Famed editor Sergei Eisenstein hard at work on his latest feature. As you can probably discern, he took his work VERY seriously.
When putting together a jigsaw puzzle, each piece is part of a pre-determined whole. There’s an image on the box, and that’s what you get. When you’ve run out of pieces and the picture matches, you know you’re done.
With editing, it’s not that simple.
The carefully-chosen shots, camera moves, and performances all end up in the same place, the proverbial puzzle box, ready to be put together by the editor. Until the film is edited, the story that was shot (likely out of order) hasn’t been told yet! The editor is as much a storyteller as the screenwriter, and controls many aspects of the film. These include:
Pace: Editing determines the pace of a scene. Quick cuts and cuts that don’t match heighten a feeling of intensity. Crazy action sequences and car chases are notorious for lots of fast cuts they have a lot of ground to cover! But something as simple as a family argument at dinner can become an intense war when the editing takes us around the table.
Acting and reacting: They say acting is reacting and editing is, surprisingly, no different. We know it’s important to see a character while they’re talking, but it’s almost more important to see how the other characters react! A shrewd editor can create a poignant moment by mixing and matching reactions from different takes, sometimes even from different lines.
In his book In The Blink of an Eye, Academy Award winning editor Walter Murch talks about the slate piece, that bit of film shot before they slate and call action. Even though that twenty-second piece of footage was never meant to be in the movie, perhaps the actor had the right look on his face. Murch reiterates that anything captured on film is fair game for editing.
Continuity: We’ve all seen flubs, continuity errors, things in the background disappearing, etc. We think we’re smart for noticing. Believe it or not, these sorts of errors are at the very bottom of the list of importance for an editor. When choosing between an incredible performance by an actor or making sure the lamp in the background didn’t move, the editor will choose the performance every time.
The Cutting Room Floor: Not every shot makes it into the film. Maybe the tracking shot that took half a day that the director loved just doesn’t work. Maybe the close-up that the actor wanted disrupts the feel of the scene. It’s the editor’s responsibility to be divorced from on-set situations, and use the puzzle pieces they’ve been given to tell a story in the best way possible.
And that’s a wrap!
Editing is abstract and virtually limitless. Choosing the pace, performances, and shots is a huge responsibility of storytelling. Movies can be made or broken in the editing room. The next time you watch a film, try paying attention to the cuts you’ll likely find yourself quickly forgetting about them and getting drawn back into the story. Great editing affects us on a subconscious level and disappears into the film.
This is the final blog for Hulu Summer Film School. We hope you’ve looked at movies a different way and learned something you didn’t know before!0
In an interview with NPR, the acclaimed editor Walter Murch (Godfather Trilogy, Apocalypse Now) described his job as a cross between a short-order cook and a brain surgeon.
The work of an editor is highly complex. As the last shepherds of the film, they reorder, splice, trim, and shape the raw footage to breathe mood, tension, and structure into the film. Under the guardianship of a great editor, no frame goes unexamined and no contributionwhether it be in acting or cinematographygoes under-appreciated. In this final week of Hulu Summer Film School, we’re celebrating these unsung heroes by exploring how they carry the film through its final legs of production.
A fluid travelogue of cinema, Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil explores the mutable nature of memory, time, and its effect on our perception of history. Using elliptical editing techniques to marry documentary and found-footage, Marker’s film sends us from the bustling cityscape of Tokyo to the wilds of Guinea-Bissau in Africa to the extraterrestrial landscape of Iceland, and back again to Japan where we bear witness to a religious ceremony honoring cats. Through all of this dazzlement, Sans Soleil is devoid of synchronous sound and uses an unseen narrator (reading aloud the journal of a fictional traveling cameraman who captured the images we’re seeing) as the binding force for the material. The editorial synthesis of sight and sound becomes simultaneously lasting and ephemeral, not unlike someone trying to recall and re-experience a distant memory.
