The techniques of basic cinematography
One of the best ways to learn filmmaking techniques is still to watch as many movies as possible, but most people, unfortunately, don't have that hobby. That’s why we’ve compiled a compilation of the most frequently used processes here. For each technique, we offer definitions and examples to represent the effect it produces concretely. This visualization will allow you to renew your look at the world, to perceive it in a cinematographic context. This look is the one artist, who draws inspiration from the lines and colors existing in nature to construct abstract representations of reality.
According to the laws of physics, kinetic energy is the energy of a body in movement. In the field of cinema, kinetic energy applies to camera movement. This can be moved in multiple ways, and each movement expresses a particular intention. Among the devices more frequently used to make camera movements, there is the travelling cart, the Steadicam, the mounted camera, the crane, the Louma. The shaking that results from a handheld camera shot energizes a scene. The sequences in which the movement must be ample and regular are tours with a Steadicam. Cranes, Louma and other travelling carts allow camera movements that are also regular but limited by the structure of the devices. Note that there are all kinds of original ways to move the camera, like fixing it on a roller coaster cart, attaching it on a swing, a merry-go-round, or any other object that can be put in motion.
In which films
Peckinpah uses the handheld camera in Straw Dogs.
■ In Rosemary’s Baby, the heroine is caught on a handheld camera as she struggles to escape.
■Breaking the Waves is always on the move.
■ In the Good, the Bad and the Ugly, the camera quickly begins to spin as a character searches for gold hidden in a cemetery.
■ The hunting sequence of La Planet of the Apes is shot with a handheld camera.
As important as it is, kinetic energy is not everything. In most shots of The Godfather, the camera is almost static, but this lack of movement effect is absolutely not detrimental to the power drama of the film.
In horizontal panning, the camera rotates on its horizontal axis by the left to right or right to left. To get an idea of what a horizontal pan is, you just have to stay straight and to turn the head from left to right or from right to left. Horizontal panning is commonly used to discover a very wide panorama that does not fit into the fixed frame of the camera - a landscape, for example. It also allows you to track characters or vehicles moving. This is called "reframing a shot.
In vertical panning, the camera rotates on its vertical axis. When the camera "pans" vertically, it films from top to bottom or from bottom up. To get an idea of vertical panning, just stay upright and pivot the head up and down or up and down. Vertical panning is frequently used for filming buildings high, a cathedral or an office building, for example. As horizontal panning, this technique allows you to follow characters or reframe a shot.
In a tracking shot, the camera moves horizontally in space. In its dynamics, this technique is comparable to a person moving on a moving stage - a wheelchair, for example. For you make up your mind, you just have to turn your head to what interests you all walking straight ahead: you have the impression of seeing the world. This is how a tracking shot appears on the screen. Travelling shots can, but not always, be done at by means of a cart. It is, in general, a tray placed on wheels and moves them along rails. The rails prevent a movement of irregular and shaky camera, especially on rough terrain. Steadicam is also used to make travelling shots without the jarring effect that usually results from the plans of the handheld camera. It gives the impression that the camera "floats" in the air. However, if the shooting operator uses an anti-vibration arm, handheld camera shots can compete in flexibility with those made by means of a travelling cart.
Camera movements allow for unique and interesting shots. Cranes and Louma are the most frequently used devices. They can be equipped with a platform that one can stand on. The camera is attached to the end of a mechanical "arm" articulated on a pivot, which gives the director has great freedom of action and allows him to print on camera majestic and striking movements. There are many other devices, each producing a particular movement that influences in some way the meaning of a shot or a sequence.
The choice of objectives plays an important role in the atmosphere, quality and the final rendering of the film. The focal length, or focal length, of a lens, refers to the distance between the focus (the place where the image is formed with sharpness) from the centre of the objective. It is this which determines the portion of space that the objective embraces.
