This provides you with some background information and vocabulary to support your own thinking about film as well as children’s discussion and analysis of the films. Arranged in the form of a glossary, it should enable you to help children talk about films more confidently and clearly and to think about how the choices made by filmmakers may have affected their interpretations. It is thus appropriate to see this collection of definitions as a ‘crib sheet’ which might be useful in the more central business of viewing and analysis. It is NOT intended to be used as the basis for a teaching sequence!
Each term is given a general definition and most of the words are also illustrated with examples from the films on the DVD. They are grouped into five main categories: Animation, Framing, Composition, Camera movement, Editing, and Sound.
The process of conveying the illusion of movement by recording a series of still images, representing small stages of movement, by figures or objects and showing them at a rate of at least 10 per second. At this speed the brain perceives the series of images as continuous movement (a phenomenon known as ‘persistence of vision’). The term ‘animation’, in reference to films, is preferable to ‘cartoon’.
Three-dimensional models, cut-out shapes, drawings and many other techniques can be used as the basis for animation. Animatou demonstrates all the main animation techniques apart from 2D cut-out animation (in which flat shapes are animated against a flat background, as in parts of Joyets and in The Tiny Fish). See pp 26-29 for an account of the techniques used in Animatou.
In making professional animations, the storyboard stage may be followed by a simplified mock-up called an ‘animatic’ to give a better idea of how the scene will look and feel with motion and timing. An animatic may be just a series of still images edited together and displayed in sequence. A rough sound track may also be added to the sequence of still images (usually taken from the storyboard) to test whether the sound and images are working effectively together.
Frame as a noun means the outer edge of a photograph or of the images on the screen in film or TV. As a verb: ‘to frame’ or ‘framing’ means the act of deciding what is going to be included within the frame of a particular shot. See also close up, mid shot, long shot and wide shot. Glossaries often provide exact definitions of different types of framing (and may often call them ‘shot types’ or ‘camera angles’). But in practice, there are no such precise definitions.
The level at which the camera is placed in relation to the subject. A ‘high angle shot’ is taken from above a character or scene, while a ‘low angle shot’ shows them from low down. A high angle shot of the characters flopped out on the ground is used towards the end of Tally Ho Pancake! The witch is seen from a low angle as she works her magic in The Witch’s Button.The more commonly used neutral (or ‘straight-on’) shot doesn’t draw attention to itself, and may be seen as reproducing the ‘normal’ position of a person viewing the scene (as for example in much of Signalis).
A close-up tightly frames something relatively small such as a face, hand or small object so that it fills the whole screen. It is an important and noticeable way of providing emphasis, whether for information, emotional impact or shock. Close-ups are often used as cutaways from a more distant shot to show an important detail, such as a characters’ facial expression (as when the little girl is shocked by the death of the fish in The Tiny Fish), or some intricate activity by their hands (like the manipulation of machine parts in Big Plans) or a key piece of information (like the text messages in Speechless). It is almost always interesting and useful to discuss close-ups and why they have been used.
Pupils may have many interpretations of the other uses of close-ups in these films. Variants of this term include ‘medium close-up’, ‘big close-up’ etc. These don’t have objective definitions but can be used, especially in scripts and story boards, to indicate differences between the framing of shots. Shortened to CU in a story board.
When the image is framed so as to show people and/ or objects at a distance, for example the house and its surroundings at the beginning of The Tiny Fish. A long shot can indicate isolation, or simply reveal the physical context. Variants include ‘extreme long shot’, ‘medium long shot’, etc. Pupils can consider why long shots are used also listening hard to the sound track and thinking about what additional information it provides. Shortened to LS in a story board.
mid-shot, medium shot:
When the image is framed so as to show a person or object as seen by someone else close by: a figure from the hips upwards, for example. This kind of framing is typically used in soap opera, sitcom and other naturalistic drama, as it represents a ‘human’ point of view: this is used for the witch in much of The Witch’s Button.
over the shoulder shot:
While a point of view shot shows what a character actually sees, an over the shoulder shot includes part of the character’s head and/or shoulder (both are used in Big Plans and the opening of The Little Boy and The Beast). Shortened to ‘OTS’ in a story board.
point of view:
Can be used in a general sense, for example in criticism: “the story is told from X’s point of view”. However it has a specific meaning in filming when a shot appears to show a scene as one of the characters might actually see it (like the cat’s view of the approaching door in Animatou): hence ‘point of view shot’. Shortened to ‘POV’ in a story board.