Later in the film, Marker reveals his affection for Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, referring to it as a quest to discover an impossible memory, insane memory. Memory and time contort into an endless spiral as Marker showcases still images from Vertigo intercut with footage of his own sojourn to San Francisco to recreate scenes from Hitchcock’s film. The editing is crisp and precise, snapping from a still of Vertigo to its corresponding live action shot in Sans Soleil while the narrator draws a comparative deconstruction of Hitchcock’s film, musing about the impossibility to live with memory without falsifying it. Memory becomes a kind of personal armor, protecting us from the harsh iniquities of objective truth and allowing us both filmmaker and viewer alike to remake history as desired by the needs of the present.
Jean-Luc Godard’s first feature film Breathless revolutionized the way films were edited. It made the jump cut a viable way to compress narrative time. The plot is heavily informed by popular film culture from before 1960: a young thug goes on the run from the police with his American girlfriend. But the energy of the film has little to do with the plot and everything to do with the loose way in which the film was shot and the endless invention of the film’s editing.
Consider Michel (Jean-Paul Belmondo) as he takes off in a stolen car in this clip from early in the film. The jump cuts do not preserve continuity of time or space, but there’s an emotional logic to Michel’s tear through France. The film forces the audience to see Michel the way he sees himself (as cool, but playful, full of vibrancy and passion), and Godard’s style is like crazed stream-of-consciousness filmmaking he captures life the way it is, or at least the way we would like it to be in our mind’s eye.
– Christopher Rowe
Much more than any other genre, the documentary’s structure is shaped in the editing room. On a typical documentary production, hundreds of hours of footage will be shot and then brought to the editor who will cut the content down to a 90-minute feature.
A testament to documentary editing can be seen in Jennifer Baichwal’s Manufactured Landscapes, in which Baichwal follows photographer Edward Burtynsky as he captures various landscapes around the world that have been shaped by industrial production. One of the film’s many visually-stunning shots is a long take of Chinese manufacturing workers lining up to take orders from their managers. The wide angle highlights the sheer magnitude of identically-dressed workers and also serves to emphasize the lack of individualism in the space. This shot is followed by a match cut to Burtynsky’s photograph of the event and then another match cut to Burtynsky’s photo in a gallery space with visitors passing by it. Through this sequence, Baichwal depicts editing’s ability to transcend not only time but also space. As a result, viewers gain a better understanding of the power of Burtynsky’s images to communicate social and economic situations to the rest of the world.
– Kelly Lin
In Primer, two scientists accidentally discover time travel and it slowly affects their lives, over and over again. It’s fast-paced, yet slow and brooding, and completely immersive.
In this clip, Abe and Aaron discover that time travel may be happening right in front of their noses. As they are both trying to make sense of what’s happening, the editing is jumpy, frenetic, and a little disjointed, matching the activity of their brains. But as they reach a conclusion they both agree on, the editing slows down, allowing us to spend a bit more time on each shot. This subconsciously gives our minds a little space again a way to say we’ve settled here, just like the characters have in the story.
1) The Top 10 Most Effective Editing Moments of All Time Some of the best editing in film is the editing that draws us so deeply into the story that we aren’t even cognizant that the post-production process is taking place. This video from CineFix takes some of the most highly regarded films of our time and explores how different editorial techniques help them achieve greatness. After watching this clip, check out some of CineFix’s other short form content, all designed to both instruct and entertain filmmakers and movie buffs alike.
2) Vashi Visuals – Run by editor Vashi Nedomansky, this blog gives an in-depth look into the editorial workflow and the reasonings behind editorial choices made both by him and other editors in the business.
3) Movie Editing Techniques from LA Video Filmmaker – This blog post explores the most commonly used editorial cuts in cinema, with gifs to back them up.0
Whether your interests lie in CG or stop-motion, traditional 2D or puppetry, there’s a famous set of 12 Principles used throughout the medium to give all these forms the illusion of life. Developed by Disney animators Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas, the goal of these principles is to cultivate realism and style. Let’s examine their use in the Hulu Summer Film School selection, The Secret of Kells.
