Lesson 6: Visuals that Move

A film is never really good unless the camera is an eye in the head of a poet - Orson Welles

In the previous lesson, you learned how to create and compose still-images (photographs). In this lesson, we will move on to moving images.

When we think of moving images, we usually think about videos, cartoons, and animations. These images appear to move in front of our eyes. However, they do not really move. When we watch a cartoon, movie, or animation, an illusion of motion or movement is created by playing a set of images at a certain frame rate. This makes our eyes believe that they move.

When we see images at a low frame rate, our eyes do not believe this illusion as we see the images jump from one to the next. When you increase the frame rate, the images appear to move fluidly in front of our eyes. In general, film is shot at 24 frames per second whereas normal video is shot at 30 frames per second.

When you look at movies, cartoons, or other video clips, you probably noticed that they do not show the whole movie or cartoon as one continuous shot. Instead, videos are usually split up into a sequence of many shots.

Reflection activity:

Turn on your television, open a television show on Netflix, or play a movie that you have on a DVD. Set a timer to one minute. How many different shots did you see in total for the minute that you watched? Was this more or less than you expected? When looking at these shots, do they have different sizes and show different angles (are the subjects filmed from far away, close up, from underneath, above, or a combination of these)?

As you participated in the reflection activity, you may have noticed that there are more shots in a video than you may initially have thought or noticed before. Generally, video is made to look as natural as possible, even though shots are usually very carefully constructed. Often, individual shots are filmed out of order and put back in order later on. They often create an illusion of continuity.

Some people even deny the possibility of film being a form of art. They say that film cannot be art, since it does do nothing but reproducing reality mechanically. When watching a video, it often seems to automatically look natural and “real”, as if we are just looking at the lives of other people and everything that is going on in it through a lens. According to Black (2002), film conveys a realistic effect to its viewers which is no more than a psychological effect whereby film gives the impression of reality narrating itself, causing an illusion of reality. In other words, film appears natural, but is it?

While movies seem to be made as if everything looks completely natural, in reality, every single object is carefully placed within the frame. This relates to the French concept mise-en-scène. Mise-en-scène is a French term and literally means “placing or setting on a stage.” Giannetti (2014, p. 46) states that mise-en-scène “resembles the art of painting in that an image of formal patterns and shapes is presented on a flat surface and is enclosed within a frame.” Directors of movies deliberately choose certain lights, people, camera positions and objects to put within their frame. In movies, meaning is created through different elements like posture, camera position, shot size, props (objects), and point of view. In this lesson you will learn about some elements of mise-en-scène. You will learn about different shot sizes, camera angles, and positions and how these may influence the meaning you are trying to convey.