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Types of Shots

Your first and most basic decision in planning a shot is what will be shown in the frame. If two characters are interacting, will you show both of them in the frame, or just a close-up on one of them? How much of the environment around them will be visible? Do you want to draw the audience's attention to any particular area? Your digital productions can be planned using the vocabulary that filmmakers use to describe each shot.

Shot Sizes

One of the major distinctions between types of shots is the shot size, which identifies how large of an area will be visible within the frame. From the smallest area to the largest, here are the five most common shot sizes:

  • An extreme close-up (ECU) makes a very small detailsuch as only part of a character's facefill the screen.

  • A close-up (CU) is a shot framed tightly on a specific area, like a character's face.

  • A medium close-up (MCU) widens the scope further. A character's head and shoulders would constitute a medium close-up.

  • A medium shot (MS) shows a broader area than a close-up. Often a medium shot shows a character's upper body, arms, and head.

  • A wide shot (WS or WIDE) shows a broad view of an entire location, subject, or action. Often a wide shot will show an entire character from head to toe, or a whole group of characters.

The yellow boxes in Figure 7.1 show the areas of a character typically covered by these shot sizes. These are only general guidelinesactual shot sizes are relative to the size of the subject or environment you are portraying. For example, in an animation of a football game, a wide shot might show the whole stadium, but in a film starring animated insects, a wide shot might cover only a few inches of space.

Figure 7.1. An ECU (extreme close-up), CU (close-up), MCU (medium close-up), MS (medium shot) and WIDE (wide shot) are common shot sizes used for rendering characters.

Wider shots can show whole environments, capture broader actions, or show the positions of multiple characters at once. Before moving in to show close-up detail, you can give your audience an idea of the overall scene with an establishing shot. An establishing shot is usually a wide shot that sets up the scene and shows the surroundings that might not be appear in each close-up. For example, an establishing shot might show the exterior of a building, providing context for the location where an interior scene is to follow.

Medium shots and close-ups help draw the audience into the scene, and reveal details or facial expressions. Television has been called a close-up medium, because smaller screens make close-ups especially important. Feature films may use slightly wider shots while still managing to make facial expressions visible.

A reaction shot shows a character's response as he or she watches or reacts to some other event. Usually a close-up of the character will be used to show the reaction. Reaction shots in action sequences keep the audience engaged in the human side of a story. Even if you are animating an enormous scope of events, the audience will care more about what is happening if you show the reaction of individual characters being affected by the action.

Z-Axis Blocking

A shot can function as both a close-up and a wide shot at once by using a technique called z-axis blocking: populating a scene with subjects at varying distances from the camera. Figure 7.2 shows an example of z-axis blocking, with one character in close-up, walking toward the camera, while other characters remain in the background. Z-axis blocking may sound like a computer graphics term, but in reality cinematographers were using the phrase long before the advent of 3D rendering.

Figure 7.2. Z-axis blocking combines a close-up of one character with a wide shot of other characters in this scene staged by Jorge R. Gutierrez.

POV Shots

A point-of-view shot (POV) creates the illusion of viewing the scene from a character's perspective.

POV shots are easy to set up in 3D: You just position the camera right between a character's eyes. If a character is moving, group or constrain the camera to follow any character motion, such as by parenting the camera to the head bone, or animate the camera to simulate the character's gaze. Usually you will want to hide the character whose POV is being shown; you don't need to show body parts, such as arms and hands moving as the character walks, in a POV.

Here are some ideas for how POV shots could be useful in your animations:

  • Seeing a scene from a character's point of view can help an audience better identify with a character or sympathize with his position in a scene. For example, if something is going to jump out and surprise a character, it might be animated to appear suddenly and leap toward the camera (in other words, from the character's POV), surprising the audience.

  • A POV shot can capture an action or event dramatically. For example, if a character were falling down a hole, the camera could be animated to move through space just where her head would be.

  • A POV shot can be used for comic effect in some animations, by animating the camera with an attribute of a character. For example, an animated camera might imitate the motion of a staggering drunk or a bounding dog.

  • A POV shot can show a character's view when he looks through a gun-sight, telescope, or keyhole. Often POV shots such as these are processed after rendering to imitate the shape of the telescope or keyhole or to simulate the distortion or focus of a viewing device.

  • A POV shot can be a convenient "shortcut" because while you are watching through her eyes, the audience doesn't see the character herself, so you don't have to animate or render her in that shot.

  • It's a standard horror- and suspense-film convention to show the POV of a killer or monster as it stalks its next victim. The use of the POV shot prevents the audience from seeing the actual killer; they see only the killer's-eye-view of the unwitting victim.

Have fun using POV shots, but remember that they can be very noticeable, and sometimes even distracting, if overused.

The Two-Shot

Specific types of shots can be put together to help you stage a conversation, interview, or other scenes in which two characters are facing each other.

A two-shot is simply a shot with two characters, as shown on the left side of Figure 7.3. While this is a convenient, straightforward way to show both characters, it can look flat and uninteresting. To make a scene more visually diverse, you can use a two-shot as an establishing shot, and then cut in to close-ups and over-the-shoulder shots.

Figure 7.3. The shot/countershot structure can start with a two-shot (left) and then alternate between OSS coverage (center, right) of the characters.

The Over-the-Shoulder Shot

An over-the-shoulder shot (OSS) is a close-up or medium shot that focuses on one of the characters while showing just enough of the other charactera portion of his back and shoulder, generallyto indicate his position. The center and right images in Figure 7.3 illustrate this. Even though you can't see the face of the character whose back appears in the foreground, her presence serves to frame the shot and establish the spatial relationship between characters.

A series of shots that alternate between an OSS of each character, sometimes also including close-ups of the characters, is called shot/countershot coverage. This is a common and effective way to capture almost any kind of interaction between two characters, whether they're exchanging words, bullets, kisses, or punches. Once you start looking for it, you will see shot/countershot coverage used over and over in movies and television programs.

Rendering OSS shots of each character and adopting shot/countershot instead of a fixed two-shot for the full scene can create a more engaging, cinematic look for your animation. Rendering an OSS instead of a two-shot through a dialogue scene has an added bonus: You may be able to skip some of the facial animation on one of the characters during that shot, while watching the other character react to what is said.

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