December 09, 2013

The Cinematography of "The Incredibles" Part 1

Here is Part 1 of 3 on a case study of the shot compositions from Pixar's film "The Incredibles, I'll go over how the relationships of all the visual elements on screen were meticulously crafted to form a point focus in every shot. It is through the arrangement and control of all the elements on screen that the filmmakers were able to guide the sight, thoughts and emotions of the audience.  All images used here are ©Disney/Pixar (unless otherwise stated).

Cinematography in film is an art form all by itself.
It involves three main factors:
Placement of people and objects within the frame.
Movement of people and objects within a fixed frame.
Movement of the frame itself.

The concept of the ever-changing image can be very difficult to execute because it involves the simultaneous control of all these three main factors of cinematography. The filmmaker, unlike the photographer and the theatre director, creates his visual compositions in a flexible, ever changing arena. 

In animation, the term staging refers to the purpose of directing the audience's attention, and make it clear what is of greatest importance in a scene; what is happening, and what is about to happen. This can be done by various means, such as the placement of a character in the frame, the use of light and shadow, and the angle and position of the camera.

In a 3D/CG animated movie, cinematography can be split between two areas. Layout and Lighting, but overall creating strong compositions is the end goal of this process. It is all created to emphasize the subject/mood/action of the image and make it both easily understood and aesthetically pleasing to the viewer. The directors have ultimate control over the camera, lighting, depth of field, perspective, and subject placement - and have the freedom to adjust these factors endlessly until the desired picture, movement and effect is achieved. Unlike live action film, once you've shot your actors on location, did some retakes and reshoots, wrapped principle photography, you're then stuck with what you got! Editorial and post production can make some adjustments, visual FX and compositing tricks can add, remove and cheat lots of things, but overall, you're locked in with what you have.

There is often many months and even years of pre-production work to plan out the visual look, with costumes, sets, props and character designs, but eventually each individual shot of the animated film is designed as well. The storyboard and pre-viz artists compose their scenes and sequences long before anything is fully animated on the computer, and they keep refining how the shots cut together and how every scene is staged, until it is exactly what they want. At Pixar they are known for literally spending YEARS doing thousands of story sketches of every single shot in order to visualize the script, communicate the story effectively, and portray the characters and environments in the most clear and entertaining way, always adjusting and perfecting along the way.

A scene comprised of elements that are just there - permits the audiences' attention to wander and lapse, but in The Incredibles, every shot has a center of a attention.

Upon my first viewing of this movie in the theatre, I noticed right away how fantastic all the shots were setup, obviously lots of thought and care was placed in the compositions. Not that many other animated films before and after did not, I just felt that this particular film seemed to pay extra attention to this. I had never noticed such deliberate care in the camera work, designs and colors in a computer-animated cartoon before. Lots of great staging, clear lines of actions and plenty of dramatic angles; taking full advantage of the superhero/action-adventure genre that it was.


How is the composition of every shot determined?
It all starts with the storyboards. Building the storyboard is an integral part of putting together an animated feature and it's definitely the first stab at figuring out the cinematography. The process provides not only a visual interpretation of the script, it also allows designers and animators in all departments to get a feel for what will be presented on screen. 
After the screenplay is developed, creating the visual story is the next step in the animation production process; it's composed of consecutive storysketch panels that depict the action and staging of the film's script .

The procedure taken to get each animated shot completed is a long and tedious one, here's a basic summary to give you a hint of the many steps taken to produce a shot from concept to completion (Courtesy of: Frank Baker).
1) Storyboard Sketch – Hand drawn (digitally or with pencils & markers) storyboard panels that plan out the staging of every shot, which later get compiled into an animatic (story reel). Assembled with all the panels placed back-to-back with the recorded dialogue track. This allows for the directors and editors to see where they can trim down the feature film to an appropriate length of time, observe all the sequences in order and see how well they play off each other, as well as plan out all the camera moves and determine the length of each individual scene. Once an animatic is complete, it becomes the vision of continuity that will drive the entire production from that point forward.

2) Layout and Key Animation – Layout helps the director plan the location and motion of the camera, the position and main poses of the characters (blocking) and the timing of each shot. Using rigged character models, animators control every aspect of the character motion, providing the physical acting for the scene according to the storyboard's poses and the guidelines provided by supervisors and director.

