, the perspective changes. Objects far from the camera change in relative size at a slower rate than objects which are close to the camera. That is what you see through your human eyes as you walk around, your perspective changes. On the other hand, when you zoom (i.e., when you change the focal length of your camera), your camera does not move and perspective does not change.


Composition Rules: The followings are useful guidlines you can use when composing a shot.
1. Rule of thirds

Rule of thirds divides the frame into thirds both horizontally and vertically. The points where the vertical and horizontal lines cross are aesthetically pleasing spots to place subjects or to have perspective lines converge. It is usually best to avoid placing horizon lines exactly in the middle of a frame, but to place the horizon either above or below center, approximately one-third or two-thirds up the height of the frame.

The images are from "Digital Lighting and Rendering" by Jeremy Birn and "The Art of Technique"

2. Teeter-totter rule
Lighter weight can counterbalance a heavier weight if it is placed farther away from the center of the frame.

3. Avoid frontal angle
The frontal angle tends to flatten the three dimensionality of facial features and environments. Angling the shot produces more depth and volumes.

Shooting straight against walls produces flat compositions with little sense of depth in frame. Angling the shot into walls produces receding perspectives and a better sense of depth.


Safe Areas
Text, e.g., the title of your animation, should be kept in the center 80% of the screen, within a guideline called the title safe area. To make sure that your audience will not miss any important action in your animation, the vital parts of your scene should take place within the central 90% of your frame, a guideline called the action safe area. Why? It's because what's outside the action safe area is invisible on most TV sets. (Birn's Page 190.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last updated 10/22/03
"The book of Movie Photography" by David Cheshire