The Secret of Kells tells the story of Brendan, a young monk in search of a legendary crystal that he can use to complete the Book of Kells.
1) Squash and Stretch – Squash and stretch is the extending and compressing of a character’s body to create the illusion of weight and volume. In this scene, squash and stretch is used to establish how two of Brendan’s mentors, Brother Tang and Brother Assoua, are different not only in height but also in the way their bodies move to form expressions.
2) Anticipation – Animators use anticipation to prep the audience for a forthcoming action. In this scene, Brendan pulls the quill back in anticipation before touching it to the book to make the line.
3) Staging – This is the concept that every pose or action that a character takes should clearly communicate a character’s goals, attitude, mood, or reaction. Compare these images of Brendan from different scenes. Notice how each pose is different from the other and expresses a clear emotion. If you were to make a silhouette of the character’s pose, you would still be able to tell that these are distinct poses.
4) Straight Ahead & Pose-to-Pose – More related to process than product, this principle highlights the two major methods of animation production: straight ahead and pose-to-pose. Straight ahead animation is popular in stop-motion animation. In this process, the animator will animate one frame at a time in chronological order. Pose-to-Pose involves creating key poses and then adding the in-between filler later.
Pose-to-Pose: To animate this scene from The Secret of Kells, animators first developed these key poses for Brendan and his mentor, Brother Aidan and then passed the scene on to other animation studios in Brussels, Belgium, Brazil, and Hungary to fill in the action between these poses.
Straight Ahead: By contrast, on their 2012 feature, ParaNorman, stop-motion animation company LAIKA employed the straight ahead production process, moving their figures ever so slightly, taking a picture, and repeating again.(This gif is a time-lapse of how the animators from ParaNorman were able to make Norman come to life.)
5) Follow through, and Overlapping Action – Follow through is the concept that when a character stops running or performing an action, their body parts stop moving different times. This one is kinda difficult to see, but if you look closely you’ll notice how when the magical forest fairy Aisling jumps, her body stops on a rock but her hair continues to move a couple frames after.
Tied to the concept of follow through is overlapping action. This concept posits that when the body is in motion, certain parts will inevitably move faster than others. In this scene, take note of how the philosopher Colum-Cille’s arm holding the cane moves at a faster rate than the rest of his body.
6) Slow-In and Slow-Out – The more frames of an action there are, the slower the action will seem. The less frames of an action there are, the faster the action will seem. Thus when animating an action scene, animators will add more drawings to the beginning parts of the action, less towards the middle, and more again towards the end, creating the effect of a slow-in and a slow-out. In this scene, notice how the action seems to slow down when the bell is at the highest and lowest portion of its arc and speeds up when the bell is in the middle of the arc.
7) Arcs – Almost all of life’s actions have a slightly circular flow to them. Thus animators will often animate actions with an arc trajectory. Sometimes this principle can be exaggerated to add appeal to a character, as in this awesome curvature animation on Aisling’s hair!
8) Secondary Action – This is an additional action that helps to supplement the main action of a scene. For instance, in this scene where Brendan is walking, the movement of the character’s legs and feet are the main action while the movement of the character’s arms, head, and subtle body motions make up the secondary actions of the scene.
9) Timing – By incorporating more or fewer drawings into the range of an action, an animator is able to mimic the laws of physics to create either slow and smooth movements or fast and crisp movements, as seen here.
10) Exaggeration – Exaggeration involves broadening your character’s facial features, poses, and expressions to add greater understanding to their movements. As a result of the principle of exaggeration, it is pretty clear to the audience that this goose is terrified!
11) Solid Drawings This principle posits that the basic ideas related to traditional drawing should also be applied to the animation space. This character sheet shows how the artists designed Brother Aidan’s cat Pangur Ban, taking into account the various poses that the character would assume and the perspectives at which it might be depicted.
