bowtrunckle: (Sam laughing)
[personal profile] bowtrunckle

I’m sure I’m not the only one who noticed how awesome the Sam-and-Dean-stalk-around-the-warehouse scene was.  It was visually the most memorable of the episode not only because it was Sam and Dean and their badass selves stalking around a warehouse but also because it was *dramatic* looking.  But what does dramatic mean exactly?  How do you define it visually?  And how do you make a scene look dramatic using camera, lights, and actors with rubber knives tiptoeing around?  There’s not a single answer for any of that as, I think, most of it’s contextual, but here’s an attempt to breakdown this scene to see some ways it was made to look so badass cool and *dramatic*.

But first, a word on creating visual drama in a very general sense:

Drama can be injected visually a million different ways.  One of the essential keys is tricking the audience’s eyes into believing what they’re seeing is real, to convince us that the 2D surface we’re staring at is 3D.  This 3D illusion is called deep space, and to achieve this many depth clues or perspective effects must be used consistently and repeatedly.  Let’s briefly talk about some clues/effects Singer used to give the illusion of depth and then look at the warehouse scene to see where they come into play.

1. Create longitudinal planes where one side of the plane appears smaller than the other, generating a vanishing point or vanishing points either on or off-screen.

2. Overlap objects and/or characters to show which are closer or farther from the camera.

3. Move the camera such that it reveals or hides other characters.

4. Shoot through or past foreground objects as the camera moves as it follows the characters (tracking shots).  This works because it creates motion parallax whereby stationary objects closer to the camera appear to move across the screen faster than stationary objects farther away (this gets slightly tricky when objects within the scene at different depths are moving at different speeds but the effect still works).   

5. Move characters away and toward the camera or move the camera away and toward characters (but only if there are objects and/or characters occupying varying distances away from the camera), creating size differences as they move: objects/characters are larger closer to the camera and smaller farther away.

6. Use side lighting and low-key lighting to “round out” objects and/or characters by casting shadows that show depth and texture and general 3D-ness.  

7. Light the scene such that there are areas of light and dark so that the differential lighting “layers” the scene.

8. Light the background “hotter” in order to direct the audience’s eye to the back of the setting.

9. Use rack focus to direct the audience’s eye through the depth of the scene.

The scenes are at 2:44-end in first and from 0:40-1:24 in the second embedded videos.  A lot of the points touched on above are operating simultaneously throughout the scenes, but I’m only going to talk about the most notable examples.

2:44-3:07, Rule 7:
You can see the background is lit, the mid-ground is dark and the foreground is lit.  This creates nice layers of dark and light and highlights the boys’ silhouettes as they walk toward the camera and into the foreground light where the important part of the scene takes place.

3:08, Rules 1, 6, 7, 8: discussed in screencap 1 caption below.

Picture 1
Screencap 1. The floors, both walls, and the ceiling creates longitudinal lines with their vanishing points converging in the middle of the red-lit wall at the back of the setting, making the hallway look 3-dimensional (rule 1).  The foreground lighting originates from the right-hand side of the screen, throwing deep shadows across Dean’s face (and then Sam’s) and making it appear more rounded and textured (rule 6).  See the alternating stripes of pooled light and shadow down the hall, which give the sense of dimension (rule 7).  Note the wall at the back of the setting is glaringly red in order to draw your eye through the depth of the scene (rule 8).

3:08-3:19, Rules 9, 5, and 2: The focus starts off on Dean in the foreground and is pulled to the red-lit wall as he turns his head and stares at it, motioning to Sam to continue before turning and walking down the hall and coming back into focus (rule 9).  At 3:16 the focus is pulled back to the foreground and Sam, making Dean—who is walking away from the camera (rule 5)—go out of focus.  Sam walks forward (across the screen), overlapping Dean (rule 2).  

1:00-1:15 All the rules except 4: Sam walks across the screen, his silhouette seen through a doorway of panels of plastic sheeting backlit in red light (rule 8).  The camera follows him, revealing a demon standing in the foreground, who turns as the camera tracks past (rules 2, 3).  Note the low-key lighting highlighting the demon from above rather than from the side as was done for Sam and Dean at 3:08 (rule 6).  Direct overhead lighting like this casts deep shadows that obscure parts of the face (most noticeably the eyes), making it appear menacing and sinister (screencap 2 vs. screencap 1).  The camera continues to track, catching Sam emerging from a back hallway where the beams on the right-hand side wall forms longitudinal lines directing your eye down the length of the scene to Sam (rule 1).  Hidden in this transition is a rack focus from the foreground demon to Sam (rule 9).  Sam pauses and walks toward the camera (rule 5) through pools of light and shadow (rule 7).

Picture 7
Screencap 2.

1:16-1:24 Rules 2, 4: The camera tracks from left to right across a doorway, showing Dean walking in the opposite direction, then Sam enters in the foreground from the left side and the camera moves with him (rule 2).  Motion parallax can best be seen at 1:16-1:17 between the foreground doorway—appearing to move quickly from right to left across the screen—and doorways and walls in the mid- and background, which appear to move more slowly.  In order to see this, try not to let Sam and Dean, who are moving independently from the camera, distract you from watching the stationary objects.

