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Understanding shot composition

From: 2D Animation Principles

Video: Understanding shot composition

Before you throw yourself into a production, it's we cut to another aerial shot, and then we're in the ocean with the algae.

Understanding shot composition

Before you throw yourself into a production, it's very important that you take some time and ask yourself, have you picked the best possible shot, have you picked the best place to put the camera. And it is the incredibly easy to pick the wrong place. Here's an example of a mistake that I made on a project about three, four years ago and I spent three weeks working on a shot that I only realized many months afterwards was in the wrong place. There was no saving that shot. So let me show you first the wrong one.

Now, this scene is set about 65 million years ago and it shows these great canyons, which you see here in this gorge slowly breaking apart and about to be turned into oceans. So the canyon's open, we cut to another aerial shot, and then we're in the ocean with the algae. Let's look at that one more time. The canyon's open, a second flooding, and then the algae again. So you might think, what's wrong with that? It looks fine to me. Well, after a while I realized that there was a much better shot selection for the second scene.

So the canyons open, not a problem. And then we put the camera on the floor of the canyon. Also, we see the float hit us in the face. That is a much better shot selection. It was a lot more fun to animate and it's infinitely superior. So, this is the kind of principle I'm warning you about that don't try to be fluid and open to second ideas as to where the different camera positions should be placed. More importantly, this principle can also apply to human interactions and staging dramatic scenes.

This is an example. I'm disguising the look of the production to protect the innocent but this is an example from a major, major film that was made and, but I mean fairly big, it had a big budget, a lot of very good people worked on it. And this one somehow slipped through the cracks until a friend of mine pointed it out to me only very recently. And I, and we had never noticed it. Prince and princess, prince is at the window. This is the first time he sees the princess. And he sees her doing her costume at the table. And then we cut to the reaction shot, and this is the reaction shot.

Well, this was wrong. It's missing a scene. It's missing a very important scene. And see if you can guess what it is. So, this is what should have happened. The prince looks through the window, he sees the princess, and then bingo! He should react. And we should see his face fill the screen, because this is the point at which he falls in love. This shot got left out. It should have been the most important shot in the sequence, and none of us thought that maybe this was missing. And then you can cut to the long shot, you have already established that he's smitten.

So my advice is regardless of how many people are working on your film, regardless of what you think of it, step back sometimes and consider: have you missed something so obvious as this? And a very quick word now about shot composition, not shot selection, but how you compose a shot to make it a little more interesting. And these four shots have one similar principle in common. And I don't know if you can guess what it is simply by looking at them. Let's take the one on the top left, and it's a very simple triangular composition.

And that triangle can be tracked from the end of the shadows here or here to the apex of the character's head or the tall character. Let's look at, let's leave the triangle on. We'll look at this one. By now, you should guess the obvious. I am a one trick pony yet another triangle. It's a classic compositional technique. I haven't tried to do anything radical with these shots. I wanted these shots to all look more or less in the same kind of style and the same composition. And then there is this one. Similar process. You can track the triangle from the base of the shadows to the apex of the head.

There's a slightly different technique, only marginally, which is a diagonal composition which you can see on this example of the little oil man marching off to discover more oil. And in this case, you could track the corner from the maybe a shadow at this end to the apex of his pickaxe. So, that's it. If you want more examples of this kind of composition, I would encourage you to look at the works of Gustave Doré, the great 19th century illustrator. Or Frank Frazetta, who is the modern fantasy artist who was an absolute master of triangular compositions.

And you'll see these two techniques recur over and over again in their work. And it's a great way to break yourself out of static, boring compositions, even when you do something as apparently banal as two or three people standing together in an empty room.

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This video is part of

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2D Animation Principles

35 video lessons · 6013 viewers

Dermot O' Connor

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  1. 1m 42s
    1. Welcome
    2. Using the exercise files
  2. 18m 9s
    1. Understanding appeal and design
      4m 3s
    2. Comparing body types
      6m 27s
    3. Understanding silhouette
      1m 52s
    4. Creating gesture drawings
      2m 50s
    5. Tying down the drawing
      2m 57s
  3. 18m 10s
    1. Comparing storyboard styles
      5m 8s
    2. Understanding shot composition
      4m 36s
    3. Demonstrating lighting
      4m 8s
    4. Understanding the 180-degree line
      4m 18s
  4. 13m 8s
    1. Understanding X-sheets (dope sheets)
      3m 25s
    2. Comparing frame rates
      4m 39s
    3. Creating sweatbox notes and preparation
      5m 4s
  5. 18m 42s
    1. Understanding arcs
      7m 38s
    2. Squash, stretch, and volume
      4m 59s
    3. Comparing timing and spacing
      6m 5s
  6. 10m 4s
    1. Using anticipation, overshoot, and settle
      4m 2s
    2. Breaking and loosening joints
      2m 43s
    3. Leading action
      3m 19s
  7. 19m 51s
    1. Understanding primary and secondary action
      4m 14s
    2. Using overlap and follow-through
      6m 0s
    3. Applying lines of action, reversals, and S-curves
      4m 34s
    4. Moving holds and idles
      5m 3s
  8. 15m 52s
    1. Understanding walk and run cycles
      5m 24s
    2. Creating eccentric walks
      6m 50s
    3. Animal locomotion
      3m 38s
  9. 14m 31s
    1. Finding dialogue accents
      2m 42s
    2. Creating dialogue through body movement
      2m 46s
    3. Creating stock mouth shapes
      5m 4s
    4. Using complementary shapes
      3m 59s
  10. 13m 8s
    1. Creating thumbnails
      4m 31s
    2. Comparing straight-ahead and pose-to-pose animation
      4m 37s
    3. Adding breakdowns for looseness
      4m 0s
  11. 2m 9s
    1. Next steps
      2m 9s

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