12) Appeal This concept is hard to pinpoint but easy to identify. Simply put, appeal relates to the idea that images should be able to craft a connection with their audiences. This does not necessarily mean that the image has to be cute and cuddly, but rather that the actions on screen will spark the interest of the audience. In The Secret of Kells, the filmmakers use a variety of different setups and textures to spark the interest of the audience, including this beautiful triptych set-up.
By employing the 12 Principles of Animation, The Secret of Kells is able to achieve not only believable characters but also a compelling story. To learn more about the process that went into creating The Secret of Kells, visit The Secret of Kells official blog and wiki page.0
Picture this: A character sits at a table and takes a sip from a glass of water.
In the live-action world, this shot might take 15 minutes to set up and shoot. In the animation world, this seemingly simple action might take 3 months. Not only do the characters and sets have to be designed, rigged, and modeled, but the sound of the character drinking and putting the glass on the table has to be recorded; the movements of the character, the character’s clothes, the chair, and the water have to be animated, and don’t even get us started on if this scene were crafted in traditional 2D.
Welcome to the world of animation where artists begin with a blank canvas and from that blank canvas, they build a world. This week’s Hulu Summer Film School selections explore a wide variety of animation styles and how animators use their tools to create worlds that extend beyond our wildest imaginations.
1) Sita Sings the Blues
Director: Nina Paley
Nina Paley’s Sita Sings the Blues is a charming and unique collage of animation styles and narrative strands, that, when considered as a whole, exemplifies the ability of an auteur animator to pioneer her vision with near complete creative control. As a medium, animation offers the potential for a purer authorship than live action because it limits the contentious issue of sharing authorship across many different roles. Sita offers different tellings of the traditional Indian story of Ramayana about the troubled love between Sita and her neglectful lover Rama. Paley was eventually able to distribute the film through a Creative Commons license which let her use music that would otherwise be protected by copyright law (in one strand of the film, Sita sings Annette Henshaw songs from the jazz era). In addition to Paley’s role as narrative auteur, Sita becomes an intellectual embodiment of her artistic creed. Paley is an advocate of the free culture movement best summarized by the title of her original song, Copying Isn’t Theft.
3) The Muppets Take Manhattan
Director: Frank Oz
Whether puppetry should be considered animation is a polarizing topic among film buffs, but there’s no denying that the form of theater performance is deeply rooted in the simplest concept of animation: Performers animate inanimate objects to tell a story. Just like in traditional pencil-and-paper animation, this effect is achieved not only through scenes that are drawn out, but also through the sounds and movements of the made objects to create an illusion that it is all real.
Operationally with Jim Henson’s puppets, one hand manipulates the head and mouth while another manipulates the hands and arms. Because of this, the puppets’ faces remain static so emotion is primarily expressed through tone of voice and arm movements. Through her powerful voice and aggressive arm movements, you can tell that Miss Piggy is tempestuous; Kermit is mild-mannered because of his permanent pensive eyes and soft movements.
Jim Henson’s Muppet characters are a definitive example of puppetry used in movies. In The Muppets Take Manhattan, the group of fuzzy, big-eyed characters hit the streets of New York City. With puppetry magic, these furry objects sing, dance, and feel sadness and happiness all while experiencing what it’s like working at diners, being broke, and having failed dreams in the big city.
Director: Don Bluth
A cult favorite of many established animators today, The Secret of NIMH draws on classical animation techniques to tell the tale of a field rat who seeks help from a colony of other rats to try to save her sick son. In many ways, the story behind the film is as compelling as the film itself.