Finally a side-note on all of the long, hard horizontal (beams on the walls), vertical (panels of plastic sheeting, door frames), and diagonal lines (wire mesh and the shadows it casts as seen in the background lighting) in these scenes (screencaps 3-5).  Besides being interesting to look at, they create a sense of urgency and tension and convey strength and hardness.  The red lighting also adds an element of danger and a sense of warning.  All of these elements play in nicely with the idea of covertly sneaking around one of Crowley’s demon-infested, secret torture centers. \o/  

Picture 6
Screencap 3.

Picture 5
Screencap 4.  Peek-a-boo Dean!

Picture 13
Screencap 5.

If you're interested in more nerdy camera talk for this episode go here.

Date: 2013-01-19 06:44 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Yes! --> "I’m sure I’m not the only one who noticed how awesome the Sam-and-Dean-stalk-around-the-warehouse scene was. It was visually the most memorable of the episode not only because it was Sam and Dean and their badass selves stalking around a warehouse but also because it was *dramatic* looking."

This whole post is awesome. Love this. I rewatched the ep last night and was again taken by this scene.

I love how you dissected this. Do you have a film background?

Date: 2013-01-20 04:19 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I'm glad you liked it. Thanks for the rec at your journal.

Do you have a film background?

I took a film class in college and since then have studied aspects of it and fiction writing for fun and for something to use my brain for that's not RL stuff.

Date: 2013-01-20 12:10 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Yes! I loved this scene - the camera work was fantastic. Thanks so much for the dissection. The motion parallax is interesting - I always love seeing that at work but didn't know it had a name.:)

So, here's a curiosity. Bob Singer directed this and in this scene you can see his skill at work. It's beautifully done and wonderful to watch. Then he gives us that super clunky, almost comic zoom of Crowley's face when the angel tablet it revealed. Singer is obviously too experienced to make a mistake (if FELT like a mistake because it was so cheesy) like that. Do you have thoughts on what he might have been doing there?

Camera comedy maybe? A kind of dun dun duhnnnnnn moment that he was having a bit of fun with?

Thanks for the thinky on this scene. Great stuff.

Date: 2013-01-20 12:33 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I keep thinking about counteragent's theory that this season is being deliberately melodramatic and soap-opera-ish. Those kind of shots, some of the music, some of the (cringe) dialogue....I wonder...

Date: 2013-01-20 01:55 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Hmm...I wonder too.

I would have thought something like this would have fit right in when they were going for the B Movie look as they did in S7. It just felt so out of place. But maybe - yeah - it might have been an acknowledgment that it's all a bit melodramatic and therefore he was adding to that...

(I'd love to know if they are deliberately making this a soap style season. If they are they are pulling it off remarkably well. If not...:koff:...won't think about that. :/)

Date: 2013-01-20 04:37 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
the camera work was fantastic

YES! I'd love to see more dynamic, complex set-ups like this *chants SPN movie*. I don't know how long it took to figure out the staging and to light everything, but it was worth it IMHO.

Do you have thoughts on what he might have been doing there?

I actually laughed when I saw that zoom for the first time. Oops. :( I'd really like to think that it was put there as a visual gag or elbow nudge because I don't like getting second-hand embarrassment from my favorite show, but my knee-jerk reaction is that it was placed there with the full intention of being dramatic and serious. Here's why (unfortunately): Singer uses those zoom/dollys all the time (but they're usually not that fast), mostly if not always (I'd have to go back and look at his episodes to say for sure) for dramatic effect and to underscore emotional reveals. It's part of his style. Also, it's placed within the beats of the very dramatic dialogue, which I think suggests that it's there to augment not detract from the reveal. Also the overall tone of the scene isn't comical or satirical and I feel like Singer is too much of a seasoned professional to slide a camera move in there to just humor himself. But that being said, I don't know anything for sure. It makes me feel better thinking that it was put there as a haha zoom.

If you're interested I wrote a tiny thing up about the zoom in spnematography's 8x10 episode prompt linked at the bottom of this entry.

Thanks for the thinky on this scene.

You're welcome.

Date: 2013-01-20 05:29 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I agree with you. Personally I don't think it was a comic nudge. The moment was too crucial. I think we were supposed to feel "OMG! What a reveal!!" Instead I was distracted by how awful that zoom was. It felt like he thought he had to make it extra obvious because he doesn't trust his audience.

If it was a haha zoom I think it was seriously misplaced.

Oh well. I suppose it gets us talking about zooms. :))

Date: 2013-01-20 12:47 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Instead I was distracted by how awful that zoom was.

I hear you. :( *points to the fact I LOL'ed*

It felt like he thought he had to make it extra obvious because he doesn't trust his audience.

I hope that's not the case, but who knows. I feel like the SPN Team has a lot of respect for the audience and Singer likes to use zooms a lot, so maybe it was just him being sincere.