A way of framing a shot in order to show as much as possible of the setting or context. Often used at the start of a scene or the beginning of the whole story, as in The Tiny Fish.
The change of image size that is created in live-action films when the focal length of the zoom lens is altered. For example, something small in the distance is brought much closer and bigger (zoom-in), or vice versa (zoom-out). In 2D animation, this effect is created by the animator (as in the 2D sequences in Animatou, or in A Sunny Day).
Film critics use the French term mise en scène (pronounced “meez- ahn-sen”) which literally means ‘put in the scene’ and refers to the decisions made by directors about what to include within the frame. We are using the broader term ‘composition’ here to cover everything in the image. This includes the lighting, focus and colour as well as the positioning and movement of the character. It also includes the set design and the choice and positioning of objects.
Animators are free to use colour in any way they want. It may be naturalistic (as in The Tiny Fish) brighter than life (as in The Witch’s Button) monotonous (as in Cyber) or a key part of the narrative (as in Signalis). In Joyets the colour ‘bleeds out’ from one world into another as the film’s ‘project’ starts to be revealed.
In planning and filming scenes it is important to keep track of colours, props and other features so that they don’t arbitrarily change between shots. TV programmes that show collections of ‘movie mistakes’ love to show continuity errors. (See the orange clay ball in The Witch’s Button which unaccountably becomes white when she throws it.)
The technical basis for focus is complicated, but its effects are well-known. Something on the screen is ‘in focus’ when its outline and detail are sharp and clear. Something is ‘out of focus’ when it looks soft and fuzzy. A camera can be made to focus on things at a specific distance away, so that anything nearer or further away will be out of focus. For example in Big Plans the baby first appears in the background, out of focus (while s/he is being ignored by the inventor).
The part of a scene that appears in focus is referred to as the ‘depth of field’. Some shots have considerable depth of field, in other words, we can see the entire scene quite clearly, as for example when the board game is revealed in Joyets.
Refers to lighting effects used in film and TV. A scene might look like ordinary daylight, but often powerful lamps are used to enhance the natural light. In other films, darkness can be used to create a frightening atmosphere, dull light for a depressing effect, or highly contrasted light and shadow for a dramatic effect.
Model animation as used in Signalis and Big Plans uses real lighting (unlike drawn or computer animation where the lighting effects have to be created). In A Sunny Day, the lighting levels vary dramatically as the day progresses.
Props is short for ‘properties’, meaning things belonging to the set or the actors that relate to the action. Props are sometimes very small but very significant, such as the doll’s arm or the baby’s bottle in Big Plans (which introduce the presence of the baby before we see it). They can also be just part of the background of a scene, like the furniture in The Tiny Fish or the drawing equipment in Animatou, however they can still add information to the story and/or the character.
The place where the action is filmed, or set. Sets may be on location (in a real place) or specially-built rooms/scenes in a studio. Everything in the place (background, furniture, props) is part of the set. Sets in animated films may be elaborate and three-dimensional (as in Signalis) or extremely sketchy (as in The Witch’s Button).
The camera can be moved in many ways while filming and each type of movement can affect our interpretation of what we are watching. See pan, tilt, and tracking/travelling shot. In animation the appearance of camera ‘movements’ is mostly created through the animation process itself.
When the camera turns from one side to the other, seeming to sweep across the scene. The term comes from the word panorama, meaning a wide, horizontal view, eg as the seaside is revealed in A Sunny Day.
When the camera is tilted up or down while filming (for example when the characters’ gaze up the tree as shown towards the end of Joyets).
tracking shot or travelling shot:
A shot that seems to follow the action or move around a set. In live action films, the camera is usually mounted on a moving platform, called a dolly or a vehicle, in order to move through the scene or follow the action as it moves. The same effect can be created in animation, for example when the characters fall down the waterfall in Tally Ho Pancake! It looks like they are being followed by the camera.
