Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Studying Composition from Film

A lot of artists are familiar with doing film studies, and they're a great way to understand a film's certain aesthetic for composition or color or lighting. In addition to doing those, I recommend analyzing key frames from films in the context of at least these 3 questions:

1. Who is the "star?

Sometimes the star is obvious and everything in the composition points to it, other times it's less obvious yet still recognizable. In the first example, Aladdin is the star and the composition literally points to him and reinforces his being surrounded and trapped. In the second, none of the people are the "star" because in the context of the movie, the scene is about the information in those documents and the lighting really helps to highlight that the "star" of this scene is what the guard is holding.

2. What happened right before or will right after?

No composition exists alone, and if you find yourself not understanding a composition, consider what was shown right before or will be shown right after to help put it in context. In the Aladdin scene, it might seem a bit odd that the composition is somewhat symmetrical and that the center of interest is rather in the middle, but it makes sense that such a stable composition would be used right after an exciting and dynamic chase sequence to reinforce the peace and quiet Aladdin and Abu have earned.

3. What am I supposed to feel?

These two compositions both elicit different and rather opposite feelings. The first encourages the feeling that Aladdin is feeling down and insignificant in the context of the size of the city and its imposing nature on him. In the second, we get the opposite feeling. This scene from "Lawrence of Arabia" suggests the feeling of openness and how the landscape is both prone to be explored and its massive presence in contrast to the minuscule presence of the people in the scene.

Hope this helps anyone trying to understand film a bit better. Remember, compositions aren't just dark and light shapes on a screen. They're a visual device to help serve the story.


  1. I love these informative posts lately Mauricio!

  2. Hey, Mauricio, great post.

    I just got finished watching the John Huston 1956 Moby Dick movie. Now there's a film to study for compositions!

    Hope you're having a great Thanksgiving, my friend.

  3. Good Stuff, Bro. Good stuff.

  4. thanks for sharing mauricio!! its really helpful to review and learn new things like this =)

  5. Even after Art Center you keep progressing! that's true talent.

    Thanks for sharing these.

  6. This takes me back to Will Weston lectures.
    It's always great to see other people's breakdowns. Also it's super cool that you're teaching! I'll be on the look out for more slides!

  7. Great post! I like the examples you used


Thanks for letting me know what you think :)