Flash back to 1979. Disney Animation Studios was in production on The Fox and the Hound. Animator Don Bluth was dissatisfied with Disney’s increasingly computer-based modes of production and wished to revive the traditional animation techniques used by Walt Disney in the 1930’s. With a rag-tag team of sixteen other Disney animators, Bluth left the studio to form Don Bluth Productions. Their first feature was The Secret of NIMH. By placing a deeper focus on character body language and detailed backgrounds, Bluth’s team was able to create one of the most vibrantly animated films of all time and spawn subsequent Bluth features including An American Tale, The Land Before Time, and All Dogs Go to Heaven.
1) CartoonBrew – The go-to destination for information on the latest news and trends in the animation industry. Be sure to check out their Animated Film Preview guide about the animated features getting released this year as well as their collection of the best student and studio short films on the web.
2) Monsters University Progression Reel These days it takes a village to make an animated film. Watch this video to see just how many different teams touch the footage before it is released in its final form.
3) ParaNorman: This Little Light – If your interests lie in the stop-motion animation realm, then you’ll definitely enjoy this ParaNorman making-of video from the wizards at LAIKA about the extensive process that goes into the creation of a single prop from the movie, a little light. Watch the trailer LAIKA’s latest feature, The Boxtrolls, here.0
Where and when does the story take place and how can we design the film’s landscape to reflect this? Is the film’s setting rooted in reality or does it have fantastical elements? What will the characters wear and how will their clothing reflect their inner thoughts and feelings? These are just some of the questions that run through the minds of the costume and set designers during the production process of a film.
As the architects of the film’s visual environment, the costume and set designers create stunning visual experiences that immerse the viewer into the world of the film. For this week of Hulu Summer Film School, we’re honoring their work with a playlist of films that use visual style to craft substance. For each film featured, we’ve honed in on a specific costume or set piece that helps cultivate the visual experience.
Valley Girls and Alien Hunks: The Cool Costumes of Earth Girls Are Easy by Rookie Magazine writer, Marie Lodi.
Costume Designer: Theoni V. Aldredge & Suzy Benzinger
Production Designer: John DeCuir
While the overall costume design of Ghostbusters deftly utilizes the ordinary as a means to reveal character (the sarcastic Venkman, for instance, dresses like a slapdash substitute teacher), the most memorable vestment is clearly the Ghostbusters’ workman uniforms and their weapon of choice, the proton packs. The uniform is the work of costume designers Theoni Aldrege and Suzy Benzinger, while the proton pack equal parts attire and prop was created by John DeCuir and his production design team.
The Ghostbuster uniform conveys the team’s blue collar work ethic and is akin to that of a janitor or exterminator’s outfit. Similarly, the design of the proton pack looks cobbled together, as if made in a garage from discarded hiking gear and a spare nuclear reactor. After all, what better way to take down some ghosts than to fire an iridescent silly string of positron particles (to counteract the negative ectoplasmic energy of said ghosts, of course). It’s the combination of costume and prop gives the Ghostbusters their identity and swagger, inspiring countless fans to create homemade versions of their own.
Don’t cross the streams.
Costume Design: Mikaylah Bowman
Andrew Bujalski’s Computer Chess has a tricky tonal feat to accomplish: it’s an absurdist comedy set in the 1980s with a found footage aesthetic that eventually devolves into surreal chaos. And while Mr. Bujalski’s direction deserves a lot of credit for keeping these disparate ambitions part of a cohesive whole, a lot of credit for the tonal success must go to costume supervisor Mikaylah Bowman.
The costuming in Computer Chess accomplishes many objectives that are seemingly at odds with one another. The costumes are inconspicuous and plain enough to perpetuate the suspension of disbelief necessary for a viewer to believe that this is real life being recorded for documentary purposes, yet also heightened enough to give the impression that the characters are types caricatures you would encounter in a dream (or nightmare). The costumes are appropriately specific to the 1980s so as to create a sense of authenticity, and yet timeless enough to invoke the spirit of the True Nerd. It’s all there in Patrick Reister’s glasses and expressions: this is the world as you know it, and the world as you’ve only dreamt in all of its mundane and weird, zany glory.
