March 15, 2008

Camera Movement / Mobile Framing

Camera Movement / Mobile Framing

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Introduction 

With mobile framing the framing of the object being filmed changes. The concept of the mobile frame means that parameters such as camera height, camera angle, camera level and distance may all change during the course of a shot. below is a list of the different terms which describe the possibilities for the camera. Firstly though just to whet your appetite here is the famous tracking shot utilising a crane from Touch of Evil by Orson Welles. At the time is was the longest in duration and most ambitious tracking shot ever produced, enjoy it really is a classic.

Bordwell and Thompson note that camera movements have had a strong appeal for filmmakers as well as audiences ever since the beginning of cinema. They explain this as follows:

visually camera movements have several arresting effects. They often increase information about the space of the image. Objects become sharper and more vivid than in stationary framings.  New objects or figures are usually revealed. Tracking shots and crane shots supply continually changing perspectives on passing objects as the frame constantly shifts its orientation. Objects appear more solid and three dimensional when the camera arcs (that is tracks) around them. Pan and tilt shots present space as continuous, both horizontally and vertically. (Bordwell and Thompson 2008 p 195/6)

In this YouTube extract from Malick's The Thin Red Line. In following the progress of a group of soldiers through the jungle there is a cut to the camera  tilting upwards while tracking to almost 90 degrees tracking the forest canopy whilst maintaining the feeling of being with the awestruck soldiers. There are two diagetic soundsources: the internal thoughts of one of the soldiers and the sounds of the jungle and the men advancing through it. Non-diegetically there is the beating of drums which have the feel of instruments of Pacific Islanders mixed with some electronic rhythms, this keeps a progressive tension in the consciousness of the viewer.  The camera then tilts and cranes down again to track them through some bamboo groves. 

Bordwell and Thompson  point out that in this film Malick used a crane with a 72 foot arm which allowed the camera to rove over the high grass in a very unusually shot battle scene. (bordwell and Thompson 2008 p 195).

The Main Camera Movements

Crane Shot. Please see extract from Touch of Evil above for an excellent example of a crane and tracking shot of very long duration.

Dolly Shot. A dolly is a platform with wheels which allows the camera and camera operator to move around very smoothly. for a tracking shot the camera is placed on rails. this allows he camera to make smooth changes in distance in relation to the subject of the shot. The word dolly is also used as a verb to describe the action of moving the camera when it on a wheeled platform. See tracking shot below.

Hand Held.  Hand-held camera gives a shaky documentary feeling of really being at a place where events are happening. The now well known invasion of the Normandy beaches in Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan provides an excellent example of this:

This YouTube extract from the second chapter of Saving Private Ryan features a lot of crane work near the water level as well as plenty of hand-held camera work giving a real feeling of being there. It is of course best viewed in the cinema to have anything like the full-on effect. Recommended.  

Pan ( short for panorama). This extract from Lawrence of Arabia starts with a panning shot to the right. Later there is a pan to the left as Peter O'Toole is enjoying his new Arab robes.

Steadicam. The invention of the Steadicam by Garrett Brown has enabled cmaera operators to shoot in difficult circumstances whilst keeping the shot steady. This has enabled filmmakers to maitain a more continuity based editing sysyem which doesn't draw attention to the film making process itself whilst being able to take advantage of making shots that were previously only available in handheld with the inevitable shaky feel. This shaky feel is now used as an aesthetic effect see entry under handheld.  Wikipedia entry on the Steadicam.   Interview with Steadicam inventor Garrett Brown.

Tilt. The camera is able to point either up or down in the vertical axis.

Camera Tilt

Tracking Shot / Dolly Shot. Please see the opening sequence of Touch of Evil. Also check entry for  'Dolly' above. The film camera is quite literally placed on a low platform (a dolly) which is on a track like a railway track. This means that the camera can be kept at a precise heigght and the speed can be adjusted. A very famous and extremly long tracking shot is in Jean-Luc Godard’s Weekend which tracks in a parallel way alongside a road filming dozens of cars which have been involved in a a pile up. Tracking can be in parallel to a scene or else the camera can track forwards or backwards. The way the tracking is done can create a range of different connotations. Tracking done at high speed is often used in Action-adventure films in chase sequences which will emphasise the sense of speed. If tracking is done very slowly a dream or trance like feel is expressed. If a person is held consistently within the frame at one extreme of the frame it could impart a feeling of being imprisoned for example. Below is the forementioned extract courtesy of Youtube  from Godard's Weekend:

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