Tag Archives: Cinematic techniques

Master Shot

Master Shot 

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.

Little Miss Sunshine - Family gathered around a dining table
Little Miss Sunshine – Family gathered around a dining table

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.



What if you are watching a movie and it is quiet but for the dialogues from the characters. It will seem odd right. What makes you immersed in a movie? It is the sound effects that are added to the movie to mimic a realistic situation you would encounter in life. In this week’s Friday Funda I would discuss a sound technique used in movies called as Foley.

Foley in short is the reproduction of everyday sound effects to be added to the movies. Let us consider a cop walking up down a corridor with floored with vitrified tiles. The sound of the footsteps is recreated by Foley artists. They have various types of shoes and floors with them to recreate the most appropriate sound effect.
Foley art is normally broken down into 3 categories

Feet – This involves the sound of the footsteps. Based on the shoe and landscape the character is walking an appropriate sound is reproduced.

Cloth – This involves reproducing the sound of clothes. These are more subtle sound but add a lot of realism to the scene. For instance when a character is walking the rubbing of cloth on the thighs creates a sound which is reproduced.

Props – These are sound from other items that are needed for a scene. These include sounds like doors closing, door bell ringing, car horn, train siren and so on. However these are usually picked up from the repository of sounds by the sound editors.

Adding Foley sound to the movie after it is filmed gives the flexibility of adjusting it suitably to mix well with the scene. Sometimes a reverb or echo is added to the Foley sound based on the surroundings.

Next time you watch a movie pay close watch to the various Foley sounds added to the movie.

Method Acting

Method Acting

When watching a movie how well you connect with the characters. While we have discussed many factors in screen writing and characterization in the previous Friday Fundas we would look at acting performance by the actor itself. Even though the characterization and environment are perfect if an actor does not act convincingly audience would find it to be clichéd and not connect with it. There are many theories on acting. In this week’s Friday Fundas we would see once such theory which is popular in acting technique known as Method Acting.

Method acting in short relates to a group of techniques using which the actors get into the shoes of the characters they play by establishing an emotional connect with them. These techniques are based on the teachings and concepts of Constanin Stanilavski. His ideas had been adapted by many prominent teachers like Lee Strasberg, Robert Lewis, Sandord Meisner and Stella Adler.

Lee Starsberg’s method acting involved in the use of sensory and affective memory of the actor to bring out the character. He used techniques which involved the actors in imagining a similar emotional situation in their personal life and then enacting it on the screen. Starsberg used the question “What would motivate me, the actor, to behave in a way the character does?”

Sanford Meisner used a different technique in which he devised a technique called as Meisner technique. In this he advocates the actors to immerse themselves in the moment. He found just relying on their personal experiences is very limiting and only allows them to only focus on themselves but not on other characters on the set. His technique helped in overcoming this aspect. He used to run exercises that would enhance the interpersonal connect of the answers in a scene.

Robert Lewis believed the acting cannot be just bought out by focusing on the emotional act but it also involved in training the voice that would suit to the situation. If these are trained separately the output may not be effective.

Stella Adler was an actress herself and she had some of the actors who went onto become some of the greatest actors including Marlon Brando, Robert De Niro and Warren Beaty. She trained directly under Stanilavski which helped her in perfecting the technique a lot better. In her Method acting technique she used the personal memories of the actors as did Starsberg. But along with this she let them practice on creating an “as if” imagination. The actors had to imagine as if they were really in the given situation. This helped them in bringing out the emotions very effectively.

Some of the famous actors who practiced this technique are Christian Bale, Jack Nicholson, Marilyn Monroe, Danny Day Lewis, Al Pacino, Heath Ledger and many more. Not only Hollywood actors but also many of the Indian acting stalwarts like Kamal Haasan, Mammootty, Dilip Kumar and Naseeruddin Shah practice this technique. Now you would be able to appreciate the efforts Heath Ledger has put in for the Joker character much more.

An actor needs to do a lot of homework to get the act right if not the audience would not connect with the character and with the movie.

Rule of Thirds

Rule of Thirds

The movie screen space is a confined one compared to our real life vision. It gives the ability to take a limited view of the scenery and present it to the audience. What the audience view is what has been captured through the camera. The camera position, viewing angle and the position of the characters on screen all of these play a vital role in making the visual effective.  Many a times you see a homemade video and wonder that there is something that is not right. If you watch it close then it might be how and where the camera was placed. In order to make effective visuals there is basic grammar called the Rule of Thirds. Again as it goes with many other rules many of them have broken this rule as well, but not before understanding its purpose.

This week’s Friday fundas I would be talking about rule of thirds which deals with framing a visual. Often when you see people taking vacation photography they keep the object of focus in the center of the screen. Even the Horizon lies in the dead center of the screen. Next time you click a photograph try and adjust your camera to keep the object on the one third of your frame and see what effect it brings. This is what rule of thirds is all about. This applies to movies as well.

To understand the rule of third you would need to divide your frame into 3 equal halves both horizontally and vertically. The object of focus is placed along the one-third line. For example if you have a character speaking you place the character on the vertical one third line and the eyes or forehead of the character along the horizontal one third line on top. This eliminates the empty space over the head and to the side of the character and enhances the visual along with the surrounding.