Thus, a wide focal length opens the field, but distorts the objects of the first plan; this distortion can serve the intentions of the director, for example, if he's looking to add a psychedelic touch to his film, the longer the focal length wider, the greater the deformation. Fish-eye is one of the widest that exist. A short focal length implies a wide-angle and a long focal length a telephoto lens. Telephoto lenses allow you to shoot from a distance. By compressing perspectives, they bring the filmed elements closer together. Stunt scenes come out much better when filmed in this way because stuntmen appear closer to explosions or to cars chasing them than they actually are. The objective also plays with our perception of speed. Through a telephoto lens, actors walking perpendicular to the camera appear to be moving quickly; the effect will be the same with the wide-angle if they walk towards the camera.
Focus can be seen as a natural technique of shooting. Indeed, our eyes take stock each time we look, in a given field of vision, at objects located at distances different. We can fix our gaze either on a very close object or on another very distant. But because we can't fix the two objects at the same time, our eyes are obliged to successively focus on compensating for the difference in distance. It is rare, throughout the production of a scene, to be able to keep uniformly the same "point": at one point or another, the focus point is necessary. When the camera is in motion, a member of the technical team, called a "pointer", adjusts the point by depending on what is being filmed. To get an idea of this technique, just fix your gaze on objects located at different depths of field.
Zoom or optical travelling
Zoom lenses allow you to gradually adjust the focal length and to go from a wide shot to a close shot without changing the camera position. The zoom, which therefore designates the objective as much as the movement itself, is considered an unnatural technique because our eyes do not can differentially change their focal length in places where there is no room to install rails and a trolley, a very slow zoom can be a clever alternative to track. A very fast zoom - or sharp zoom - allows you to draw attention to certain objects in a setting.
In which films
In The Color of Money, there are many slow and fast zooms.
■ Wild Equip features a variety of zooms - slow, fast, short, long, front and back.
Sense of image
The image can, in the cinema, be charged with different values and meanings in the function of the very form of its expression. It can shoot towards the imagination, the symbol, the metaphor, or even have a simple role of illustration and enhance the emotion of a scene without dialogue. Violent archive footage can, for example, become part of a conversation about war. Likewise, the plan of a flower can mean peace or love, and that of a gun, war. In this regard, the images which can be played on the primary meaning, for example, that of a beautiful flower, but poisonous, remain the most interesting.
In which films?
Among all of David Lynch’s films, which play abundantly with the imagination, let us mention in particular Lost Highway.
■ Marathon Man uses several times the symbolic images of a marathon runner.
■ In Apocalypse Now, the hyperbolic image of a helicopter's blades replaces than that of a ceiling fan.
In The House of Doctor Edwardes, the imaginary takes the form of a dream sequence, inspired by the paintings of Salvador Dali.
■ In the Battleship Potemkin, the images of sailors hanging from the mast obviously have a symbol.
■ Jacob's ladder is full of equally nightmarish illustrations.
■ In Mr Cursed, the child's ball rolling out of the wood is nothing less than the image of his death.
By transition, we mean any means, making it possible to go from one plan to another other. The easiest of all transitions is the cut, that is to say, the cut frank. According to the assembly, the cut will be little perceived by the public or on the contrary will mark sudden ellipses in space and time. Sequences often begin and end with a fade. The fade chained is very frequently used. It superimposes a new image on an older, gradually intensifying the new image until the old one disappears. Crossfades produce a transition "Soft". Simple fades allow you to slowly switch from one color to another image or vice versa. The fade is commonly done in black, but not only. A fade to white, for example, frequently causes a transition that it can be described as "explosive". We will more easily associate images of blood fade to red, and those of the ocean fade to blue. Some transition effects allow you to switch from one shot to another particular way.
In which films
In Star Wars, the transition effects are a reference to old B-series sci-fi movies.
■ At the end of Jacob's Ladder, and the landscape fades to white as Jacob ascends to heaven with his son.
The same term editing three distinct operations on the “raw” material of the shooting:
- A material operation (cut and glue the film);
- A stylistic operation (write the film by composing the meaning and the rhythm
cinematographic work with images, sound, plans, connections, sequences);
- A semiological operation (two successive plans create relationships conceptually and symbolic).
