We all want to tell our stories by making films. But do we have the aesthetic and technical wherewithal to do that? Making a film is much more than zipping out a hand held and shooting to our hearts’ content.
Pixar Animation Studio’s Alexander Woo conducted a masterclass on the art and craft of visual storytelling in Asia’s largest computer graphics convention, CG Overdrive, Singapore. Excerpts…
Origins of visual storytelling
“Visual imagery comes from art. A painting can depict many things like chaos, abstractions and even have a lot of energy to it. But the important question is… does it have a story? Does it necessarily tell a story? Not really. There is no narrative in a painting. It is a still image.
Then how do we define visual storytelling? A story has to give me the dynamic; it has to give me the insights into the characters’ lives and the setting of the story.
Like in Bill Waterson’s Calvin & Hobbes, storyboards may have started from comic strips. They are narrative filled images. At least, we at Pixar get our ideas for story boards like this; we come up with a single image drawing that tries to encapsulate the story idea as a whole. It can be later used in the story as a gag or a joke.
It can be anything, gossips to jokes or gags, but it has to be a sequential storytelling and only then you come to the storyboards. This is the right progression in visual storytelling.”
“As grammar is important to language, different shots and angles are important to Cinematography. Wide angle shots, medium, close ups, low angle, top angles, etc, are all ways of punctuating cinematography. So basically, the way you are trying to say things in a film drastically affects what you are saying. Similarly in cinema, you can use all these shots to say what is happening on the screen in a very different way.”
Types of shots
“If a director uses a dolly track shot in a film sequence, he might be trying to say that this scene contains a lot of information, so pay close attention. For example, a film where a small man is the villain is shot through a normal lens, it wouldn’t be effective. Instead, using a low angle shot can enhance the impact of the character.
Any kind of shot being used with a music score should finally reinforce the story.”
Tools of composition
“Composition is how you create something within a frame. There are various elements of composition too, like the subject size, point of focus, contrast, silhouettes, horizontals, verticals and diagonals. For example, to focus on the game of chess, a vertical or horizontal angle can be used.”
The power of silhouettes
“Film and language are art forms and they are constantly evolving and evoking emotion. Silhouettes are very powerful when juxtaposing dark versus dark and white versus white. Some directors make use of dual focus lenses, deliberately. Again, by using different lenses, the director is trying to reinforce the story through cinematography.”