3) Surfacing, Set Dressing and Final Layout – The process of surfacing requires the applying of the finished models that define the form of particular objects and environments. All these models are positioned to form the set and its surroundings. The placement of models helps to promote the purpose of a shot, leading the eye, or allowing the character to interact with their surroundings.

4) Simulation – After the characters' bodies are animated, the motion of their clothes and hair are added. This motion is based upon the movement of the characters, using a computer simulation of the physics of fabric and hair. The simulation takes into account gravity, weight, stretchiness, friction and other factors, as well as the collisions of each garment against itself and its surroundings. Ensuring that the hair and clothing move in a manner consistent with the goals of the shot.

5) Shading and Lighting – Shading is the process whereby an object is given color and a tactile quality that helps us to recognize what material the object is made from. An important step in shading is determining how the object reacts to light; how light is absorbed, reflected, or internally scattered by the form. Once shading is complete, lighting adds virtual lights to each scene, creating the look of the final images. Colored filters are used to affect light and shadow, and atmospheric qualities can further enhance the mood of the sequence. Finally, physically based optical effects such as the focal qualities of the lens, and the blur of moving objects and characters provide the familiar cinematic cues of reality.
At each stage, the filmmakers refine the shot's composition. The final cinematic image is made to position all the visual elements within the frame in a manner that accurately displays the intended situation, action, and story. There's an average of 1,500 shots in an animated film, so you can just imagine how long it can take to develop the scene planning for an entire movie.

For every Pixar movie, a color script is created. I'm not sure at which stage in the entire film-making process this is produced, but I'd think it would be during or after the storyboards. This is essentially a rough look at the color keys, palettes, and tones for the entire film. This 'visual script' gives you a good look at how the color arcs relate to the story. Lou Romano created the one for this movie, the intention was to richly visualize the story like a long illustrative comic strip, this is made to help plan for the computer-generated coloring and lighting process to come later on.

Click to enlarge


Let's begin with the terminology I'll be referring to as I go through the shot analysis of this film.

Extreme Wide Shot / Establishing Shot

These types of shots give us the big picture. It displays the location we are in, they tell us about the setting our characters are performing in. If the characters are in the shot at all they are usually so small we can barely see them, it's not about our characters it's about the environment and the world where the scene is taking place.

Long Shot / Far Shot

When we need to see our characters and what they are doing in their environment, we go for the Long Shot. With this type of shot they are not establishing the ‘world’ so much as establishing the character(s) in that world.

Full Shot

This is a full body shot of the character. There is some space above and below them inside the frame. No part of them is cropped off unless they are behind an object. The environment the character is in becomes less important. This shot is all about the ‘who’. This shot wants us to look at our characters, see them move about, full body gestures, walking around, interacting with others.

I consider Extreme Wide Shots, Long Shots, and Full shots to all be "wide shots".

They used wide shots through out the film to help establish or re-establish the location the characters were in. The closer you go in on a character the more clearly you can see what they are doing, and how they are interacting with their environment or other characters.

Medium Shot

Medium Shots are widely used through out the film, they are a reliable standard to show you the character nice and close, but not too close, usually cutoff at the waist, plenty of empty space is left around the character, giving him room to act out, gesture, and still see the character in relation to the environment he's in. It's not too intimate, but it's showing you something specific.

There are slight variation like the Medium-Full Shot, where the characters are cut off around the knees.

Close-up Shot 

The close-up is usually the full head and sometimes a bit of the top is cropped off, and includes the neck and a bit of the shoulders. It's an emotion-teller and and information-giver. This shot is ALL about the subject, it tells us the important stuff we need to know to understand the story. We can tell what the character is feeling and thinking.

There are variations on these too, like the Medium Close-Up, which crops the character off somewhere between the ribs and the chest.

The closer you frame your main subject the more it becomes all about them. The background gets phased out as the focus closes in on the character or object you are centering on.

Extreme Close-up


It can be used for a very intense or super intimate moment or it can just be a very useful information tool. It depends what the director wants to show you and why. In this shot, nothing else matters but the subject matter. And it’s usually only a portion of that subject matter. Backgrounds are usually unrecognizable, you can only see the character or object as they cover most (if not all) the frame. It keeps the audience informed about the story, the characters and the situation, up close, in detail, clear information-giver.

