Contrast and Affinity: Space

Posted on  by sleduc

Space Engine“Space Engine” by K-putt is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

The following information was adapted from Bruce Block’s The Visual Story: Creating the Visual Structure of Film, TV and Digital Media chapter 3 starting on p. 13.


  1. Create a blog post titled, Contrast and Affinity: Space
    • Create the following headings
      • Summary
      • Terms and Concepts
      • Films to Watch
      • Controlling Space Production
      • What I Learned
  2. Define terms and concepts
  3. Watch scenes from selected films that showcase the visual structure
  4. Create a short film that emphasizes the visual structure and embed in your blog post
  5. Write what you learned
    • Include feedback about the film
  6. Invite someone edit your blog post
  7. Turn in a blog post feedback form

Terms and Concepts

Part One: The Primary Subcomponents

1. Deep Space

  • The Depth Cues
    • Perspective
      • One-Point Perspective
      • Two-Point Perspective
      • Three-Point Perspective
    • Size Difference
    • Movement
      • Object Movement
      • Camera Movement
    • Textural Diffusion
    • Aerial Diffusion
    • Shape Change
    • Tonal Separation
    • Color Separation
    • Up/ Down Position
    • Overlap
    • Focus
    • 3D Pictures

2. Flat Space

  • The Flat Cues
    • Frontal Planes
    • Size Constancy
    • Movement
      • Object Movement
      • Camera Movement
    • Textural Diffusion
    • Aerial Diffusion
    • Shape Change
    • Tonal Separation
    • Color Separation
    • Up/ Down Position
    • Overlap
    • Focus
    • Reversing the Depth Cues
      • Certain depth cues can be reversed and used to create flat space.
        • Tonal Separation
        • Color Separation
        • Textural Diffusion
        • Size Difference

3. Limited Space

  • Limited space is a specific combination of deep and flat space cues.

4. Ambiguous Space

  • Lack of movement
  • Objects of unknown size or shape
  • Tonal and texture patterns (camouflage)
  • Mirrors and reflections
  • Disorienting camera angles

Comparing the Four Space Types (Examples)

  • Deep Space
  • Flat Space
  • Limited Space
  • Ambiguous Space

Part Two: The Frame

1. Aspect Ratio

  • The Film Frame Aspect Ratio
  • The Digital Frame Aspect Ratio
  • The Screen Aspect Ratio

2. Surface Divisions

  • Dividing the Frame
    • Halves
    • Thirds
    • Grids
    • Square on a Rectangle
    • The Golden Section
  • The Surface Divider
    • The Purpose of Surface Divisions
      1. Emphasize similarities and differences between objects
      2. Help direct the eye
      3. Alter pictures fixed aspect ratio
      4. Can comment on story situation

3. Closed and Open Space

  • Closed Space
  • Open Space
  • Large Screens
  • Strong Visual Movement
  • Elimination of Stationary Lines

4. Contrast and Affinity

  • Remember principle of contrast and affinity can occur from start to finish or from sequence to sequence

Films to Watch

  • Deep Space
    • Touch of Evil (1958)
      • Directed by Orson Welles
      • Written by Orson Welles
      • Photographed by Russell Metty
      • Art Direction by Robert Clatworthy
      • Opening shot (3:36)
  • Flat Space and Surface Division
    • Klute (1971)
      • Directed by Alan Pakula
      • Written by Andy and Dave Lewis
      • Photographed by Gordon Willis
      • Art Direction by George Jenkins
    • Manhattan (1979)
      • Directed by Woody Allen
      • Written by Allen and Marshall Brickman
      • Photographed by Gordon Willis
      • Production Design by Mel Bourne
    • Witness (1985)
      • Directed by Peter Weir
      • Written by Earle Wallace and William Kelley
      • Photographed by John Seale
      • Production Design by Stan Jolley
    • American Beauty (1999)
      • Directed by Sam Mendes
      • Written by Alan Ball
      • Photographed by Conrad Hall
      • Production Design by Naomi Shohan
  • Limited Space
    • Fanny and Alexander (1982)
      • Directed by Ingmar Bergman
      • Written by Ingmar Bergman
      • Photographed by Sven Nykvist
      • Production Design by Anna Asp
  • Ambiguous Space and Surface Divisions
    • Don’t Look Now (1973)
      • Directed by Nicolas Roeg
      • Written by Allan Scott and Chris Bryant
      • Photographed by Anthony Richmond
      • Art Direction by Giovanni Soccol

Controlling Space During Production

Here is a practical situation. Tomorrow you’re going to direct a scene and you’ve decided to use deep space. How can you create deep space?

  1. Emphasize longitudinal planes. Any wall, floor, or ceiling can create a longitudinal plane. Keep frontal planes out of the shot because they’re flat. Including longitudinal planes is the most important way to create deep space.
  2. Stage objects perpendicular to the picture plane (toward or away from the camera). This is commonly called staging in depth. Arrange the objects emphasizing size change. Objects in the FG should be larger and objects in the BG should be much smaller. Keep movement perpendicular to the picture plane to emphasize size change, textural diffusion change, and movement in depth.
  3. Move the camera. Get a dolly, a crane, or hand-hold the camera but keep it moving as much as possible. Be sure to motivate the camera moves by linking them to object movement or dramatic purpose. Dollying in and out, tracking left and right, and craning up and down create relative movement.
  4. Take advantage of tonal separation. Light scenes with more tonal contrast. Make objects in the FG brighter than objects in the BG.
  5. Use a wide angle lens. A wide angle lens has a wider field of view and a greater ability to include more depth cues in the picture. Wide angle lenses also have a greater depth of field than other lenses. Depth of field refers to the area in front of the lens that is in acceptably sharp focus. Objects must be in focus if they’re going to be used as depth cues.

Perhaps you’ve changed your mind and tomorrow you’ll use flat space. Take advantage of the flat space cues:

  1. Eliminate perspective. Remove all longitudinal planes and emphasize frontal planes.
  2. Stage objects parallel to the picture plane. Keep the objects in the picture on a single, frontal plane so that they remain the same size. Keep movement parallel to the picture plane (this is sometimes called flat staging). If objects move perpendicular to the picture plane, use telephoto lenses to minimize the depth cues.
  3. Remove relative movement. Don’t use a dolly or crane for camera movement unless the dolly moves parallel to frontal planes. A tripod and a zoom lens may be all you need because the camera should tilt and pan only to maintain flat space. Zooming will keep the space flat but if you hate the zoom lens, don’t use one.
  4. Reduce tonal/ color separation. It will be important to reduce tonal contrast and condense the gray scale. The production designer should reduce the tonal range of the set to one third of the gray scale. Color should be limited toall warm or all cool colors. Reversing the depth cue of color and tonal separation can further enhance the flat space.
  5. Use telephoto lenses. A longer, telephoto lens excludes depth cues because of the lens’s narrow field of view. The longer lens will require objects to be staged farther away from the camera, eliminating the depth cues of size difference and textural diffusion. When objects are the same size, the picture looks flatter. Don’t be fooled into thinking that a telephoto lens optically flattens the image— it can’t. Using the flat space cues, not just a lens, creates flat space. See the appendix for a complete explanation of lenses and space.
  6. Let objects blur. A shallow depth of field will allow the backgrounds to go out of focus. Blurred objects eliminate depth and emphasize flat space.

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Posted in Le DucTagged AffinityBlockCinematographyContrastFilmIBSpaceStoryVisual