Costume Design: Anthony Powell
Set Design: Norman Garwood & Garrett Lewis
Journey into a world of pirates, fairies, mermaids, and lost boys with this popular feature about a grown up Peter Pan who returns to Neverland to save his kids from the grasp of the evil Captain Hook. An Academy-Award nominee for both its Costume and Set Design, Hook is a visual treat that provides an ocean of scenery for Hook (a wigged Dustin Hoffman), Peter (portrayed by the late, great Robin Williams), and the other actors to explore.
While there is much to discuss in this elaborate feature, the movie’s title object, Hook’s shiny prosthetic, plays a key role in the film both for identifying our villain and symbolizing his past experiences fighting and losing to Peter Pan. Furthermore, it serves as a daily reminder to this character of what has been lost and what drives him towards revenge.
1) 45 Iconic Fashion Films as chosen by the writers at Stylist Magazine
2) 17 Costume Designers Reveal Their Favorite Film and TV Fashions – Really interesting read featuring the costume designers for shows like Breaking Bad and Scandal discussing the significance behind their visual choices.
3) Christopher Guest’s Production Designer On How He Sets the Movie’s Mood The designer behind such iconic mockumentary projects as Waiting for Guffman and This is Spinal Tap talks about working with Guest and playing with a playground of imagery.0
Miss a lesson or looking to review one from the past? Well look no further! Here you can find links to all our articles from previous weeks of Hulu Summer Film School. We’ll also be updating this post regularly as the new lessons are released. Happy learning!
Week 4: Soundtrack, Score, and Sound Design (August 8)
Week 5: Costumes and Set Design (August 16)
Week 6: Animation (August 23)
Week 7: Post Production & Special FX (August 30)
Editor’s Note: To celebrate Lighting and Color Theory week, Hulu Summer Film School is excited to bring you a special guest post from Criterion Collection staff writer Michael Koresky. Visit the Criterion website to learn more about Persona and the work of cinematographer Sven Nykvist.
Simply put, cinema is light. Every recorded moving image in every movie you’ve seen from the earliest Thomas Edison experiment to the most recent Hollywood blockbuster is impossible without the light it takes to illuminate it. The camera lens is a device for capturing light. So lightas well as the more abstract notion of timeis what defines the art of cinema and sets it apart from other mediums such as music, literature, and painting. It’s important, then, to pay attention to a given film’s lighting choices and notice how much they reveal about that film’s characters, story, and overall artistic point of view. Look closely, because with movies what you see is what you get.
One of the cinema’s greatest cinematographers, a true sculptor of light, was Sven Nykvist. He worked with such varied directors as Woody Allen, Nora Ephron, Bob Fosse, Philip Kaufman, Louis Malle, Bob Rafelson, and Andrei Tarkovsky, but he is best known for his collaborations with fellow Swede Ingmar Bergman. And perhaps none of their projects together is more strikingly lit than their extraordinary 1966 film Persona. It’s a master class in the delicate art of lighting for film, nearly every image expressing something sharp and distinctive about the human condition. This story, about an actress, Elisabet (Liv Ullmann), who one day decides to stop talking, and the nurse, Alma (Bibi Andersson), assigned to take care of her, is so visually compelling it could be watched with the sound and subtitles turned off and still communicate so much.
Said Nykvist in an interview:
Sufficient time is rarely taken to study light. It is as important as the lines the actors speak, or the direction given to them. It is an integral part of the story and that is why such close coordination is needed between director and cinematographer. Light is a treasure chest: once properly understood, it can bring another dimension to the medium. Persona typifies this sentiment, and throughout it also displays the variety of ways a cinematographer can light a scene resulting in constant emotional impact. From scene to scene there is lighting either hard or soft, natural or ghostly, realist or surreal; illumination can come from the front or the back, it can fill a room or only brighten certain corners. It’s a visual tour de force; it’s no surprise the original title of Bergman’s script was Cinematography.
