Frame from the movie “The Grand Budapest Hotel” (2014) from Wes Anderson - Things no one taugh us about composition and framing #1

Things no one taugh us about composition and framing #1

Rule of thirds, golden section rule, diagonal rule. We should split the image in 9 parts, forming a grid with two vertical and two horizontal lines. The intersection points between the lines are the place where gaze is guided towards (golden section) when analysing an image. Thus, we should position the subject of an image in this section…

Uffff! The way the brain processes an image can be something to consider when choosing the composition of an image but… is everything else wrong?

We can have centered and symmetric shots after all

Yes, we really can! And, after all, our mind likes symmetry too.

Usually the human brain considers a symmetric face and body to be more attractive. We can see symmetry – even if it’s imperfect symmetry – in any part of the real world: the human body, animals, flowers, and even in objects we use in our daily lives. Can we not then use this attraction for symmetry to make a shot more interesting?

Frame from the movie “The Shining” (1980) from Stanley Kubrick

Frame from the movie “The Shining” (1980) from Stanley Kubrick

Stanley Kubrick is one of the directors that make use of symmetry, combining it with shots where two lines converge in a vanishing point. But there are those who consider this kind of perspective unnatural and discomfort-inducing.

On the other hand, symmetry makes us feel like we’re on location, observing what happens. We feel enveloped by the space. In this compilation of the director’s shots we can see that despite the diversity of perspectives, the impact that the use of symmetry has is still great. So how can we consider it wrong?

Frames from the movie “The Grand Budapest Hotel” (2014) from Wes Anderson

Frames from the movie “The Grand Budapest Hotel” (2014) from Wes Anderson

Wes Anderson confirms the power of symmetry on screen. His recent movie “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is an excellent example of how well this type of composition works. In it, there are always centered or symmetric shots. The focus of the action occurs, mostly, in the center of the shot. When there’s no symmetry, we are able to trace a line that divides the image, around which the shot is created.

Excerpt from the compilation “Wes Anderson // Centered” by kogonada.

Example: The character is on the left side of the shot, but the line that divides the image in half is evident. The ticket – of extreme importance to the scene – falls exactly in the center of the shot. Excerpt from the compilation “Wes Anderson // Centered” by kogonada.

Despite this fixation, Anderson is able to create a dynamic movie. The director often resorts to the use of panoramic shots, which start and finish with a centered image. When he uses a traveling shot, usually he follows a character as they walk, keeping them centered on the shot.

It isn’t difficult to understand that this aesthetic works. Our gaze is guided straight to where the director wants it to go. On top of that, we immediately realize what’s important in the shot. In “The Grand Budapest Hotel” this symmetry, coupled with the intensive use of vibrant colors, also contributes to the surreal look of the movie.

This article from Shutterstock gathers “5 Things You Can Learn From Wes Anderson’s Symmetrical Style” and in you can go deeper into the theme of symmetry. Who knows, maybe we can apply it in future projects!

Are we going to keep considering symmetry as something wrong? Or an eccentric move only allowed to certain directors?

Andreia Calhau
andreia.calhau@portugalmultimedia.pt

Even with a sleepy face, she’s always ready for a challenge. Highly proactive and full of “scalabis” culture. Audiovisual is her thing and her inspiration sources are endless: from shorts films on Vimeo to the one and only Justin Timberlake.

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