There's not much room for the character to move, so the audience can focus on the expressions and emotions. You can call this a "cut-in" also, instead of zooming in, you cut the camera in closer, or to a different part of the body to show something important.

Depending on what the director wants to show the audience, every type of shot has it's purpose, how the filmmakers decide how close or wide to frame a scene, depends on what they want the focus to be and what information they are trying to display.

Let's have a quick look at camera angles...


The camera is level to the ground and the lens is lined up parallel to the main subject.

Up Shot

The camera is pointing up at the subject.
This is called a 'Low Angle' in live action.

Down Shot

The camera is angled to point downwards towards the subject.
This is called a 'High Angle' in live action.

Up Shots place the viewer beneath the focus and Down Shots
place the viewer above, both physically and psychologically.
I'll talk a lot more about this later.

Bird's Eye View

Worm's Eye View

More extreme version of up shots and down shots where the angle 
of the camera is pointing nearly (or entirely) straight up or down.

Over The Shoulder Shot

(OTS) One of the most efficient and widely used methods of shooting a conversation scene, or even to see the vantage point of one character as s/he glares at another. Sometimes the characters are in close proximity, sometimes they are far away, the shots reverse back and forth and can be used in combination with up shots and down shots, depending on the camera angle and height or placement of characters.

1 Shot

2 Shot

3 Shot

Group Shot
These are pretty self-explanatory, 1 shot: one subject in the frame. 2 shot: there's two, when you get more than 3 in there, you've got a group shot.

There are endless combination that can be used to describe a shot.

Here's a 2 Shot, Medium Shot, and a slight Up Shot all rolled into one.

Low Angles
When the camera is sitting right on the ground.

Each angle and framing technique and the combination they are used in - can all help to tell the story and to clearly display the information on screen so that the audience can follow along easily. Variety of shots is important,  but as I will show you, the Incredibles excelled at using dynamic angles and perspective to make the film very visually exciting. I've noticed that different film theory books have slightly different terms for this sort of thing. My terms here are more akin to Animation Filmmaking, some studios and directors have variations on these as well.

Point of View (POV)

This shot places the audience in the character's shoes, seeing the world through their eyes.

Rack Focus
Shifting the attention of the viewer by changing the focus of the lens from a subject in the foreground to a subject in the background (or vice versa).

Framing characters or objects of varying depth can help to keep the image well balanced and keep the eyes moving. Framing the subject with elements in the foreground can also add scale and depth to pictures.

Overhanging tree branches, doorways, anything that covers at least two sides of the frame can give added depth that invites audience into the location. 

Layers of foreground, mid-ground and background can help add depth to a composition. Rather than showing all of the character all the time, characters can be blocked by objects in the foreground and middle ground, helping to place the characters within the situation, making them part of their environment and the story.


There are so many dramatic angles and deep focus shots in this film that it often reminded me of "Raiders of The Lost Arc" (one of the very best looking action movies of all time). It seems obvious to me that Brad Bird was probably a huge fan of Indiana Jones.

Live action film have slightly different terms than 3D (and especially 2D) animation for types of shots and camera work. Look at this nice reference site for live-action film terms on this sort of thing.

Rule of Thirds 
This has to do with the a basic principle of placing the subject matter away from the middle of the frame. In simple terms, the Rules of Thirds states that there are certain "hotspots" on screen, these are areas of intensity that exist within any given image, and if one were to align the subject within the range of influence of these hotspots, it will make for a more energetic and interesting composition.

Imagine a tic-tac-toe board over the scene, the position of the subject(s) are placed along the areas where the lines intersect. This avoids dead center composition which can make an image seem to look unnatural and mechanical.  

Even the horizon line is often placed on the top or bottom line, allowing linear features in the image to flow from section to section.

There's lots more stuff like Pans, Truck-in & out, Camera Tilts/Rotations, View-Throughs, Wipes, Shot Progression, Triangular Composition... but we'll get to all that very soon. For now, you are familiar with the terms for shots and angles that I will be referring too the most.


So let's get started.

The opening sequence shows some interviews with our protagonists. This develops the characters' personality types right away. It's made to look old and made to let the audience get to know our heroes right away. The frame is square (to show old aspect ratios) with some out-of-focus moments to sell the fact this is old footage.