One of Persona’s most famous images is near the beginning, nested within an abstract prologue largely divorced from the proper narrative. A young boy reaches out to grasp elusive, enlarged images of the film’s two main characters. This is an example of high-key lighting, which usually comes from three sources and minimizes shadows to create an even look. In this case, as a result, the boy appears wise and innocent.
In contrast, look at this amazing flashback insert of the moment when Elisabet stops talking, during a stage performance of Electra. She is in dramatic close-up, her pained expression filling the screen, but her face is half in shadow, giving it an eerie quality. This technique, implying there are two sides to hera light and a darkwill be a recurring motif throughout the film.
Sometimes the light can be adjusted and toyed with during the course of a shot for dramatic effect, as in this intense close-up of Elisabet lying in her hospital bed, the main source of light growing increasingly dark until she is all but obscured by shadows.
The lighting can come from any part of the set, of course, and the way it is aimed will subtly alter the mood of a scene. Here, Elisabet watches a violent news segment on television in her hospital room, and she is lit from below, which gives the scene the aesthetic of a horror movie.
Prioritizing of illumination on one character over another can create implicit drama and say much about character. In this scene, Elisabet is in shadow even though she is in the foreground of the shot, while a hospital psychologist in the background is more evenly lit. Since the doctor is speaking harshly to her, accusing her of intentionally playing the part of a sufferer, this lighting emphasizes the cold nastiness of the doctor and the negation of Elisabet.
Conversely, later, when Elisabet and Alma have gone to the summer island home where the latter will help the former recuperate, Bergman and Nykvist often illuminate and make Elisabet the visual focal point of a scene. This is fascinating because, as a mute, she is always the listener, while Alma is always prattling on. Our attention is directed to the passive Elisabet’s subtle facial responses. In this scene, there is a diegetic light source on Elisabet, as a lamp next to her bed serves to make her the center of our attention while Bibi tells her a dramatic story.
In another of the film’s most famous scenes, Elisabet approaches Alma’s bedroom during what looks like very early morning. This is an example of soft light, so diffused it looks like a dream; the light source from the background is so soft, in fact, that Elisabet seems to materialize from and dissolve back into the light.
Of course a good, old-fashioned glare of sunlight aimed directly at the camera can produce a wildly dramatic, natural effect.
At one point, we see the women’s profiles nearly silhouetted. This is because the main source of illumination here is harsh backlighting, directed toward the camera.
Above all it’s those close-ups half in shadow that are Persona‘s claim to fame. Its climactic confrontation between Alma and Elisabet consists of a succession of amazing shots of the women’s faces all but split in two by darkness.
Said Nykvist about working on Persona:
One of the more difficult tasks for me on Persona was to light the close-ups because they involved such incredible nuance It’s very important to me to light so that you can sense what lies behind a character’s eyes. I always aim to catch the light in the eyes, because I feel they are the mirror of the soul. Truth is in the actor’s eyes and very small changes in expression can reveal more than a thousand words.
Greetings Hulu Summer Film School students! One of the most powerful tools in a filmmaker’s arsenal is their lighting kit. Through light and color, a cinematographer is able to enhance the mood of a scene and draw the viewer into the world of the character. Even the subtlest changes in light or color can give the most ordinary of objects an entirely new meaning. Explore the role of light and color through the following visual masterpieces.
1) The Red Balloon
Cinematographer: Edmond Séchan
Winning both an Oscar for Best Writing (Original Screenplay) and the Palm d’Or for short films in 1956, writer-director Albert Lamorisse’s The Red Balloon is among the most endearing children’s films ever made. Its elegant and nearly wordless story tells the tale of a young boy named Pascal and his wayward balloon as they navigate the streets of Paris. From early on, it becomes apparent to Pascal (and the audience) that the balloon has a mind of its own one that is mischievous and surprisingly headstrong as the pair’s adventure through the city draws bemused looks from adults and the envious gaze of local neighborhood bullies.
