The Camera's Movement

Film Kinetics: like images, movement can be literal and concrete, highly stylized and lyrical, or realistic and formally abstract.

  • Realistic movements are the same movements that are observed in real life
  • Stylized conventions cause us to accept expression of certain feelings and ideas
  • Musicals express emotions through song and dance
    • Signing in the Rain – He dances and sings on the street in the rain, hanging on lamp posts – expresses his love for a girl
  • Samurai and kung-fu films often feature choreographed combat sequences
  • Vertical movements of the camera tend to express a sense of freedom – it conforms to the eyes natural tendency to look up over a composition
    • Downward movements are the opposite – suggesting ideas of depression, grief, death, etc.
  • Westerners read from left to right, therefore they read a picture from left to right. Physical movement from left to right seems natural whereas right to left expresses tension. Filmmakers use this to their advantage – good for a dramatic effect.
    • E.g. protagonists move from left to right, villans move right to left
  • Movement can also be directed in terms of moving toward or away from the camera. A villain moving towards the camera can seem aggressive and hostile. If the character is more attractive, it can be friendly instead.
    • Movement away from the camera is the opposite. Audiences feel safer when the villain moves away.
  • Classical filmmakers tend to stage movement diagonally, to create a more dynamic trajectory of motion.
  • The higher and longer the shot, the slower the movement appears. Close and low angle shots make things faster and intense.
  • Epic films usually depend on the longer shots for their effects, whereas psychological films tend to use closer shots.
    • Epics are concerned with a sense of sweep and breadth; they emphasize events
    • Psychological movies are concerned with depth and detail; they emphasize the implications of events
  • Certain emotions and ideas – like joy, love, hatred – are so prevalent in cinema that serious artists are constantly searching for new methods of presentation
    • One method of avoiding ‘staleness’ is to convey emotions through kinetic symbolism. E.g. curved and swaying motions are more graceful whereas straight and direct motions strike us as intense, stimulating, and powerful; fear can be told by trembling movements.

The Moving Camera

  • Editing is faster, cheaper and less distracting, but cutting is also abrupt, disconnected, and unpredictable compared to the fluid lyricism of a moving camera.
    • Problem director’s face is time. Editing may be better to make the sequence faster or a longer continuous shot may be better.
  • There are 7 basic camera shots: Pans, tilts, dolly shots, handheld shots, crane shots, zoom shots, and aerial shots.
    • Pans: movements of the camera that scan a scene horizontally, taken from a stationary axis point.
      • Swish pan (aka flash pan or zip pan) is a variation of panning mainly used for transitions between shots – e.g. whirling of the camera at a rapid speed so that only blurred images are recorded. – in Citizen Kane, Charles Fostser Kane is talking to his wife at the dinner table, the camera does a swish pan between the 2 characters over and over again, showing a progression of time and character development.
    • Tilts: vertical movements of the camera from a stationary axis point.
      • Camera can stimulate emotions. Character looking up at another person shows that the other person is in power.
    • Dolly shots (aka trucking shots or tracking shots) are taking from a moving vehicle (dolly), allowing it to move more smoothly.
      • A common use of dolly shots is to emphasize psychological revelations. For example, slowly tracking in on a character will give the impression that something crucial is about to happen.
  • Stationary camera conveys a sense of stability and order
  • Moving camera is instable itself, and conveys ideas of vitality, flux, and sometimes disorder
  • When the camera follows a character, the audience will assume that something is to be discovered
  • Handheld cameras are usually mounted with a harness on a cinematographer’s shoulder. They were perfected in the 1950s to allow camera operators to move into or out of scenes with greater flexibility and speed.
    • Handheld shots are often jumpy and ragged (e.g. Beginning of Karakter/Character composed of handheld shots).
  • A crane is a kind of mechanical arm, often more than 6 metres long. Crane shots are airborne dolly shots.
  • A steadicam is a camera-stabilizing device that was perfected in the 1970s. They eliminate the need for cranes or dollies (in some cases), as they allow for cinematographers to move smoothly through a set or location without the camera shaking. 
  • Zoom shots do not involve the actual movement of a camera; it is a combination of lenses that permit the camera to change from close wide-angle distances to extreme telephoto positions (and vice versa). 
  • There are psychological differences between zoom shots and those involving an actual camera. Dolly and crane shots give the viewer a sense of entering into or withdrawing from a set (e.g. the camera penetrated into a 3-dimensional space). 
  • Zoom lenses flatten space. The edges of the image disappear on all sides. The effect creates a sudden magnification, rather than a gradual movement that will engage the audience. 
  • Aerial shots are usually taken from a helicopter and are really variations of crane shots. Helicopter shots can be more extravagant, therefore occasionally used to suggest a swooping sense of freedom.

Mechanical Distortions of Movement

Present day cameras record motion at 24 frames per second. When these images are projected, the movement appears to be fluid to the human eye. By manipulating the timing of the frames, a filmmaker can distort movement on the screen. Five basic distortions exist:

  1. Animation – In animation sequences, each frame is photographed separately, rather than at a continuous rate of 24 frames per second. Each frame only slightly differs from the next. They can have the same techniques (traveling shots, zooms, angles, various lenses, etc.), however, animators must draw these elements.
    • Filmmakers also use Matte Shots – the process of superimposing two film strips to add special effects (e.g. adding animation in live-action shots – The Mask, starring Jim Carry).
  2. Fast motion – Fast motion is achieved by filming at a rate slower than 24 frames per second. Thus, when projected at 24 frames, it will appear accelerated (often used for a comical effect).
  3. Slow motion – Opposite of Fast Motion (Often used for dramatic purposes. i.e. a violent scene that shows blood splattering; or a person running to the aid of someone ala Baywatch).
  4. Reverse motion – Simply involves filming with the film running reversed so that when projected on the screen, the events will run backwards.
  5. Freeze frames – Suspends all movement on the screen. A single image is reprinted for as many frames as is necessary to suggest the halting of motion. Directors use this technique to draw attention to the image.

CameraShotsAnglesMovement copy CameraInMotion



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