Then we burst in the title logo we see red, red usually signifies, energy, bold dynamic excitment, plus the red/orange palette is identical to what we'll see later worn by the hero-family's trademark colors.

And it transitions nicely to the red police dome light, urgency, danger, high energy, we truck out the camera a long distance and go straight into the bad guys' car being chased by the cops.

This is a long truck-out, the camera pulls way back to reveal the bad guy in the car. Placing the audience in the shoes of the criminal for just a second.

Lots of information in a short period of time the fact they are armed and not ready to give up without a fight, then pans right to show them firing at the cops. Establishing right away we have a hot pursuit happening, the action starts right away. It's is an action movie and after the slow-paced intro we ant to start with a bang. Dynamic camera work like this helps you to put the audience right into the action.

Invisible lines that lead your eyes.

Some POV shots - close-ups clearly showing how the car engages the auto-pilot and starts what feels like is a very common procedures.

Great angles to show the transformation of how the car automatically suits him up in his costume.

Lots of the shots inside the car have his head in the black part of the roof. This helps to keep the area around his head/eyes devoid of textures and details to help focus on him more clearly.

The rule of thirds comfortably places elements on the screen in a balanced manner, but the nice diagonal lines if the curb helps to unconsciously lead our eyes to the focal point.

This is a quick shot so you need to see quickly what is going on, so they make all these background elements point to where they want you to look, leading your eye instantly to the focus.

Simple. Rule of thirds, over her shoulder to see them both nicely.See how the brim of her hat points to his face? Invisible techniques used to unconsciously lead the viewers eye to where they want you to look.

Looking over his shoulder you get a sort of point-of-view from Mr. Incredible, seeing what he sees and the challenge that lays ahead of him. Placing the audience in his shoes, making you feel how he feels. Also, a clear silhouette of the cat makes him easy to spot.

To show that Mr. Incredible notices the car chase is getting near him, we pull the camera out and change the focus to the monitor in his car, he becomes framed by the car window, clear composition is the best composition.

The angles of the building is no accident, the negative space created by the empty space around his head helps to frame his face, plus everything else around him all helps to lead the viewer's eye to the point of focus.

Mr. Incredible and old lady are framed by the tree, the cops are framed by the buildings.

This definitive arrangement of shapes makes the whole layout clear and easy to read, and the staging itself has been turned into part of the visual pleasure. It's so well thought out and artistically managed through out the entire film, it's logical, creative, and simple, all at the same time.

See the triangular shape created by the characters' positions, this is a common method to setup up the characters to use the space on screen more economically, especially when you have a group of characters all facing each other in conversation. Mr. Incredible's eyeline falls on the cat in the lady's hands too. Notice all their hats are angled to point to his face, this is all done on purpose, it creates 

See below how this simple setup keeps your eyes moving.

The camera pulls back to reveal the kid, everything in the shot is designed to help lead your eyes to the focal point; the kid's face.

Rule of thirds here again, with some the empty space around his head devoid of much detail to help the audience focus on what's important, the character's face, reading his cues, his expressions, his intentions.

Notice below how the camera angle allows for the invisible lines of direction to subliminally lead your eye to where the director wanted you to look at.

Framed by Mr. Incredible's shadow, notice the space above the character's head, usually this is taboo, as you'll notice in most of the shots shown here, barely any space is left above the head, but in this case you want to see Mr. Incredible's arrival and how over-powering he is.

A low angle shot to show his proximity to the robber and his dominance in the scene.

Mr. Incredible is largest in the screen to show dominance in the shot. He's larger and placed higher in the frame.

Notice how the sky helps to place his head in that blank negative space, with this shape around his head, it helps to make his facial reaction the focus.

The negative space around her helps you to focus on just her, she's framed by the building shapes around her. Very non-ambiguous, despite their being bare;y any details on her, you know what her pose and body language is by her strong silhouette.

Camera tilts up as she comes forwards closer into view, establishing her characters and that she's taken control over the scene.

Triangular Composition occurs when the placement of the subjects (or group of elements themselves) form the shape of a triangle. Sometimes to create depth, other times to break up the image for variety in spacing and positioning, and often to create a connection or relationship between the different subjects.

Body poses leaning/bending towards or away from each other add nice contrast and harmony to the image.