The process of assembling and ordering all the elements of a film. This includes selecting and perhaps shortening shots, putting them in sequence, adding cutaways, and creating transitions from one shot to another. Editing also includes assembling and adding one or more sound tracks, including sound effects and music. Editing can be the most creative stage of filmmaking.
The simplest form of transition in which one shot is simply followed by another. Cuts can be almost unnoticeable when they link very similar shots or shots that show the same thing happening (as in The Witch’s Button) or follow a logical progression (as in Signalis), but they can also be surprising if the next shot is framed in a very different way or shows something unexpected (as when Logan falls into the sea in Joyets).
In film a cutaway is the interruption of a continuously-filmed action by inserting a view of something else. It is usually, though not always, followed by a cutback to the first shot (as in the cutaways to the exterior shots of the traffic light in Signalis).
dissolve or mix:
One type of transition: one shot gradually changes into another. A quick dissolve can be used (as in the transition in the film Joyets from landscape to two characters in the rain) to disguise and minimize the effect of a shot change. A slower dissolve can be used to indicate a lapse of time, as seen between the characters leaving the lake and arriving at the house at the end of The Tiny Fish.
An ‘invisible’ but extremely important element of all films and TV. The length of shots and sound track components, and the rhythmic patterns which may govern the way they are assembled, make a major contribution to the way we understand and interpret films.
One type of transition, applied both to images and sound. In an image fade-in, an image gradually appears on the screen. In a fade-out, it gradually disappears to be replaced by a black or white screen. In a sound fade-in, the sound starts faintly and gradually gets louder. If the sound gets gradually quieter, it is a fade-out. Fades can function like paragraphing in written texts, marking the beginning and end of story episodes or topics. They are often used at the end of a film.
A key part of the image (usually a figure or face) is circled by black and diminishes to nothing. A convention associated mainly with pre-1929 silent film, the iris-in can be used to end a film (as in The Propellerbird, Joyets and Tally Ho Pancake!).
When a cut is made from one action to another taking place later in time. This can be a dramatic and jarring effect, or it can simply be an economic way of managing time within a narrative, as in The Witch’s Button, when the process of changing the fir cones into dollops of colour and throwing them at the wall is speeded up.
A sequence of shots that conveys a mood or summarises a period of time, often linked by dissolves, as in the ‘time passing’ sequence towards the end of The Little Boy and The Beast.
Used to refer to a section of a drama that takes place within one place and one continuous time-frame, often identified by its setting. Sometimes used almost interchangeably with sequence. In A Sunny Day you could talk about ‘the sunset scene’ for example.
Used to refer to a continuous series of shots that may comprise all or part of a scene, but is often identified in terms of the action that takes place, for example ‘the chase sequence’ in The Propellerbird.
The basic unit of meaning within a moving image ‘story’. A single scene may be made up of one or more shots of varying duration. A shot is usually described according to the framing and camera angle as well as by reference to its subject-matter, for example ‘the close-up shot of the witch’s button’.
We can follow and interpret an exchange of glances between two characters through the way that separate shots of each of them are juxtaposed. The direction of the gaze (or ‘eyeline’) and the changes of expression in, for example, the table-laying sequence in Speechless indicate the relationships in the family.
This planning tool can be used to work out how a scene will be shot as well as being a guide to how it should be edited. A story board is a series of drawings and notes and looks a bit like a cartoon strip or graphic novel. It shows how each shot should be framed and how a sequence is to be built up, though it can also be used to indicate camera movement, transitions, duration and sound. It can sometimes be interesting for pupils to draw a story board as part of their analytical work on a film. But there is little point in asking pupils to draw story boards until they have done some analysis of a film and at least looked through a camera or cardboard frame in order to think about how things look when they are framed.
Any way of changing from one shot to another: see cut, fade in/out, dissolve or mix, wipe. The choice of transition is important and meaningful.
A transition in which the new image appears to ‘push’ the old image off the screen, either from one side to the other, or from top to bottom, or by the insertion of an expanding shape such as a circle or star. If you do any creative work, your pupils will quickly find that the camera or editing software allows them to use all sorts of wipes. This can be fun to do but quickly gets irritating to watch. Filmmakers have to be clear about why they are using a wipe.
