Saturday, February 14, 2009

(Just a Little Bit) More Flat and Deep

Okay, I apologize for the delay in posting, and also for continuing to harp on this same thin topic....I wrote all of these related posts in one flurry of inspiration one day and this is the last one on this subject; just a bunch of random leftover thoughts on the subject at hand. Some more variations and examples of what we've been talking about: dark palettes, light palettes, flat space and deep space and how it influences humor and drama.

"The Royal Tanenbaums" and "Rushmore" are interesting examples because they both have deep, warm, rich palettes that tend to be darker, and yet the staging in both films is very flat and symmetrical. So the palette tends to lean towards a more serious tone but the staging is more indicative of a comedy. This is actually exactly how the tone of both films come across: they are comedies but not laugh-out-loud comedies, the humor tends to be very wry and both films have a dark twist to them. So both the writing and visual style complement each other to create a tone that is distinct to Wes Anderson's films, and the tone and flatness complement each other to create a mood that is not 100% comedic but is not 100% heavily dramatic either.

In both of these films a lot of the actors tend to face either flat-on to camera or in profile for their scenes. This enhances the flat feel of each frame, as does the way that the background elements tend to be flat-on to camera plane. Also the actors in his films always seem to have very restrained, subdued performances which enhances the feeling of flatness.

I like the new book about Al Jaffee's "Tall Tales". It's full of great strips. I like how, even when the background has some depth to it, the characters are unaffected by the perspective. The characters are always flat-on to the viewer. So even when he needs to indicate depth and perspective to convey an idea, the flatness of the characters clue you in that it's supposed to be funny.

A great page by Franquin from a Spirou book - a good example of how a fight can be treated in a comedic way. The bright colors and funny poses make sure you know it's not a serious fight where anyone could get hurt. Also the staging is really flat - he even used the bottom of the frame as the floor so there's no depth on the ground plane.

For contrast, a fight with depth and dark tones, and no bright colors. A fight that feels serious, where you feel like someone could get hurt or die, as opposed to the fight above, which felt much more comic, and like nobody could really get hurt.

Obviously in the example above, the realistic treatment of figures and space add to the feeling of drama and threat, but even if you're dealing with characters that are cartoony, just adding depth to the backgrounds and darkening the tones and colors will convey a more dramatic and emotionally heightened mood.

Again, I am sorry for belaboring this topic for so long...I know it has probably overstayed it's welcome and grown tedious! I will do my best to come up with something more interesting in the very near future!


David Gale said...

All the examples of flat, comedic composition are fairly contemporary. Are there any older examples of this kind of thing?

Ed said...

what is that gangster page from?

Gabe said...

The gangster page is from Torpedo by Jordi Bernet.

Moai said...

I found this series of posts very interesting. Thank you.

Pat said...

@David, look at the three stooges, everything is flat and staged for maximum flat silhouette value.

Perhaps this whole flat = comedy is a leftover from Vaudeville...?

What is that Franquin page from? I've seen that kid in red in lots of places?

de aap said...

There is no need for excuses, as far as I'm concerned. I have found your recent posts on the subject of flatness vs. depth extremly informative. It really opened my eyes, when I am watching a film now I keep noticing great examples of these theories.

Thank you, can't wait to read whatever subject you are gonna tell us about next!

sunny kharbanda said...

Again, you've posted some very, very interesting examples!

Wes Anderson's movies are perfect for this kind of analysis. Without the flat staging to put some emotional distance between us and the characters, his subtle, dark humor could get lost in the troubled realities of his characters.

The French comic's use of the frame edges was also a lot of fun!

Billy George said...

Love your blog! Very inspiring.

mark kennedy said...

David- I would say that I think Harold Lloyd and Chaplin probably did this too but I can't say for sure. When I think of early comics - like "Little Nemo" - they always seem to have a lot of depth, but when comics started to be funnier, maybe they got flatter? I can't say for sure.

Ed - yes, as Gabe said it's by Bernet from his "Torpedo" series. I should have credited the images: the Spirou page (the funny fight) is by Franquin, the car and barn oare by Bill Peet from his Autobiography and the drawing of the cat and girl is by Vance Gerry from "The Rescuers" (scanned from "The Illusion of Life").

Gabe - good catch, thanks!!!

Moal - great, thanks for letting me know.

Pat - right, another good point - you're probably right about the source of that method. The fight is from a book by Andre Franquin, who created "Spirou" as a Tintin knockoff, as I understand. You can order them from different comic stores or french/comic book websites or from if you speak french. However the easiest way is to use (the canadian amazon) which has some, and the site is all in English.

de app = great, I'm very glad! More on the way!

sunny - glad you liked that stuff!

Billy - thanks!

Jeff Z said...

Mark, absolutely no need to apologize - this subject has been absolutely fascinating to me, I'd never noticed this before, and I've already started applying it to my work. I hope it means improvement!

Thanks very much for all your great and highly educational posts.

Ignacio Ochoa said...

The main actions (the gags) on the classics cartoons are flat too. Maybe some backgrounds are deep, but the characters actions are flat (and on silhouette). On "Batman animated series" the depth is on the action.
The Wallace and Groomitt film is flat and deep.
Only some animation examples.
Thanks to sharing Mark.

Robert said...

I think this "flat is funny" thing is wonderful insight.

Anthony said...

You have a brilliant blog here. Thanks for the wonderful insight.

Maybe somebody's already mentioned this, but I think the effect of flat=funny; deep=dramatic may be partly due to the fact that funny staging needs to be easy to read quickly. The joke is lost if your eye has to wander around the frame, whereas if the staging and relationships can be sussed out in a nanosecond (flat) it helps the joke rather than working against it. This is kind of like Scott McCloud's theory about simplifying the features of a character's face makes it more appealing (and funny), while a realistically rendered face is obviously better suited to drama. Just an idea...

peter wassink said...

to correct a detail:
Franquin was not actually the creator of Spirou.
Robert Velter ( started the character but he quickly turned his creation over to Jijé (
Franquin took the series over from him and to great heights... its one of my all-time favourite comics. Very nice to see it here.

Cheryl said...

Just found your blog and am glad I did. Watching those Wes Anderson movies, i got so caught up in the story that I didn't really think about the staging and how it contributed to the mood. Thanks for sharing,

Kayvon Darabi-Fard said...

A brilliant analysis and post on the subject, no matter how 3 dimensional a shot, film or animation may be in its style/intention. The organisation and staging can be the latter in what makes it great, as you've shown!

Probably why it is so easy to get caught up in the flat yet beautifully staged drawings of the illustrated works of such geniuses as Errol Le Cain and Kay Nielsen.

Organised, and staged beautifully.

Thanks for the post, Extremely helpful!!!

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