The Case of Hana & Alice

Monday, May 30, 2016

When the camera moves it’s always good to have a reason behind it whether it’s practical or narrative driven. Camera movement with perspective changes is even more dynamic in traditional animation since it’s a lot rarer. This rarity makes the camera move a powerful visual storytelling tool and The Case of Hana & Alice made use of it to a great effect.

The Case of Hana & Alice is a story about two teenage girls dealing with significant changes in their lives. The movie conveyed these changes through camera movement and perspective changes. Horizontal tracking shots were utilized as a visual metaphor for the pivotal transitions in the story and the characters’ development. The rare perspective changes in these shots aided in giving more emphasis to the visual metaphor.

The first horizontal tracking shot of the movie is Alice and her mother walking to her new school. Transferring to another school comes with the challenges of getting to know new people, getting accustomed with a new environment and dealing with bullies. It’s a big change in life and the tracking shot helped visually demonstrate it.

The perspective changes in this shot are also quite subtle. It’s really only noticeable in the shadows and stains on the ground. These small changes can represent how little we know about the characters but as the viewers get to know them more the perspective changes become more drastic.

There’s also parallax scrolling in these shots but it’s merely an illusion of depth with no actual changes in perspective lines.

Prior to the shot above Alice’s father was encouraging her to join the relay team. The tracking shot is more than just a sign of her joining the relay team; it’s an emphasis on the major changes it will bring. Not only being in the relay team helped her fit in with her classmates but it also lead to knowing more about Hana and eventually meeting her.

The tracking shot beginning with a walk and ending with a run can also be interpreted as an escalation in the story and character development. After this shot the story became much more adventurous, emotional and personal.

The tracking shot above marks the beginning of a close friendship. Alice has become comfortable enough with Hana to hug her and ask a personal question about why she has become isolated. Shortly after this scene Hana shares her deeply personal and emotional reasons on why she ended up as a shut-in.

There were a few more tracking shots like these in the movie but these three were the most effective in demonstrating its use as a visual metaphor for change.

Beautiful Bones -Sakurako's Investigation- Episode 7

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

During the conversation about Sakurako’s autopsy of her pet cat, there was a sequence of close-up shots that only partially framed the face or didn’t show it at all. This practice is quite common in anime, especially during dramatic moments. I think these are done for an effect. Watching a dramatic exchange without seeing the character’s face is visually odd and uneasy, which is an effect that can add tension to the scene. Another effect of these types of shots is they put more emphasis on the voice acting and body language, which at times might be a more effective emotional stimulant than facial expressions.

The aforementioned reasons for these odd and uneasy shots hold true for this sequence in this episode but they also match the mood of the conversation. The visually uncomfortable framing accentuated the naturally unsettling idea of dissecting a pet, an idea that really bothered Shoutarou. There was also a tension between two differing personalities that this odd framing helped bring forth. Shoutarou is more emotionally sensitive while Sakurako can easily detach herself emotionally and think with pure logic.

Another effect of not seeing their faces is when they’re finally shown it can be done for emphasis. Towards the end of this sequence the centered medium close-ups of both characters really punctuated their vastly contrasting feelings on the subject. Sakurako has this cold and unflappable expression, while Shoutarou has a pained and sad look.

There were also a couple of wide shots that were nice visual story images. The first one is a frame within a frame of Sakurako that visually separates the two and reinforces their difference. The second one distorted the size difference. Making Shoutarou appear bigger accentuated his anger and irritation.

Beautiful Bones -Sakurako's Investigation- Episode 6

Saturday, November 14, 2015

The major conflict in this episode was the differing beliefs between Yuri and Isozaki about the issue of suicide. After failing to find the woman they assumed to be suicidal, their disagreement came to a head at the river bank. I thought the visual storytelling in this scene was effective at displaying the conflict, understanding and compromise between the two characters.

Low Angle
High Angle
The first set of visual devices was the commonly used high and low angles. What made the high/low angle usage in this scene a bit different than the usual was it switched on the characters. These switches were narratively driven but also done in practical manner which made the switches feel natural.

If you rewatch the sequence above it starts with Isozaki at the top of the steps and Yuri at the bottom. From a practical sense in order to account for differing elevations of the characters, a low angle was used on Isozaki and a high one on Yuri. Even after Isozaki came down the steps, a low angle was kept on him due to difference in their height. The practical usage also reflected the narrative. Low angle is often used on a dominant figure which is true for Isozaki, a teacher who’s in a position of authority. At this point he was also lecturing Yuri about his beliefs. Yuri is a student expected to defer to a teacher and a high angle reinforced her subordinate status.

When Yuri became more emotionally animated about her beliefs, their positions switched with her at the top of the steps and Isozaki at the bottom. The camera on Yuri switched to a low angle, which matched the change in elevation and the narrative. Yuri’s emotional assertiveness turned her into the dominant voice, which was appropriately emphasized by the low angle. While Isozaki was still stern in his disagreement, there was a tone of acquiescence which was made more prominent by the high angle shot.