The sound track of any film or programme can have up to four elements: speech, music, sound effects and silence (although silence in films and TV is never absolute). Each of these is meaningful and important: they can interact with each other and with the visual images to create rich and dense layers of meaning. The sound track is often more important than the ‘visual track’ and can lead audiences to interpret visual images in specific ways. Some documentary sound tracks may be partly recorded when filming, but drama sound tracks are usually added afterwards. The process of creating elaborate sound tracks is called ‘sound design’.
People talking to each other. There is little spoken dialogue in any of the films in the LIAF Collection but several films include some very expressive sounds eg A Sunny Day, Animatou and Joyets.
Sound of any kind (including voices or music) that is part of the ‘world’ of the TV programme or film. This includes the voices of people you can see speaking or noises made by events you can see happening. It can also be sounds that don’t relate directly to anything in the frame and are just part of the atmosphere. The mobile phone noises in Speechless and the traffic noises in Signalis are examples of diegetic sound.
Music is an enormously important part of most films and in most of these films it is much more than ‘background’. The Tiny Fish uses pieces of piano music by Tchaikovsky, Brahms and Ravel to create the mood of many of its scenes. Cyber uses a ‘loop’ of Bach’s music to covey the relentless thrills of virtual reality games. Animatou uses a complex percussion track that runs through all its other sound effects.
Sounds that do not come from within the ‘world’ of the film or TV programme as shown on screen. For example music that is added to create atmosphere or mood, a character’s thoughts being spoken, noises added to heighten tension or signal an imminent surprise. Music in films is very often non-diegetic, so for example almost all the piano music throughout The Tiny Fish is non- diegetic, apart from the notes the little girl herself picks out on the piano.
Sounds which are added to the film sound track to create specific meanings. Sound effects include ‘spot effects’ (like a crash or a crack of thunder) and ‘atmospheres’ that are continuous background sounds like the ‘countryside’ sounds in A Sunny Day.
Different kinds of ‘silence’ are also created for films and TV because an actual ‘dead silence’ would sound very strange. Effects like reverberation can be added to other sounds to create a sense of large or small spaces, indoors or outdoors. They can also signal a ‘modality change’ as in the dream sequence in The Tiny Fish.
Joyets has a disembodied, unidentified voice that helps tell the story and The Little Boy and The Beast is ‘explained’ by a child’s voice-over. A voice-over tends to carry the authoritative message of the film: it ‘reads the story’.
An important element of how we make judgments about any text is our assessment of how real it is meant to be. We make inferences about this from signals in the text and on this basis decide what kind of relationship it has to the real world. A sports broadcast or other live TV material has ‘high modality’ – even though it may be quite difficult to see what is going on – because we know that what we are seeing is ‘really happening now’.
A stop-frame animation could be considered as having ‘low modality’, especially as it shows things that we know can’t really happen, like a paper fish turning into a real one (The Tiny Fish), or the sun pulling on its own rays like a hat (A Sunny Day).
But some animated films also ask us to recognise very familiar objects (a button and a fir cone in The Witch’s Button) or everyday activities (going to the toilet and frying sausages in Signalis) and familiar sounds (creaking footsteps in the snow and snipping scissors in The Tiny Fish) – all of which are provided with loving attention to detail. On another level still, some animated films invite empathy or engagement. Even a very fanciful film such as The Propellerbird presents us with a moral question (whose behaviour is meanest?).
So the concept of modality is not necessarily a way of neatly categorising texts, but of generating thought and argument. A question on the lines of “How real do you think this is meant to be?” can open up this kind of debate more effectively than ‘yes/no’ questions like “Could this really happen?”
titles and credits:
The opening sequence of a film or TV programme tells you the title, and may also add images, graphics and/or music and other sound to give you an idea of what the film or programme is about.
Opening credits may be used at the beginning of a TV programme, film or videogame to list the most important members of the production. Closing credits come at the end of a TV programme or film and list all the cast and crew involved in the production. Credit sequences are usually accompanied by music and thus form part of the film. It is disruptive to stop a film before the credits and music have finished. In any case the credits themselves can also be entertaining to watch, as for example the mechanical letters for the Big Plans credits.