Rule of Third - Positioning the character on one third of the frame
Rule of Third – Positioning the character on one third of the frame

The shot shown above is from the movie The Prestige. See how the character Christian Bale is placed on the one third of the line with a sharp focus.

Sometimes you would need to break this rule or rather I would say adjust this rule to have the character in the center of the screen to focus attention. Still keeping the top of the character to the one third of the screen is important to eliminate the empty space. Although this looks simple it is very important to remember to use this rule when capturing a shot.  As an experiment you can take the photographs you have shot and see how you have positioned the object of focus. Next time you take a photo try applying rule of thirds.

Related: Friday Funda Archives | Eyeline Match | 180 degree Rule

Eyeline Match

Eyeline Match

In last week’s Friday fundas I had discussed about the 180 degree rule that is associated with the spatial relationship of the characters on screen. I had discussed about a scene in which two characters are talking to each other. Now consider the same scene is shot by alternating between the close up shots of each character as they talk. In reality this shot could be taken with covering all the dialogues of one person first and then covering the responses. During editing these are arranged in proper sequence. One of the items to take care when doing such a scene is Eyeline Match. In this week’s Friday fundas I would talk about Eyeline Match.

Eyeline Match is a movie editing technique. Whenever a character on screen is looking into the off screen space then audience would want to follow the gaze of the character. They would want to see the object, person or scene the character is looking at. Hence this is normally followed by a cut to the scene involving the object, scene or person the character is looking at. In our conversation scene character A is talking to character B. Now the shot involving character A talking is taken first. It is important to match the eyeline of character A such that it gives a feeling that the character is looking at B. Usually the actor playing character B is placed off camera for the character A to look at. Sometimes there is a mark placed off camera on which the character A focuses on while delivering the dialogue. The same technique is employed when taking the shot of character B responding to the conversation. In this case the camera is placed on the opposite direction. Now we know there is a 180 degree rule governing this. As we are going to focus on a different character there is no rule broken here. However in order to get the eyeline match right the same camera lens is maintained and also the camera is placed equidistant from the 180 degree axis as the previous shot. For instance if the camera has been placed 3 feet from character A then the same distance is maintained for character B during the next shot. Look at the following two shots from The Dark Knight movie where Batman interrogates Joker. The eyeline match makes it look they are looking at each other and talking.

Dark Knight - Batman interrogates Joker
Dark Knight – Batman interrogates Joker

At the editing table when the editor assembles these shots in order it appears to be a continuous flow of sequence for the audience. They feel that both characters are conversing with each other. However if these positions are not maintained correctly the characters would seem disconnected from each other and so would be the audience from the scene. Although this is a simple technique, when followed right it would create a pleasant visual.

You may also like: 180 degree rule | Creative Geography | Kuleshov Effect | Friday Fundas Archive

Chroma Key – How to make Superman fly the sky

Chroma Key – How to make Superman fly in the sky

In the previous Friday Fundas section I mentioned Cinema is a magical medium and how optical illusion can create perceived reality with techniques like Forced Perspective. One of the readers had asked an interesting question on how scenes similar to Kumbakarna and the tiny soldiers, Gulliver and Lilliputs are made. While some of the scenes may be forced perspective but the scenes which involve the Lilliputs walk over the giant body of Gulliver is covered by what is known as the Chroma Key Compositing or Chroma Keying Technique. This also popularly called as the Green Screen effect or the Blue screen effect.

The basic of Chroma Key is overlapping two images and make them merge with each other. Let us consider the flying action of Superman and the image of sky behind him. As images are built of pixels you would want to replace the background from the image of superman in flying action with that of the image of the sky. In order to achieve it you would want to make any pixels around Superman transparent. Well Chroma Keying is the technique to do that. The technique involves choosing certain color range of pixels and making it transparent.

A shot from Man of Steel using Chroma Keying
A shot from Man of Steel using Chroma Keying

In the initial days this was done using a blue screen at the background and then blue color was made transparent to merge with another frame to make it look like they are happening in the same space. It should be noted that no other character or object in the first scene should have blue color. As Superman has a blue costume instead of a blue screen a green screen could be used. In the modern days a green screen is used prevalently as the image sensors in digital video cameras are more sensitive to green there by allocating more pixels to green channel.

Prior to the digital era Chroma Key was also performed on the films. It was popularly referred to as Matte technique. The technique is as old as 1930s. The scene comprises of two scenes one the foreground shot and the other the background shot. The background of the foreground shot when taken would be a blue screen. Now the camera color negative of this shot was printed onto a high contrast black and white film using either a filter or the black and white film to limit the blue color. The resultant film produced transparent color wherever it found blue. The end result is the foreground object with a transparent background. This is called the “Female matte”. This was now copied onto the high contrast negative of the background scene which is called the “Male matte”. The end result is the negative of the film with both these scenes merged with each other.

