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Simple Lines Reveal the Brilliant Compositions of Iconic Film Scenes

By Sara Barnes

Each frame of a film is like a blank canvas for a cinematographer, offering them a new opportunity to create a dynamic composition. If a scene is especially memorable, it can stick with us like an impressive painting, with the characters—their props, poses, and surroundings—embedded into our collective conscious forever. Raymond Thi of Composition Cam examines iconic, visually stunning film stills by dissecting them to reveal the brilliance behind a frame’s layout.

To show how these scenes are composed, Thi overlaid bright pink lines to demonstrate symmetry, triangles, diagonals, and much more. Some stills use the grid method to create balanced frames while others focus on a central character with lines radiating from them. Many of these films feature relatively simple compositions—just a couple marks or shapes—proving that a few elements can make a lasting impact.

vía My Modern Met

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Ive been getting an influx of messages from students asking me what they can do to become a story artist. I decided to put together a list of a few basic things to get you started on the journey. There is much more that goes into making a good story artist but these are just some of my personal suggestions to start.

First, I always like to suggest some reading material. Here are  few books that really helped me wrap my head around a few ideas:

  1. Visual Story- Bruce Block
  2. Story- Robert Mckee
  3. The 5C’s of Cinematography- Joseph Mascelli
  4. Save the Cat-Blake Snyder
  5. On Filmmaking- Alexander Mackendrick 

Next i’d suggest watching as many movies as possible. Studies from the greats Kubrick, Spielberg, Hitchcock, Coen Brothers, Kurosawa, or whoever else you find yourself drawn to. When I say study, I mean really analyze the film from all angles. (camera, composition, Story telling, dialogue, acting.) Have a piece of paper nearby and draw small thumbnails of compositions. 

Check out the AFI Top 100 lists for starters:  http://www.afi.com/100years/movies10.aspx

Storyboarding involves a lot of drawing. Usually quick drawings that have clear reads. So to better your skills draw as much as possible! Draw everything! But not just mindless drawing really think about what you are drawing and why. Look for specific gestures, facial expressions, and designs. A great way to learn this is through life drawing. 

Lastly, Tell stories! The job of a story artist is to visually tell a story through drawings in order to inform others in the production. Great drawings are really second to great storytelling. A good way to improve on telling stories is to do it as much as possible no matter the medium.

Again these are just some of my personal suggestions and a place to start the journey. Hope its helpful! 

I admire Kubrick greatly. He is often accused of being a prodigious technician and rigid intellectual, which people say makes his films very cold. I don’t agree. I think that “Barry Lyndon” or “A Clockwork Orange” are the most perfect marriages of personality and subject. But in fact, “Full Metal Jacket” is even more so. It looked at rigidity and brutality with an almost clinical eye. It is, for me, a singular film about the military, about war and its consequences. The famous scenes, like the induction with R Lee Ermey where he renames the soldiers and reshapes them into sub-human maggots, had a particular impact on me. Also the suicide scene with Vincent D’Onofrio in the bathroom. And the sniper set-piece at the end. Those are absolutely virtuoso pieces of filmmaking.

Guillermo del Toro on Stanley Kubrick

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Films watched in 2015.

Film 97: 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968) ®

Nota: 9.5/10

He tenido el placer de revisionar mi favorita de Kubrick en una sala de cine. Los ojos como platos, el corazón dando palmadas de la emoción.