Many films use this method to display information on screen in a clear and efficient way,which also helps to develop the characters and stories when used properly. Also, notice the head tilts, the line of action that runs through each of their body, more on lines of action later.

More classic rule-of-thirds. Their height difference creates a nice and simple balanced composition. We want the attention to be solely in this moment, so the background is devoid of details so it doesn't distract from the character's faces/reactions.

The amount of screen space characters take up naturally affect the composition, but so does the characters' actual designs. The basic shapes they are made of speaks immensely to their personality but also the body language they perform with those bodies within the scenes.

Since there's an obvious size difference in these two characters, showing these over-the-shoulder-shots, but it's necessary to clearly read their faces and know what the characters are feeling and what they are thinking.

Whether its up shots or down shots, you'll often find these lines that run through the character's eyes, again unconsciously leading your eyes to where the director wants you to focus. 

With so many nice angles that keep making the shots look visually interesting even when they are meant to be very simple, all reminds of the show Mad Men. Almost that retro look, I suppose The Incredibles is meant to be set in the 50s and then once they flash forward to after the marriage and the trial we're in the 60s.  It's strong, graphic, bold cinematic storytelling displayed in the visual grammar of this film. Like in the Mad Men, The Incredibles has sleek color combinations and contrasting shapes, well balanced imagery, textures space on the screen is well balanced with flat texture-less areas, particular areas of each shot hold certain amounts of weight and value.
See a bit more about the amazing camera work in Mad Men here.

Simplicity is often the clearest way to communicate an idea, the intent of most films is to project a story about characters to an audience. Script, sound effect, music and other factors have much to do with the overall experience of movie-watching, but the film needs to successfully (visually) communicate its ideas and plots to the audience. Film is a visual medium first and foremost, sometimes the purpose is to confuse or disorient the viewers, but most of the time you need to achieve clarity.

Off-center subjects can be balanced on the opposite side of the frame with leading lines, shadows, and objects in the foreground or background. Balance can also be achieved by creating simple geometric shapes. This makes images naturally easier to decipher and more pleasing to the eye.

See all the crazy angles in the following shots. Nothing is by accident, the perspective they chose was purposefully done to help visually tell the story. Either to see a character's point of view, or to help show the dominance of a character with a certain interplay. Close-ups show what a character is thinking or feeling, over-the-shoulder shots place the audience right into the conversation, and the whole time there are shapes and lines in the foreground and background that aid in leading the viewers eyes to where they need to look.

Watch the story reel (animatic) for this sequence here.
Courtesy of Carlos Baena.

Establishing shot to show where we are. Notice the void of detail behind the characters and rim lighting on top of them.

The camera moves here, telling us where to go and where the character is looking and going.

Establishing a new character, similar to Elasty Girl on the rooftop earlier; centered, slight up-shot background absent of detail so all eyes are on him.

Observe these shots here; above and the one below - notice the circular shape surrounding the characters that frames the subjects. Simple tricks to lead your eyes.

Directors usually avoid putting their subject directly in the center of the picture unless they are striving for a formal arrangement in which the subject firmly commands attention. With landscapes; horizon lines placed along the lower third of the screen is arranged to give a feeling of spaciousness. Positioning the horizon along the upper third gives a feeling of nearness or intimacy.

Here the light fixtures obviously help to lead our eye to one of the areas we need to glance at. Even at such a distance Mr. Incredible's body language is apparent, he's shocked and annoyed at what he's seeing. With this nice low angle, the camera is sunk in the floor, it allows to see the reverse angle from what we saw as their point of view in the cut before, and now we see what the boy ses as he activates his rocket boots to fly over to them.

Some nice lines of action here, they are present through the whole film, they indicate to the viewer what the characters are feeling and helps the body language to be interpreted more clearly.

Here's a lot more info about the importance of the Line of Action.

This is a nice little bit, as the kid walks away from camera you see his reflection in the busted door. He turns and comes back, camera following his actions, you see Mr. Incredible keeping an eye in him as he does his rant.

The intersecting lines are subtle in present, the line running behind Buddy's head and the lines leading to Mr. Incredible's head is no accident, its all on purpose to help lead the viewers' eyes to the primary and secondary focal points of the shot. This technique is used through out the film, along with the alternative method of having a shape behind a subjects head that 'frames' the head nicely, again for the purpose to draw attention to that spot of the screen.