Rather than photographing Paris in its traditional beauty, Lamorisse and his cinematographer Edmond Séchan focus on the city’s drabness, highlighting the contrast of dank buildings and alleyways against the vibrancy of the balloon’s deep red color. Lamorisse composes the action in such a way that the balloon is always at the viewer’s center of attention, bobbing and weaving past glorious backdrops as it hovers above Pascal. In one memorable and charming scene, Pascal and his red balloon pass by a little girl with her own balloon, a blue one. As Pascal keeps walking, the red balloon floats towards the little girl and begins to flirt with her blue balloon before Pascal ultimately manages to wrangle it back.
The film takes a darker turn when the neighborhood bullies catch up to Pascal and ensnare his red balloon, subjecting it to abuse at the end of a slingshot. But that tonal shift is essential, as it sets up a magical finale that won’t be spoiled here. The Red Balloon achieves rarified air, capturing the essence of childhood innocence, heartbreak, and joy in such little screen time.
Cinematographers: Herbert Cardwell and Frederick Elmes
David Lynch’s first feature film is a surreal meditation on the anxieties of becoming a father, of living in an alienating and dehumanizing world, and of feeling trapped in a life that is fundamentally fated to tragedy. The stark black and white photography and low-key, high-contrast lighting create a world that is apart from reality. Eraserhead might draw formal comparisons to other works and may have influences that inform its technical execution, but the film is timeless in its depiction of Henry (Jack Nance) and Mary (Charlotte Stewart) as they give birth to a child that seems completely alien.
Eraserhead‘s cinematography and lighting help create one of the most self-assured, visually-compelling, and visceral portraits of an abstraction ever put on celluloid, and for that alone, it has a place in cinematic history.
3) Electrick Children
Cinematographer: Mattias Troelstrup
A critical darling at the 2012 SXSW Festival, Electrick Children tells the story of a young fundamentalist Mormon who believes she has been impregnated by a rock song and ventures off to Vegas to find the singer on the tape, whom she believes is her baby’s father. While the plot may seem outlandish to most, the innocent idealism of our main character coupled with the film’s symbolic use of color and light make the whole pregnant-by-cassette-tape deal a bit more plausible than it initially comes across.
Throughout the film, a sharp contrast is drawn between the landscape of Rachel’s countryside compound and the urban sprawl of Las Vegas. Cinematographer Mattias Troelstrup capitalizes on the countryside’s natural light, giving each frame a subtle desaturation to reflect a sense of comfort yet also boredom towards the surroundings. The softened grading provides the perfect contrast to Rachel’s subsequent experience in Vegas, a world of bright lights and big personalities. There’s nothing conventionally glamorous about the slacker musicians and the bummin’ it lifestyle that Rachel encounters in her Vegas adventure, but through her unexposed eyes, and the subsequent cinematic interpretation from Troelstrup, everything is bathed in a technicolor glow to reflect the child-like wonder that Rachel feels towards this brave new world.
Cinematographer: Sven Nykvist
Lighting Persona by Michael Koresky
5) Take this Waltz
Cinematographer: Luc Montpellier
6) Red Desert
Cinematographer: Carlo Di Palma
7) Wild Strawberries
Cinematographer: Gunnar Fischer
1) No Film School A must-read blog for any aspiring cinematographer, No Film School has tons of great tutorials on how you can achieve the perfect lighting set-up for your own film. Check out these recent articles on how to create a three-point light set up with flashlights and magnifying glasses and the tools professional cinematographers use to light their scenes,
2) If it’s Purple, Someone’s Gonna Die: The Power of Color in Visual Storytelling Besides having the best title in book history, this book has some valuable insights on how color is used to evoke emotion.
3) Sparkles and Wine Teaser – This music video is a testament to just how much lighting and color can affect tone, mood, focus, and perception.0