In this week’s Friday Fundas I will be taking about a cinematography concept termed as Master Shot.
A Master shot is a visual of the entire scene in which the action is taking place. For example in the Harry Potter series the shot involving the entire dining hall is an example of a Master shot. This forms the foundation for the next set of shots that comes. Many a times this also functions as the establishing shot as well.
A master shot is usually a long shot that can cover the entire scene including all the characters, props and background. Another good example of a master shot is the scene from the movie Little Miss Sunshine where the entire family is sitting around a table for dining.
This covers the entire scene and forms the foundation shot for the following scenes.
In the early 20th century the master shot was predominantly used in movies. As movies and movie makers evolved from stage play, the shots in the early movies had more master shots which resembled the setup of a stage. In the later part of the 20th century this changed and film makers started to use more radical angles and subjectivity when framing the shots. This started bringing in a different level of connect for the audience to the characters on screen.
Even in today’s films master shot forms a very important part of the filming process. These shots are frame of reference for the audience to set the context and environment a particular shot is taking place. Carefully placed master shots in the movies enhances the movie experience for the audience.
Next time you watch a movie try differentiating between the master shots and other shots in the movies. Think if the master shots were not present how it would have been.
Have you ever taken a picture standing in front of Taj Mahal or Washington mall monument actually far away from it and rising up your hand so that the photo looks like you are holding the tip of the monument or tried to take the photo in an angle which appears like you are holding the sun in your hand? I am sure these images strike a bell to you… Well if you have taken these shots… then you have employed a popular technique of optical illusion in movies known as the Forced Perspective.
In this week’s Friday Fundas let us look at the amount of magic this simple technique can create. Optical illusion forms a major part with visual effects in Cinema. It is like a magic show, constructing a scene in a certain way revealing certain portions while hiding the rest to create an illusion. In the Forced perspective the depth of field gets hidden from the viewer. Like in your photo with Taj Mahal you don’t see the distance between the person and the Taj Mahal so you feel they are holding it.
Let us look at some examples in the movies. Consider a movie like the Jurassic Park. Minatures of Dinosaurs had been used in many shots. Have a miniature dinosaur very close to the camera and a person far from the camera. The camera angle is such that it covers the shot so that it appears that the dinosaur is looking down the person while the person is looking up.
Lighting plays an important role with the forced perspective. Both the objects in the scene should have the same amount of lighting so that they actually appear standing close to each other rather than standing apart. As you know light’s intensity decreases as it moves farther away. So the power of lighting should cover the near and far object sufficiently. If not you would reveal the actual distance and there would be no more illusion. Another example is Hagrid’s character in Harry Potter who is tall as compared to the others. Forced perspective was employed to shoot these sequences.
Lord of the Rings Trilogy took Forced perspective to a different level. As the movie involved dwarfs, wizards and hobbits it was very much important for them to create this illusion perfectly. With a still camera the forced perspective is easy to achieve, what if the camera is moving. In order to solve this problem they had constructed the partial set in Lord of the Rings to be move as the camera moves. The movement is done in such a way that the angle of the camera and position of the set does not reveal the actual depth of field between two characters. This is better explained by Peter Jackson and Technicians themselves. Watch the following video
Cinema is a magical medium. The tricks have to be performed the right way to make the show successful. A lot of thoughts go into designing the techniques, and it does involve a lot of science not just art.