In the latter sense, the best commentary on the edit is given by Sergei Eisenstein, one of the fathers of modern cinema. According to him, although editing is part of the cinematographic activity, its essence is to be sought in literature, in music, in art. This definition opens up to a wider conception of editing, considered as an assembly of "elements" affecting sight and hearing, which gives rise to some something new. The bringing together of two planes is not the simple addition of the senses which they carry, but their multiplication. Because editing is a very important aspect of the film, it can affect its harm if not done correctly. The great film critic André Bazin argues that lack of editing may be beneficial to certain types of films, and allow a more realistic perception of time and space the story. In a film without editing, a director will not be able to cut the plans to hide his blunders and mistakes. This is what André Bazin calls the "cinema of transparency".
The common vocabulary used for framing a shot is just as applicable to actors as to objects. The close-up of a telephone or the very close-up of the slot of a coin mechanism is examples. A director often diversifies, during the shooting, the value of his shots to have of choice at the time of the assembly and to be able to affirm its aesthetic and/or symbolic intentions.
A director can choose from several types of film. Each type has physical and chemical characteristics that will determine the rendering of the image. There are also a large number of formats: the 8 mm (reserved, until the arrival of the camcorder, for private use), the 16 mm (used for the documentary and low-budget films), and 35mm (standard format of fiction films). You can also include video since many directors have experimented with mixing video footage and images. It still exists other formats, intended for very large cinemas, but they are a call for resources that are far too heavy to enter into current production. By mixing different formats and playing with the diversity of textures they offer, the director can create really interesting effects.
In which films
Many Oliver Stone films play with this mix of formats.
■ Drugstore Cowboys includes family film footage shot in 8mm.
■ In the Game, the 16 mm is used to remind, in the form of a flashback, the character's childhood.
Although sound editing is not, strictly speaking, a technique visual, we must not forget that cinema is an audiovisual art. Sound is inseparable from cinematic writing. Think about what Star Wars would be without music! The film would lose a lot of its grandiose character. If you remove the often very expressive soundtrack of a horror movie, it's a safe bet it will lose some of its capacity for horror. It takes time for the music to set the mood for a scene, but the sounds that the audience doesn't notice are even more powerful and subtle. It is frequent, during editing, to add sounds to give more relief in the film, such as birdsong, the snoring of car engines, or the sound of running water. It is used in many films; voiceover is a particular aspect of sound editing. It's just the dubbing of a voice, that of a character or of a narrator, who runs over the images.
In which films
There is, in The Godfather, an interesting example of the expressive power of his. Michael Corleone prepares to assassinate his first victims, the frantic sound of a train fades in and then fades, symbolizing the ebb and flow of his emotions. As he goes to dinner for committing the murder, the noise of the train returns to submerge the scene. Observe, in any movie that includes music, how he sets the mood
■ In The Laureate, the volume of the music drops to when Ben's car runs out of gasoline.
■ In many horror films, grandiloquent sound effects support the moments of surprise and horror.
■ Goodfellas is partly told by the voice-over by Ray Liotta
■ In Duel, the hero's thoughts are expressed in voiceover
■ A voiceover runs throughout the beginning of Citizen Kane.
1. Select some of your favorite movies. Instead of looking at them while following the story, focus on the basic techniques used by the director, such as horizontal panning, vertical panning, traveling, camera movement, focusing.
2. Observe the different types of transition. Pay attention to cuts, fades simple, with crossfades and shutters. If you have the possibility, do you pass the fittings fast at idle?
3. Study the aesthetics of the assembly. There are good books on the subject; see in particular the writings of Sergei Eisenstein and André Bazin. Editing is a fundamental element of the cinema. By studying, you will improve your knowledge of cinema as well as your ability to analyze the mechanisms of films.
4. Look for editing effects: You will see that the assembly does not belong exclusively in the cinema: it is a fundamental aspect of art, music, and other fields of creation. Observe how the combination of tiny elements creates a sequence that appeals to the public.
Author: Vicki Lezama