The following shots cut fast, with the on-screen action moving quick as well. The graphic elements on screen have to be carefully arranged so that the audience doesn't miss out on what's going on.

A few close-ups and cut-aways to showing what the viewers need to see.

Fast action sequences that have motion blurs and fast movements of the subject and the camera along with the shots cutting together quickly can confuse the audience. Keeping track of who is who and where everything is can be difficult when the purpose of the shots are to show a bit of visual chaos and confusion. Color, lighting, and clear compositions are important to help not lose the audience.

You get really close-up to tell the audience; you must see this only only this, it's important.

This is centered cause it's a straight-on shot, he's just recovered, he hears the train at a distance.

POV shot, we see what Mr. Incredible sees, the following shot shows the imminent danger this damage has caused.

That building is pointing straight to his face, purposefully done so you look there first.

These shots below are all about highly dynamic shots, which seems to to be the whole deal with this movie. Notice the converging lines of the building details he perspective of the train tracks, the light source on the oncoming train, they are about to collide, a dramatic situation is about to happen and the angle of these shots and the lighting help to prepare ou for that.

Just to show you this quick shot below, notice how everyone's of different height, the most important people are in the front row, it's a quick scene, but the information is clear and well arranged.

More examples of triangular composition here below. See how their heads form an invisible triangular shape.

This method has been present in film for many decades. Often used to make a connection between the characters on screen.
Notice in the shots below how the faces are always shown clearly, the posture, angle and position of the characters help to create a nice visual balance in each scene.

The subliminal triangular shape makes your eyes move around the picture.

The following is the news coverage of the lawsuits and court-room style sketches depicting the drama and media storm from the trials and news coverage.

Going black-and-white offers its own challenges as you only have tonal values to go with for your contrast of lights and darks, with no aid of color one must be even smarter with your compositional choices. Notice how clear the silhouettes and faces are. Graphic variety in the positions and scales of all background characters, nice visual balance in every frame.

The classic pencil/charcoal courtroom drawings are amazing, the shading creates the obviously nice contrast and allowed the artist to make the characters pop off the page.

See how that stack of pencils helps to balance the image. The dark background helps to add contrast to the shot so not having a light backdrop helps to have the old lady stand out more clearly. Then the shot of Bob, the computer and the book shelf create invisible leading lines that direct your eyes to his face where the attention needs to be.

The colors in the office space are bland and lifeless to show the workers' boredom in this cold and oppressing environment.

Here we have this view-through, these panels of cubicle walls give us a sense of we the viewer are spying on this situation, like a co-workers point-of-view glancing over to see what's going. Notice how those shapes frame the main subject.

Framing devices help to draw attention to the object or character they frame, they can be window shaped, they can be round, they can be organic, or ragged. To illustrate this concept more clearly, here's a short tutorial on Compositional Framing Elements by Matt Kohr:

To hold the attention of the viewer, pictures must be given a bold and dramatic arrangement, and there is plenty of this through out The Incredibles.

Even something as boring as this phone conversation has well-thought out compositions. All the elements in the scenes help to make your eyes look around at the important parts.

See how the lines the counter tops make to lead your eyes to the focal point (her face).

The angle of the filing cabinet handles and Bob's computer, it's shape and direction, the pattern of books behind him, none of this is by accident. Functional compositions are all about having the basic large forms of the picture working well together. How things are arranged and structured must be both practical and a pleasing image in itself.

Wide shots to show Bob looking around to see if his boss is anywhere nearby, also establishing the giant corporate company he's now working for.

Then some close-ups to show the urgent and secretive nature of what's going on. You want to go up close so you can hear him whispering.

A close-up to show the state of secrecy he's in as he tells her what to write down.

The details in the layout of every shot are not as important as the overall form of the picture. Details can be very distracting if the picture has no form or clear composition.

Everything in strong cinematography has to do with designing each shot for the purpose of leading the viewers' eyes.

He's just been chewed out by his boss, so they show how depressed he is (after helping someone in need) by doing this down shot. The situation is bearing down on our hero, he hates his job, and the composition helps to evoke that feeling.

Look at where all the heads are, the props on the walls the shapes the pieces of furniture create, all purposefully done to balance the image appropriately.

