Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Lines, Shapes, and Composition

This Gamasutra article has a lot of really good information on composition and design, but I found this section about character shape vs. environment shape really useful to consider as much of my story revolves around characters finding themselves in unfamiliar environments.

Character Shape Versus Environment Shape

A character's surroundings are a key part of dynamic composition because the environment normally takes up much of the visual frame. (Please note that environment here also includes secondary characters and enemies.) We can respond emotionally to characters based on their shape and animation alone, however it's only once we see characters in an environment that a narrative emerges.


The illustrations above represent a character (purple) in an environment (green). A circular character in a circular environment (top-left) exhibits a sense of harmony because the character's shape is echoed in its surroundings. The echo gives us a sense of home -- suggesting that here is where the character belongs. We also get a sense of harmony if both the character and environment are square, or triangular (lower-right), although the change of primary shape gives us a different aesthetic sensation.
We get a sense of dissonance when character and environment shapes contrast each other. A circular character appears threatened when placed in an edgy environment (top-right); while a triangular character appears the threat in a soft and rounded environment (lower-left).


These concepts of harmony and dissonance can be seen in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, where we have the good-natured Hobbits on one side of the shape spectrum of emotions. Everything about them references the innocent, youthful circle: from the curl of their hair; their rounded shoulders and shirt buttons; to the round Hobbit holes; and even the curves of the landscape. At the other end of the shape spectrum we find Sauron, who is aligned to the aggressive triangle: from his sharp fingertips; to the triangular volcano on the landscape.

This contrast of primary shapes allows us to reduce the story of Lord of the Rings to an abstract visual narrative using basic shapes, which sees the round Frodo and Samwise leave their round home to journey to a threatening, angular landscape, before returning to the safety of home.


I could definitely apply this to the composition and design of my environments. To express how Nycteris has been trapped against her will, I could use opposing shapes in the design of her chamber - lots of angular lines and triangles to contrast her roundedness. The forest will be a combination of rounded, stylised trees and pointed branches and plants, the pointed/triangularness will be exaggerated when Photogen becomes lost in the forest to express his fear and the dissonance between him and the oncoming night.

You can see these rules applied to existing films, for example Snow White - her rounded, youthful look sharply contrasts with the creepy, spiky forest's surroundings.



This isn't necessarily related to this rule, but these shots from Sleeping Beauty are very inspiring for me when I need to refresh my mind on how to compose my environment in an aesthetically effective way using dynamic compositional lines.




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