Dynamic Symmetry/Golden Section (9 replies and 4 comments)
I was curious if you, Mr.Deakins, or anyone else, use dynamic symmetry or the golden section grids in composing any of your shots, it is more prevalent with photographers and painters it seems as I dont see much of it in terms of application into film? Do any of you try and use it at all?
I'm more of a Wabi Sabi guy. Which, in a way can involve symmetry and the golden ratio.
Otherwise, it's not to hard to divide a frame into thirds with your eye. Or into fourths.
It all depends on how you see it in your head. The subconscious is usually correct, which is why you shouldn't second guess yourself or spend too much time on one thing. Think about it. Probably about 80% of everything you do throughout your day is on auto pilot. Why shouldn't we give our unconscious mind some credit.
I think you learn about composition by studying all the visual media and by experimenting yourself whether with a pencil, a pain brush or a camera. I certainly don't consciously refer to the 'golden section' when I am actually setting a frame but it is something that is there in the 'learning experience'.
You don't learn how to draw a perfect circle. You're just born Giotto. A lot of people say he was the first genius of the Renaissance. I personally, believe he was just a hard worker and dedicated to his form. How many circles do you have to draw to be able to make a perfect one? I would say a lot. The real question is how many people out there have attempted this task? And how many are still willing to achieve it? At the heart of a great work of art is not technique but precision and accuracy.
As a beginner, you learn all the traditional advice regarding composition -- rule of thirds is probably the most useful, but there are dozens more -- and you study works of art that are cited as having great compositions, you watch movies that are judged to have great compositions, etc. Comic books are also great tools for learning how to use composition to tell a story in images.
And during all that time, you are making your own art and creating compositions.
Eventually it soaks into your brain like a marinade... and you develop your own feelings about composition and you refine your tastes over time.
But it is hard to have pre-defined "rules" about how to compose because with filmmaking, you often don't work from a blank canvas where every element is placed and arranged by you from scratch. Some elements you can place, but others are fixed in place -- like a landscape of mountains and trees -- and you have to "find" the arrangements and patterns.
But what you end up composing for is so dependent on what you are trying to say at the moment, story or emotion-wise. You might know the traditional interpretations of a shot of a certain size or closeness, or camera height, focal length, etc. in combination with lighting -- i.e. "this" makes someone look threatening or heroic, "that" makes them look vulnerable and weak -- but often it just comes down to your refined taste and feelings about what feels appropriate. Deciding at the moment whether symmetry or asymmetry is the right choice will depend on how you interpret the script and what the actors are doing at that moment.
Watched Part One of Darsu Uzala recently. That is a great movie in general, but I find the use of composition is very striking.
I am not sure about the perfect circle analogy. I remember spending many many weeks whilst at Art College drawing Trajan Os before moving on to the rest of the Roman alphabet. Out tutor in calligraphy, Andrew Wilson, was adamant that we should be able to draw a perfect O before moving on to greater things, such as Rs! I succeeded and the whole class succeeded but not one of us was a Giotto! Could I do that now? No way! I would find it easier to describe a perfect O with a gear head.
My feeling is that we like the work of Giotto because we appreciate his taste. I use Giotto here as an example simply because his name has already been mentioned but, personally, his work leaves me cold. Why? Because he is just not to my taste. Everyone is different and my ideas of composition are surely different, by some degree at least, to anyone else. You learn the rules as you learn to draw a perfect O but technical ability is not what moves the viewer.
Very good points. Personally, I am more of a Fra Angelico guy myself, at least when it comes to early Italian Renaissance paintings. To be honest, when I look at Giotto's frescos, I don't feel like this is the work of someone who draws perfect circles. But he was nibbling at a few great concepts that had yet to be discovered, which were: perspective and deep space staging. For that, I suppose I can forgive his lacking in other areas.
Honestly, I suggested the story of Giotto's Circle as a means to explain how one might achieve a level of proficiency in order to execute certain subjective practices, such as the ability to eye complex compositional structures like the Golden Ratio.
I realize now, as I look back over what I wrote that I was not as articulate as I should have been. And perhaps I'm interpreting the subject from the wrong point of view.
Although, I suppose the Greeks had a pretty good idea of those concepts way before the Italians.
Don't get me wrong as I think there is a place for learning to draw a perfect circle. It's a way to develop your way of seeing but it is also a humbling experience and we all need a little humility. I think there is a tendency in film making today to justify a lack of technical ability as spontaneity. To be successfully spontaneous it is even more important to understand the basics of your craft.
That's probably why it takes jazz musicians at least 10-20 years to get to that transcendental level they seem to be on.
Same applies to cinematographers. I'm sure, given enough time and resources, we students could recreate most if not all of the images of the masters.. but in terms of efficiency we simply lack the experience to justify the cost/time/resources creating such images.
I really like that pulled some attention to the world "humility". I seem to agree: it is often prudent and probably beneficial to recognize your own limits as to not to take too much on your plate and crash. In this industry such risks are very dangerous. One has to know his/her own abilities and limitations.
Experimentation is allowed; but it's probably best to limit as much as possible it to your personal (passion) projects OR make sure to test, test and test some more before spending some else's money on it.
I think an interesting subject that seems somewhat related to this one, and is something I've personally been getting into recently, is learning and becoming very good at a certain skill and somehow using it to your advantage with certain things creative.
For example, Stanley Kubrick was a very good chess player from what I've seen and read, and as I delve deeper into the understanding of the intricacies of the game, I realize that there is a weird zen thing about it. Like learning a form of martial arts.
I start to think, would Stanley Kubrick have been as good a film director if he had not been such a skilled chess player?
I like to think he would still be pretty good, but there's something there I think. Chess is all about knowing your opponents move five, even ten moves ahead! This would be an incredible skill to adapt into your own way of visualizing things in general particularly in film making. Being able to see how the next scene will tie into the scene your working on and maybe even seeing several scenes down the line!
Basically we should all be playing more chess. lol