Flat
Deep
The other visual devices used were flat space and deep space. So if you keep watching the sequence, you’ll notice the camera switching to a straight-on wide shot as shown in the above-left picture. Despite the shallow depth of field this shot feels very much like a flat space, it lacks perspective lines or depth in movement. Flat space lacks visual intensity, which was quite fitting to the sense of calmness when the two characters reached a form of understanding and compromise. When Isozaki was reasserting his advisor role, the sequence switched to the more visually intense deep space shots. These have prominent perspective lines as shown in the above-right picture. This visual intensity gave his words more weight. The sequence continued to switch between flat and deep space to match the subtle changes in the mood.

OWARIMONOGATARI Episode 5 – SODACHI Lost, Part 2

Sunday, November 1, 2015

In this episode the side view wide shot of Araragi and Oikura was used repeatedly in order to function as a constant for the lighting changes. This made the changes in lighting more perceptible, which helped it visually convey the changes in the mood of Oikura.

The first shot was in the beginning of the episode. This shot was at its brightest, which matches the relatively less serious start. As Oikura reveals more about her dysfunctional family, the lighting became dimmer and the shadows heavier which accentuated her state of misery. The third shot was especially apt, since at this point she was describing Araragi’s happy family as so bright to the point of being unsettling.  The contrast between her description of his family and the dimmed room visualized how comparatively miserable her family life was.

In this second sequence of shots it again started off bright although not as bright as the first couple of shots. At this point she was still using Araragi as a scapegoat but eventually admitted he was blameless. This admission caused her to sink further into self-hatred and self-pity, which was reflected by the shot turning dark, with even heavier shadows and the characters almost being silhouettes. Also, there were now rays of light coming in, a visual intensity matching the strong emotions and quivering voice of Oikura.

One thing that was a bit more subtle was in the last shot, where the rays of light on Oikura were shining brighter. In this portion of the sequence, Araragi was encouraging her to find happiness. The brighter light on Oikura seems to signify a tiny glimmer of hope that she found in Araragi’s words.

The Portrait Studio

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Portrait Studio is a short by Takashi Nakamura that chronicles the shared life experiences of a little girl and a photographer. It begins with a young couple visiting the studio for the wife to get her portrait taken. Later they return with their baby daughter who always looks grumpy. The jovial photographer futilely tries to coax a smile out her; he does so again and again every time the little girl returns. As time passes the two of them share important personal moments and witness historical events.

As you watch the film what becomes apparent is the use of visual repetition. Specifically the repeated visual motif of the wide shot of the photographer’s house and the stairs leading up to the house. Also, throughout the short the house and stairs barely change. The lack of change combined with the repetition establishes them as visual constants. By having constants to contrast against it made the changes that occur in the characters and the setting more dramatic and striking.

The visual repetition also helped depict the routineness of the little girl getting her portrait taken. Every time she goes up the same stairs to the same house as she and everything else around her change. It’s a reflection of real life which can be full of repetition and routine but as time passes by things do gradually change around us.

The repeated wide shot of the house remained constant amongst the modernization, urbanization, the earthquake and the destruction brought by World War II. The evolution of transportation from a rickshaw to the modern train was also a nice touch.

Here the constant are the stairs and we see the little girl and her family travel up the same steps throughout the years. The changes here are more personal as we see her grow up to a young woman, become a teacher, and then grow old.

Also, the art and composition of this short are very flat. The camera work was straight forward and neutral. Any shots that would provide a sense of depth were mostly avoided such as angled shots, over the shoulder shots and shallow focus. There were very little perspective lines especially in the beginning. Even as the architecture of the surrounding buildings became more three-dimensional they weren’t organized to together form cohesive vanishing points. This lack of organization maintained the illusion of flatness.  The flatness of course was intentional. The simple and yet elegant visuals fit the subdued and quiet nature of the film.

Fade

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

As the sun begins to set it brings the warmth of different shades of orange and red but what follows is the night which tempers this warmth. The appreciation of this little daily life occurrence is the essence of this short film Fade. The sunset was blissfully brought to life with clever usage of shadows and color changes. Watch the short film below:


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The first two shots of the short were establishing shots with a nice cold and warm color contrast. The visual contrast of the night creeping in and the warm light of the sun slowly receding immediately expressed the central idea of the film. The floating balloon and the strips of orange and red that followed quickly engaged the viewers’ eyes to lead it to the direction of the sunset. It’s a subtle preamble to the main action of the film which is the chase of the sunset.


The liveliness of the sunset was best expressed by the playful use of shadows and color. As the scarf and bicyclist pass by, the luminosity of color red seeps out to be taken over by the shadow of the night. The fading light of sunset making things less colorful is often left unobserved and the film captured this moment in such an endearing way.

Fade is part of Sun Rise & Set by Hajime Kimura.