Wednesday, April 19, 2006

To Catch A Thief

So I'm laid up for awhile after a surgery (nothing serious) and I ordered some movies from Amazon to watch while I recover. I ordered "North by Northwest" and they offered me the chance to buy "To Catch A Thief" for five bucks! I've never seen it, so I ordered it. I watched part of it today, not one of Hitch's best but even Hitch's weakest efforts are better than most movies. Here's some cool screengrabs.

Here's a cool framing device:

This next one is a cool example of an important aspect of composition in film: use the whole frame. If a car is travelling through the frame, don't have it zip quickly from one side to the other, that goes by too quick and it's unsatisfying. Plus it creates big, unused and uninteresting parts of the frame. Find a way to use the whole picture plane. It makes for longer, more interesting shots. A car chase over curvy roads is a perfect example:

One of the basic rules of composition is to never have two objects of equal weight and inportance on the screen. Usually make on bigger and one smaller. Or one dark and one light. See my previous post of Rowland Wilson's Composition Notes for an example of this. But sometimes it's unavoidable to have two people talking to each other. So here's some examples of how to create interest within the frame and still have two equally weighted figures. Making one high and one low is an easy one. Look at how Hitch created lines and rhythms within the frame to keep it interesting.

And here's some interesting framing caused by good use of lighting - go back and look at my Peter pan screengrabs in the archives and see how similar they were to this. Grace Kelly is talking about her her face is covered by shadow to emphasize the jewels. After all, the human face - even if it's not Grace Kelly's - is always what draws our eye. We can't help it- from the time we are born we are drawn to looking at our Mother's face to tell us if we are okay or not and through our whole lives we remain focused on faces - especially the eyes - no matter what.


Emma said...

I've got a question (and thanks for the continued educational and gripping posts)!

How much of this - composition and emphasis through arrangement of elements and lighting - is a story guy's job and how much is a layout guy's? Where's the line?

Because a story guy has to get the point across, but doesn't design the whole thing (right?)

Scott LeMien said...

I love to Catch a Thief, Grace Kelly and Cary Grant in a Hitchcock romance-adventure, what's not to like?

Goobeetsablog said...

Thanks for these.
You colud dedicate an entire blog to Hitchcock and his movies (now doubt there are many).

But it's nice to see some thoughts about the visual breakdown of his films. Vertigo is another beautiful one- so many layers to that one.


mark kennedy said...

thanks for the comments! Good question emma. I always try to make it clear that good drawings can't save a bad story. Story artists need to tell a good story, first and foremost.
But the more you can communicate with your drawings, the better you can tell the story. There are many sequences where simple, even crude, drawings are fine. As a matter of fact, they are ususally preferable, because you are trying to get the story up as fast as you can. BUT every once in a while there is a sequence where the whole idea of it is reliant on how well the visuals work, and then it just won't "fly" until you do it with all the bells and whistles....anywya, I hope this is clear. I want to write a bigger, longer post to address this. Stay tuned.

Scott - exactly, it's got pretty stars and pretty locales. But the story makes no sense (like a lot of Hitch's films) which is okay...but it's supposed to be a "whodunit" and if you haven't figured out who the real thief if by halfway into the movie then you haven't been paying attention! It's a great peice of fluff, but not a great thriller in my book. It's no "Rear Window".

Jayenti Collins said...

great post! i really need to start training my brain and eye to see these on my own!

Gabriel said...

Great post, as always. It's not very easy to find this kind of stuff elsewhere on the net.

mark walton said...

"How much of this - composition and emphasis through arrangement of elements and lighting - is a story guy's job and how much is a layout guy's? Where's the line?"

It depends a lot on the production, the director, the strengths of the story artist/layout guy involved. At Disney, the storyboards tend to emphasize the emotional story and the acting of the characters, whereas composition and lighting tend to be worked out much more in workbook. Brad Bird was famously really annoyed by this method during his brief tenure at Disney, so his story reels are far more resolved, clean, and tight, with camera moves, lots of "after effects", flash animation, etc. (more like a souped-up story reel for television) - much more useful for the technicians who will come after, but it also makes for a somewhat cold, sterile story reel (IMHO) without the charm of the simpler, rougher, old-fashioned illustrations I'm accustomed to. Maybe that's notimporatant if you can visualize how much more lively and charming it will be when it gets to animation (and Brad seems to be able to pull this off pretty well).
"...every once in a while there is a sequence where the whole idea of it is reliant on how well the visuals work, and then it just won't "fly" until you do it with all the bells and whistles."
If you've ever seen any of Mark's storyboards, you know that the great thing is that he can do really rough, simple, really funny drawings and staging that emphasizes the characters (and/or humor), but he is equally capable of pulling out all the stops as far as composition, lighting, color, atmosphere, realistic anatomy, well-researched and detailed backgrounds, etc. when the story point depends on them (or when a demanding director insists on it).(You can send me my check via PayPal later, Mark)

MaryAn Batchellor said...

get well soon

Jim M. said...

Interesting - that fourth one of the pair in the car overlooking the city is slightly nauseating since you can't really see their groundplane.

What's the emotional content of that scene?

Lee-Roy said...

Hi Mark, I just discovered your blog and am looking forward to exploring. Funny you mention North by Northwest, as I recently did some "reverse-boards" from the famous crop-duster scene. I agree with your statement regarding Hitch. On closer scrutiny of "NxNW" (sorry Hitch), it has a few glaring plot holes, but he deverts our attention from it somehow and we go happily along the journey anyway. Though I do think things fall apart a bit on Mt. Rushmore.

Lee-Roy said...

Also, regarding the rule you mention to "never have two objects of equal weight and importance on the screen," I wanted to point out a shot in that same crop-duster scene, where Roger Thornhill and the other man are standing opposite the road from one another and the composition is almost completely symmetrical. That is a very striking shot and used with great effect. It just shows how a master filmmaker can use one rule or even its opposite to evoke the feeling or statement they desire. It would be interesting to hear your take on that.

I hope your recovery's going smoothly, by the way.

Marc Deckter said...

You could dedicate an entire blog to Hitchcock and his movies

I agree!