One of the key challenges in this technique was camera movement. The camera movement used when shooting the foreground should be used exactly the same way while shooting the background scene. Later techniques were developed to automate this process to move the camera exactly the same way.

Well next time you see Superman fly or Batman jump across buildings you would remember there is always a Chroma Key behind it.

Related Posts: Forced Perspective | Bullet Time | Friday Fundas Archive

Forced Perspective

Forced Perspective

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.

Diegetic and Non-Diegetic Sounds in movies

Diegetic and Non-Diegetic Sounds in movies

When Resul Pookutty received the Academy Awards Awards for best sound mixing for his work in the movie Slumdog millionaire many of us came to know the existence of department of Sound mixing in movies and the background score is not just limited to background music but also includes sound mixing.

Resul Pookutty receiving academy award
Resul Pookutty receiving academy award

In this week’s Friday Fundas we will see one of the basic ways of classifying the sounds in movies. It is done in the following two ways

  1. Diegetic Sounds
  2. Non-Diegetic Sounds

Diegetic sound is basically the sound that arises from the elements of the surroundings. These are natural and realistic sounds of the particular scene. Often this is confused as recording the real sounds during shooting. Actually diegetic sound can be composed, mixed and recorded during the dubbing of the movie. But they would represent the typical sound that would arise in the scene. For example the character is sitting in the hall, reading a newspaper and sipping a cup of coffee. The ceiling fan is turned on. The sounds of a ceiling fan, turning pages of a newspaper and placing of the coffee cup onto the table are all diegetic sounds for this sequence. These sounds can be recorded live or created later in the studio.  These are sounds that can be heard by the characters on the screen. The opening scene in Slumdog millionaire where Jamal is interrogated by a police officer is an example of Diegetic sound. The sound you hear is from the police office blowing the smoke on Jamal’s face. In the Korean movie The Chaser diegetic sound is used predominantly to build the suspense of the scene.

Non-Diegetic sound arises from outside the story space. Usually this is used to create a specific mood to the scene. For instance in the above sequence where the character is reading a newspaper, he is seeing a news article that is shocking, now a background music conveying the shock of the character is added to the scene. This coupled with the reaction of the character helps in creating the mood for the scene. These are sounds that cannot be heard by the characters on screen. Other sound elements like narrators voice is also a non-diegetic sound in the context of the movie. In the Tamil movie 7G Rainbow Colony Yuvanshankar Raja composed a background music using a symphony orchestra that goes well with the mood of the scene. As director Selvaraghavan explains it, even if you are not watching the visual the background music would convey the mood of the film. This is an example of Non-diegetic sound.

Film is a visual media and to connect the audience to the images on the screen sound mixing plays a vital role. Diegetic sounds connect the audience to the environment of the scene while Non-diegetic sounds connect the audience to the mood of the film. Normally in a movie you would have a mix of diegetic and non-diegetic sounds.

Next time you watch a scene from a movie identify the diegetic and non-diegetic sounds.

Read more Friday Fundas

Kuleshov Effect or How Hitchcock turned a kind gentleman to a dirty old man

Kuleshov Effect 

In the last Friday Fundas section I had covered one of the basic units of film grammar Reaction Shot. In this week’s Friday Fundas I am going to cover a related topic called as Kuleshov Effect.

Russian filmmaker Lev Kuleshov demonstrated a very powerful editing technique in cinema during the 1920s. His experiment involved shooting 4 different shots.

1. Face of an actor with a neutral expression

2. A bowl of soup

3. A dead girl in a coffin

4. A hot woman on a divan

Now he created three films out of these shots. In the first film he alternated between the face of the actor and the bowl of soup. In the second film he alternated between the face of the actor and the dead girl in the coffin. In the third film he alternated between the face of the actor and the hot woman on the divan. He now showed this to three different set of audience. The audience who watched the first film said he had an expression of hunger. The audience who watched the second film said he had an expression of grief. The audience who watched the third film said he had an expression of lust.  Many of them also complimented the acting performance of the actor. But in reality the expression of the character was the same shot. Kuleshov proved that audience when watching a film bring in their emotional reactions to the shot. This would mean that two unrelated shots in reality can be assembled together to create a new meaning. This is the power of editing in films.

An editor should be able to define the meaning the film wants to convey by arranging the shots in a specific order.

In one of his famous interviews Alfred Hitchcock explains the importance of Kuleshov’s effect. He calls it the pure technique of assembling the shots in cinema.

He shows the shot of him squinting, followed by a shot of a woman with a baby playing in the park. Then there is a shot of him smiling. He represents a kind gentleman who loves babies. Now he replaces the shot of the woman and the baby with a shot of a woman in a bikini. You see him squinting at something, then the woman in a bikini is shown and then the shot of him smiling is shown. The whole meaning of the scene changes now. He suddenly becomes a dirty old man.

Watch the video here.

Thus is the power of Kuleshov effect. The power of editing involves assembling of shots to evoke the desired emotions from the audience.

Isn’t it amazing that most of us emote the same way to a particular scene? The magic of cinema continues…

Related Articles: Reaction Shot  | Over the shoulder Shot | Types of Shots | Breaking the 4th Wall