The Close-Up: Dissecting Wall-E

All images © 2008 Pixar Animation Studios / Walt Disney Pictures.

OK, I’m back and I’m going to do this post because it’s the last day of 2008 and it’s cool to put up a post on the last day of the year.

Or my analness is just showing through. Whichever.

So! We’re at the fifth post of the series ‘The Shot Tells the Story’ using the movie Wall-E as my lesson plan. Yet again, you can find the whole list of shots in the introduction post.

We’re now at the close-up.

Ooo, the close-up.

The close-up is an ‘information giver’. An ’emotion teller’. A ‘look at this-er’.

But to really sum up what this shot says, it would be:

“This is important.”

When framing a character, the close-up is usually the full head (some of the top can be cropped off), the neck and a certain amount of shoulder showing. The way NOT to frame a close-up is just a full head and no neck.

This gives you a ‘head in a box’ look and it ain’t pretty. Don’t be slicing off your character’s heads and putting them in boxes please. Just. Don’t. It’s all sorts of wrong.

You can crop closer, but that is an extreme close-up which would be, you guessed it…next post.

This shot is all about the subject, be it character or object. It’s telling us something. It’s showing us something. Something important.

Use it wisely.

Let’s take a closer look at the close-up.

“Look, I collect stuff and put it in here.”

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The Medium Shot: Dissecting Wall-E

All images © 2008 Pixar Animation Studios / Walt Disney Pictures.

We’re at the fourth post of the series ‘The Shot Tells the Story’ using the movie Wall-E as my lesson plan. Again, you can find the whole list of shots in the introduction post.

We’re now at the medium shot. It is a very common, widely used and let’s face it, pretty self-explanatory shot.

If a full shot is a full body shot of a character, then the medium shot is about a three-quarter to one-half shot of a character. Meaning you will have the full head in the shot and it will end anywhere between the ribs and below the butt.

Or thereabouts.

There’s actually not a lot to say about this shot. It is what it is. I consider it a ‘work horse’ shot. It has a million uses and is usually never a bad choice.

So what does this shot say?

“I’m gonna show you something.”

It’s when you need to get a little closer. A little more intimate with the character, but not too intimate.

The background is not important. It should have already been established and we know where we are. It’s all about the character and when they are doing.

It’s also great for when you don’t need to see their feet. Which makes it an awesome ‘cheat shot’ for animation. Why animate a walk cycle if you don’t need to? Just pan the background.

I love a good storyboarding cheat.

The medium shot is your trustworthy friend. It will never betray you and will always be there for you.

Let’s see what these shots are going to tell us. Sometimes, it’s not rocket science.

“I’m lifting my arm and reaching out.”

Read moreThe Medium Shot: Dissecting Wall-E

The Full Shot: Dissecting Wall-E

All images © 2008 Pixar Animation Studios / Walt Disney Pictures.

We’re at the third post of the series ‘The Shot Tells the Story’ using the movie Wall-E as my lesson plan. You can find the whole list of shots in the introduction post.

We’re now at the full shot. You may not see that term in any film making books. It is very often referred to as a long shot. But I like to separate the shots more.

So what’s the difference between the full shot and the extreme wide shot and long shot?

It’s even closer.

(Yup, that is never gonna get old 🙂 .)

How close? I define it as a full body shot of a character. There will be some ‘air’ (or space) above and below them inside the frame. No part of them is cut off (unless they are behind an object).

In the post about extreme wide shots, I said those shots answer the question “where are we?”. The long shot made the statement, “Oh, there they are.” What does the full shot say?

“Look at me.”

The extreme wide shot was all about the environment. It told us the big picture of where this story is taking place. The long shot had the perfect balance between ‘where’ and ‘who’. It gave us a closer look at who the story is about and where they are in their environment.

In the full shot, the environment (or the ‘where’) falls much more by the wayside. This shot is all about the ‘who’. This shots wants us to look at our characters. It’s the ‘big picture’ of just that character (or characters).

We should already know where they are by the time we get to a full shot. So this shot isn’t about Wall-E inside his house. It’s says:

“Watch me watch TV.”

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The Long Shot: Dissecting Wall-E

All images © 2008 Pixar Animation Studios / Walt Disney Pictures.

