January 2, 2017

3 Different Ways You Can Use Central Framing in Your Films

Whether it's used in horror, comedy, or action films, central framing is a cinematic technique that has a lot to say.

If a frame is canvas, then framing is one of the materials filmmakers use to create their artwork. One framing technique that is particularly interesting is central framing, because it not only calls attention to itself, but it is also used by many different filmmakers to many different effects. In this video essay by James Hayes, we get to learn more about how directors like Wes Anderson, Stanley Kubrick, and George Miller use it as a tool to communicate with their audience. Check it out below:

Creating comedy

When most people think about central framing, they usually think about the films of Wes Anderson. From Rushmore to The Grand Budapest Hotel, Anderson has used this technique for comedic effect by making everything in the frame symmetrical, or in the words of famed film theorists Kristin Thompson and David Bordwell, "[creating] humor by means of geometrical tableaus."

Creating tension

Stanley Kubrick is another director that used central framing constantly throughout his career, but the effect his approach had on his audience was unlike that of Anderson. Though there were comedic elements in his framing, Kubrick set his subjects in the center of the frame for dramatic effect, as well as to build tension in the scene. Looking down the hallways of the Overlook Hotel in The Shining or seeing HAL's blood red—eye (?) dead center in the frame gives off some seriously eery vibes, and causes viewers to feel uncomfortable, to say the least.

Orienting the audience

Central framing isn't only used to make audiences laugh or squirm in their seats, it can also be used to simply help them make sense of their surroundings. George Miller and DP John Seale decided to use central framing to help orient the audience during the many chaotic action scenes in Mad Max: Fury Road. Instead of requiring the viewer to find the point of interest on the frame, Seale's central framing helped guide their eyes to where the action was taking place. Perhaps it was this decision that got Seale that Oscar nomination.

What are some other ways central framing can be used? What is your favorite shot that utilizes central framing? Let us know in the comments below.      

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3 Comments

Another solid contemporary example of center framing for tension is David Fincher's Zodiac. Particularly the scene where the detectives meet with Arthur Lee Allen at his job to question him.

January 3, 2017 at 5:32PM

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Scott Warren
Sr. Lighting Artist
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Another contemporary example of central framing to build tension was in David Fincher's Zodiac during the scene where the detectives interview Arthur Leigh Allen at his workplace.

January 4, 2017 at 3:26PM, Edited January 4, 3:26PM

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Scott Warren
Sr. Lighting Artist
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Where I think the video could be taken further is, instead of simply observing X, commenting on "X because of Y".

So, centre framing is sometimes comic, sometimes suspenseful -- sure! But when it has these effects, why does it have them? When it doesn't have these effects, why doesn't it?

January 4, 2017 at 9:56PM, Edited January 4, 9:56PM

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Adrian Tan
Videographer
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