The brown, beige, orange (warm) color palette is meant to create a more welcoming and inviting environment, opposite effect from Bob's cold/grey workplace.

Notice all the down shots for Dash and the up shots for the teacher. The teacher is the dominant one in this interplay, Dash is on trial, he's meant to feel small and guilty.

Some nice depth, it shows the teacher's determination and obsessiveness up close, while showing the other characters' curiosity and anticipation. The lighting and the slight down angle of the shot allows us to see all this clearly.

Diagonal shapes and lines and tilted camera angles are very common in the whole film. The only times the composition is very flat and straight-on is usually for comedic purposes. Anything dramatic, tension, suspense, or showing off action scenes. there's some sort of an angle to the framing or the elements on screen.

The angle of the chairs, the placement of the characters, props and objects, the angle of the camera, the poses of the characters, (how they stand or sit, how they lean or twist their bodies) all create these shapes and forms on screen that help to create a well-balanced and clear picture for each shot.

As soon as the principal takes control and deflates the teacher's authority, the camera angle changes, more neutral and evan has Dash as the one taking up the most space on screen at the end, showing how the level of dominance has shifted.

Below we have classic examples of how the characters are carefully placed to be comfortably framed by shapes in the foreground and background.

The visual language at play here is the characters are split by the windshield frame, but it's also splitting their views on the subject of keeping their powers hidden from the public.

Establishing shot, shows the audience that we're in a new location, a new setting, some time may have past.

Her head is boxed in by those strong diagonal lines, ensuring there's no doubt where you should lock your eyes.

His head is framed by those vertical shapes.

The following sequence has some nice, simple camera work.
Starting off with the flat, straight-on shot of Bob in traffic, crammed in his little car.
Flat = funny.

Establishing shot of his home, as you see him drive in. Composition is flat, this makes the situation funnier.

Notice the colors and the weather, all help to sell the fact Bob is unhappy with his routine, his current situation, is mid-life crisis, grey, bleak, joyless.

OTS shots to show the two characters' point of views. bob seems larger than life as he hulks out on the car. Showing his obvious dominance in this sequence, over the shoulder shots the camera points up to him making look even larger.

Characters placed higher in the frame as well as taking up more actual space on-screen, makes them appear to be more dominant both physically and psychologically. In this case it's used to express the wonderment of witnessing Bob feat of strength, he's is meant to seem larger than life in the boy's eyes, the camera angles help to evoke that.

In a more dramatic setting - up shots and down shots cutting back and forth are also used to show one character being in power of the situation, and the other character being powerless.

See Part 2 here.


víctor said...

Thank you very much for this fantastic analysis. I'll be waiting for the next one.

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Awesome stuff =D

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Absolutely incredible work, really detailed.

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wow what an amazing and impressive work you've done here, this is an absolute gem on the analysis of cinematography, highly pedagogical.


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This is amazing! I'm going to put this at the top of my students' reading list for their Storyboarding class. Looking forward to Part II.

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Great! TNX

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This is amazing! Thank you so much! Looking forward to the next one :)


Great post, One of the best posts I've seen here. Thanks for the hard work to make it. It's a valuable resource for sure.

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that was Awesome and fantastic ..., thank u so much. And i was eagerly for Part II

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That was totally wicked! ;)

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Great post about composition! Thanks!

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Hello Ron, thank you for greatest work!
I translate you post on Russian language, for russian auditory, i hope you like it —

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Awesome info. Thanks for the detailed information. I have learnt much more here then getting a book on the subject. :-)

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This is awesome. Thanks so much for posting this. This is a great learning tool.

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"Few filmmakers have ever used composition to its full potential."

That put me off. Nice analysis, but time for you to watch some other films.

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Nicely done! The Incredibles is an excellent animated film, and one that should be studied by all animation students, and filmmakers in general, for all the genius you have revealed, and more!

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Hi, Ron,
I enjoyed your analysis very much. I think it would be helpful for my classes if I tranlate this to Portuguese and share with my students. I intend to post this in my school's blog, giving you all the credits, of course. If there is any problem concerning this issue, please, let me know.

Anyways, keep with the good job!

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For exams we have to use film techniques from the incredibles and this was a great website to use to find the techniques!

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