An Introduction to Graphic Novels: Basic Cinematography and Perspective


by Anise Shaw

Part One | Part Two | Part Three

Lesson 2: Basic Cinematography and Perspective

Now that we have practiced going from panel to panel, now it’s time to focus on what will go in those panels. Let’s think of our panel as the frame of a photograph, and what we choose to put in is the same process as what we choose to take a picture of. Therefore, our frame is a camera. We want to use this camera to capture points of interest and to effect our story in different ways. We can accomplish this by using Point of View (POV) to our advantage.

Even though we are working with a two dimensional medium, we have to think three dimensionally. Cinematography is this process, and we need to consider three different perspectives (or axis).

Height

This is moving the camera on the Y axis, or up and down. In drawing, this is directly related to where we put our horizon line, so keep your shot in mind when you begin a drawing using one or two point perspective. The extremes of moving the camera in this way are:

Bird’s Eye View

When we look down on a scene like a bird, we are looking from bird’s eye view. This is a great way to show the layout of a space, but also carries with it the feeling of being larger than life. The bird’s eye view is both whimsical and analytical, and can quickly create a sense of dissociation with a scene. Bird’s eye view is accomplished by placing the horizon line around the top of your page, or even higher and off the page.

Worm’s Eye View

This view is from underneath, and allows the reader to feel small and overpowered. The worm’s eye view is effective for showing the impact of a structure or scene and it’s imposing nature. Using this perspective often will create a sense of foreboding and perhaps even helplessness. We can make a worm’s eye drawing by place our horizon line low on our page.

 

picture drawings!

Eye Level

Eye level, or anything around eye level, is a perspective that creates a strong sense of reader identification. This is how we see things everyday, and we feel like we’re a part of these scenes when we see them in comics, movies and television. Perspectives hovering around eye level are the most popular, as having an extreme feel to your scene is usually reserved for particular moments. We create an eye level drawing by placing the horizon line around the middle of the page.

Distance

This is moving the camera on the Z axis, or back and forth. We change the distance of our drawings by drawing elements larger and cropping them.

I draw fastThree different distances in sequence

There are different distances and different ways to use them. Choosing your distances will be of huge importance, so don’t be afraid to play with them. Here are the different kinds of distances:

  • Long shot: this is a shot that allows you to show a significant amount of background. Use these to establish location, positioning of characters and to distance the reader from the characters. Perhaps even to create a sense of isolation
  • Medium shot: a bit closer, we don’t see as much background and a character or object is framed as the focus of the drawing. Medium shots are great to show action, two or three people physically interacting, or someone interacting with the surroundings. Medium shots are one of the most common, I know I like to use them a lot.
  • Head shot: a picture or panel of a character or subject where it fills the whole picture. Usually from the chest up on a person. Background is minimal or non-existent, and you don’t want to cram too many people in.
  • Close up: focusing the camera closely on a person or object, usually for dramatic effect.

Rotated!!Rotation

This is moving on the X axis, or around something. We change our rotation to get a better look at something, to look at something from a character’s perspective, or a whole host of reasons. Changing the rotation of a drawing may help it to go from sterile to dynamic. In wondering why a picture or panel isn’t working, try to shift the rotation and it will most likely fix major composition problems.

Use rotation to your advantage in storytelling.

The Static vs the Dynamic Camera

Keeping the “camera” in one position for a series of panels is using a “static camera”, while changing height, distance and rotation from panel to panel is a “dynamic camera”. Using either method will have a different effect on your story and pacing. There are comics that use one or the other exclusively and many mix the two techniques together.

  1. The static camera: showing small changes, slowing down the story, and emphasizing detail. The static camera can help you avoid melodrama when a tense moment has arrived, and be used to help the audience absorbed dense pieces of dialogue
  2. The dynamic camera: shows large actions well, creates drama and movement and helps to give an otherwise bland bit of sequencing a bit of visual interest.

The point is to try to keep balance for your story. If your story feels like it’s dragging, add a few camera changes. If it has an “action film” feel where it’s completely unnecessary, slow it down with a static camera. There is no “right formula”. Do what feels best for your story and don’t be afraid to experiment.

Exercise 1

Draw a four-panel comic of a person ordering and receiving coffee from a barista. Keep the panels evenly sized and the camera static on a particular point of interest. Describe to yourself how you feel about the sequence, pacing and cinematography.

Exercise 2

Draw another four panel comic with the same story. Continue to keep the panels evenly sized. This time, change the camera angle every panel to use the dynamic camera.

Panel Size

Comics have a special relationship to cinematography that television and movies do not. A television or movie screen is uniform, but we comic artists have the option of changing our panel sizes.

You remember last class when we discussed going from panel to panel occupying time? The same principle applies here, except the single panel also occupies time as well as the transition. As such, longer, more horizontal panels feel like they take “longer” than smaller, more square or vertical panels.

It’s very common for stories to start out with a long, horizontal panel, usually in a long shot format. This is called the establishing shot, and it allows our reader to get a sense of the story setting before being thrown into what the story is all about.

Exercise 3

This time when we redraw our 4 panel sequence, I want you to focus on panel size. You may extend your comic into 2 or 3 rows if necessary. The choice of dynamic or static camera (or a combination of both) is also up to you.

Tips for Perspective

  • Buy a good perspective book, don’t try to memorize the rules. You might break your brain.
  • Consider your horizon line for a moment, where you place it has importance
  • One point perspective will connote a feeling of traveling, or having a road laid out for you.
  • Two point perspective doesn’t tend to connote movement, but more the weight of objects themselves.
  • Use perspective to draw characters as well as background, or your characters will look like they’re pasted on.

Good luck and keep drawing!

Part One | Part Two | Part Three

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