The Design of Movies

Everybody loves movies. They entertain us. They transport us in our imaginations to exotic and adventurous places and times. And nearly everyone has a particular movie or two that will always be associated with some life-defining experience.

Commercial movies shown in theaters around the world are usually multi-million dollar projects created by enormous teams of talented collaborators. Because of their scale, complexity and star-studded casts it’s hard to compare a movie to other artworks created by relatively obscure individuals working on a modest scale with only a reasonable budget.

But it is possible to find some commonalities between movies and conventional artworks. We can also learn to see movies in ways that are similar to how we look at paintings and sculptures.

In this blog post let’s look at two websites that can help movie goers recognize the use of design and other specific elements in big budget feature films. The videos at both sites are easy to understand and enjoyable to watch. If you love going to movies I’m sure you’ll like what these sites have to offer.

The first site is 35mm – A Group for Cinephiles moderated by Andris Damburs, a Latvian cinematographer. The group has 18,000 members and the site offers over 3,000 videos for you to watch. Here you’ll find video essays and analysis of a huge variety of classic films and current releases. There are also videos discussing ground breaking television series such as Game of Thrones.

Let’s look at a few examples…

In the video below you can see how the director Guillermo del Toro uses color harmonies to reinforce the intent of particular scenes in his popular movies. This video was made by the folks at who create and sell project management software for video and film makers.

Mastering the Movie Color Palette: Guillermo del Toro from StudioBinder on Vimeo.

If you are reading this in e-mail click here to see the video.

Here is a link to an article written by studiobinder that contains additional information.

The next video by Zackery Ramos-Taylor superimposes a diagram over a series of brief clips to demonstrate the use of symmetry in the Amazon TV series “Patriot.”

Patriot – The Symmetric Frame from Zackery Ramos-Taylor on Vimeo.

If you are reading this in e-mail click here to see the video.

Our final example is by Fabriccio Diaz and illustrates the use of shifting selective focus to make a single camera setup serve multiple purposes. It’s a technique unique to movies and a very effective way to incorporate the design element of space into a scene.

Depth of field (Montage) by Fabriccio Díaz from Fabriccio Díaz on Vimeo.

If you are reading this in e-mail click here to see the video.

The second website is Every Frame a Painting. This is really a YouTube channel created by Taylor Ramos and Tony Zhou. It consists of 28 short video essays that they made between 2014 and 2016. Although Ramos and Zhou are no longer adding to their collection the channel currently has over a million subscribers and is considered one of the best sets of cinema critiques available online.

Here are two examples…

In this first video we see the sophisticated use of dividing a single visual frame into quadrants and then using the subdivisions as smaller movies within a movie that interact with each other. The film being critiqued is Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Drive.”

If you are reading this in e-mail click here to see the video.

The final video focuses on the use of music in movies, particularly films made from Marvel comic books. It’s interesting to note that some movie music is memorable and other scores are merely functional.

If you are reading this in e-mail click here to see the video.

These are just two websites that explore the components of movies in ways that are similar to how we examine and consider studio art. When you focus on the contributions and techniques of specific artists/craftsmen who have contributed to a movie you get a much more intimate view of the process.

If you are interested in exploring this topic in more depth, both Vimeo and YouTube have dozens of options to watch and enjoy.

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