This is the second post of the series ‘The Shot Tells the Story’ using the movie Wall-E as my lesson plan. You can find the whole list of shots in the introduction post.

In the post about extreme wide shots, I said those shots answer the question “where are we?” for the audience. This time I’m talking about the long shot.

What’s the difference between the extreme wide shot and a long shot?

It’s closer.

Wow, right?

“Gee Karen, never woulda figured that one out.”

OK, so I’m not really blowing your socks off here. But I’m not trying to. I’m just pointing out the differences and help you pick your shots. Remember, it’s all about shot choice.

So if the extreme wide shot answers the question, “where are we?”, what does the long shot do?

While the long shot can answer that question too, I feel it’s making more of a statement. That statement being:

“Oh, there they are.”

If you look at the last post, Wall-E is in some of those shots. And when you watch the movie you can see him (my pictures are pretty tiny).

But those shots aren’t really establishing Wall-E himself. They are showing us the big picture.

With the long shot, you’re not establishing the ‘world’ so much as establishing the character(s) in that world. So the audience finds themselves saying, “Oh, there they are.”

This is a good thing. The audience always wants to know where everything and everybody is.

“Hey, there’s Wall-E in his house. Look at all the stuff he has.”

Read moreThe Long Shot: Dissecting Wall-E

The Extreme Wide Shot: Dissecting Wall-E

All images © 2008 Pixar Animation Studios / Walt Disney Pictures.

This is the first post of the series ‘The Shot Tells the Story’ using the movie Wall-E as my lesson plan. You can find the whole list of shots in the introduction post.

Now, you may not find the term ‘extreme wide shot’ in any film making books (or maybe you will…who knows?). It’s kind of my own term. Because I think ‘wide shot’ has too many variables. Therefore I’m breaking up wide shots into ‘extreme wide shot, ‘long shot’ and ‘full shot’ (you may not find that term in any book either).

They’re all wide. They can all be used as establishing (or re-establishing) shots. You don’t have to use all of them all the time. How wide you need to go will be determined by the story you’re trying to tell.

It’s all relative. And I’ll try to explain that.

But what all of these ‘wide shots’ have in common is one thing. They are answering the same question:

“Where are we?”

This is the first question you generally want to answer for your audience. Now, I’m not saying a wide shot has to be the first shot. But it should be pretty darn close to first. Again, it depends on the story and if there is something you’re trying to hide from the audience on purpose.

But I’m going to keep it pretty basic for these lessons. So I’m saying give your audience a wide shot very close to the beginning.

Or as your first shot.

Or in the case of Wall-E, the first five minutes of your film. That’s right. Except for one sequence where we see Wall-E scooping up the garbage, almost all of the shots in the first five minutes are ‘extreme wide shots’.

Why?

Because of the story they’re trying to tell us. The shot tells the story and here’s what these shots are telling us.

Above: “Space. Gotcha. We’re in space. Space is big.”

Earth. Cool. This story is told on Earth.”

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The Shot Tells the Story: Dissecting Wall-E

© 2008 Pixar Animation Studios / Walt Disney Pictures.

I’ve been wanting to do a series called ‘The Shot Tells the Story’.

Because that’s how I view visual storytelling and storyboarding.

In the post series ‘What’s Wrong With Your Storyboards‘, when it was all said and done, I said all that was left was shot choice.

Sometimes your shot choice can be flat out wrong.

More commonly though, is the one you chose still works, but there may be a better one to tell that part of the story.

So I’m going to go through all the commonly used shots and show you when they are a good choice and what that shot ‘says’.

In my series of Feature Favorites, a few people in the comments asked if I was going to do a review of Wall-E. Since it’s now out on DVD (and I bought it…yay) the question was posed again (thanks, t.sterling).

But I didn’t just want to do another story deconstruct (as much fun at that is). If you want to know how I feel about Wall-E, here it is:

Love it, love it, love it. See it. Buy it. Love it too.

There.

So I’m going to use Wall-E as my little lesson plan. And I’m mostly going to use the first half of the film when it’s all him (and Eve) and barely any dialogue or sound. There is no better example of shots telling the story than the first half of Wall-E.

Read moreThe Shot Tells the Story: Dissecting Wall-E