I suppose it gets us talking about zooms. :))

I was reminded of zooms and them introducing this 70's-style comical aspect in Whedon's Firefly DVD commentary because it was the first time I'd heard about zooms vs. dolly shots and I was *intrigued* (plus Joss's commentaries are pretty super awesome as far as cinematography and director-type stuff). And, wow, somebody happened to upload just that bit of the DVD on YouTube!

Date: 2013-01-21 02:23 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Oh wow! That vid was great. I love that he mentioned the zoom as being cheesy!

(I might just have to pinch this. I used the word cheesy in my review and this would fit perfectly!).


Date: 2013-01-20 05:32 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
*chants SPN movie*.

OH GOD! Had to come back to CHEER THAT ON! I think they could definitely pull off a movie. If Kripke came back to write it, they sure have the team to pull it off.

Date: 2013-01-20 12:56 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
If Kripke came back to write it

Heh, just think of all the swearing in the script! ;) I'm rooting for a solid "R" rating and a location shoot on the desert roads of Southwest US. They didn't stick a new engine in the Impala to just tool around on a stage and rainy Vancouver city streets, right?

Date: 2013-01-20 12:31 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
That was fascinating! I loved this scene, and even said while it was on, oh wow, that looks so cool - but I had no idea *why* it worked so well. Thanks for dissecting this and explaining it so well, I'm now even more impressed :)

Date: 2013-01-20 04:40 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Glad you found it interesting. I (obviously) think all this "why" stuff is nice, meaty stuff to mull over, too. ;)

Date: 2013-01-20 03:56 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I LOVED this!!Thanks so much!
You are awesome :)

Date: 2013-01-20 04:41 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Yay! You're welcome and thanks for stopping by and letting me know what you thought.

Date: 2013-01-21 01:30 am (UTC)
yourlibrarian: Angel and Lindsey (ScoobyXmasTop5-eyesthatslay)
From: [personal profile] yourlibrarian
I don't have anything to add to this other than that I also noticed how visually interesting they made the episode so I was curious to see what you had to say about it.

Date: 2013-01-21 03:50 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Thanks for stopping by. I wasn't sure if you were still watching SPN as a lot of my flist has dropped the show or else stopped posting about it (myself included in the latter). I figure if I'm not inspired to talk about SPN's story or characters very much at least I can talk about what the show looks like.

Date: 2013-01-21 05:07 pm (UTC)
yourlibrarian: Angel and Lindsey (Default)
From: [personal profile] yourlibrarian
Someone on my flist who hasn't watched the show in a while caught the latest episode. She dubbed it a zombie series, which just keeps stumbling on even though it should have ended seasons back. I suspect that I and many others are zombie viewers!

Date: 2013-01-22 03:17 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
*raises hand* I'm a zombie viewer. No matter what happens I'm here until the very end. Darn, addictive Show.

Date: 2013-01-21 10:45 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Dude, this is kinda sorta, like, TOTALLY AWESOME. \o/ I mean, the scene looked great in all kinds of ways and had interesting shots and lurker-stalker!boys, WOOO. \o/ But your neatly organized list with its spiffy examples is seriously cool!!

And how do you make a scene look dramatic using camera, lights, and actors with rubber knives tiptoeing around?

You make the rubber knives look extra shiny. Duh. ;) And this might be the reason why I'm looking at that list like there'll be a quiz on it later.

Date: 2013-01-22 03:25 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
lurker-stalker!boys, WOOO. \o/

We need more of this. *nods* And, yes, \o/\o/\o/!

You make the rubber knives look extra shiny.

And the rubber extra pointy. ;)

this might be the reason why I'm looking at that list like there'll be a quiz on it later.

Heh. It does look rather academic, doesn't it. Oops. I cannot help how my brain likes to organize things in semi-scary, textbook-looking lists. O_o

Oh, and there will be a quiz. Next Wednesday. It's closed book with no notes, and there are no make-ups unless you have a signed doctor's note.
Edited Date: 2013-01-22 03:26 am (UTC)

Date: 2013-01-23 08:41 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
But I liked that it was in a neat list!! It was easy to understand and read. Uhm, maybe this says more about me than about the meta itself...

I'd almost be happy if there was a quiz abut this. Seriously. It's cool stuff. \o/

Date: 2013-01-29 04:57 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I'd almost be happy if there was a quiz abut this.

Heh. Oh, yeah? *mischievous grin*

Date: 2013-01-21 11:19 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Fascinating peek into the cinematography, thanks!

Date: 2013-01-22 03:15 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
You're very welcome!

Date: 2013-02-28 02:46 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I'm such a film nerd so this was so fun to read/look at! Beautiful screencaps. And your writing is also great. May I add you as a friend? (I found you via [ profile] heavy_meta.)

Date: 2013-02-28 06:28 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]

Welcome to the unabashed nerdiness that somehow ends up being SPN meta here. :) I'm glad you enjoyed it; I had fun writing it. Feel free to friend me. I don't bite!


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