Close Reading 01: Visual Composition

Desmond Du
5 min readNov 25, 2023

Abstract

This study conducts a comparative analysis of All the Light We Cannot See Main Title (2023) and Order in Chaos with Arm (2019) to explore how tailored visual composition in motion graphics is crucial in for effective message conveyance and audience engagement.

Keywords: motion graphics, visual storytelling, visual grammars, communication

Introduction

In the realm of motion graphics, understanding the type and purpose of the video is crucial as it shapes the design approach. Whether crafting a captivating title sequence or an informative explainer video, different goals necessitate distinct visual grammars. Marcos Mateu-Mestre, a renowned visual artist and author with a focus on design and cinematic aspects of visual storytelling, asserts that coherent storytelling is dependent on the the careful selection, arrangement, and modulation of visual elements and their nuances, all tailored to the narrative’s scope:

The first thing a reader sees of a book is its cover, which sums up at a glance what the book is about; the broadest, most general statement. Then, the table of contents quickly tells the reader the subject matter the author will discuss in the book. And finally the explanations, the details. the nuances, and the subtleties will give the reader a complete understanding of what the message of the writer is.

It is important to know as artists what we want and need to say, and how to prioritize and order the elements we will use. because they are what will help us get our message across. These factors inform our approach to drawing in general and for storytelling purposes.

So, first we need to be clear about the general level of intensity the image should convey given its purpose within the story as a whole. What type and level of emotion are driving the moment? Extreme happiness? Subdued sadness? Is it about explosive action?

Next there is the narrative detail, explaining what the specific action is about, the reason, and the anecdote within the mood. Do we feel sad because we are missing somebody? Or because we lost a winning lottery ticket? Finally, the artistic execution and style glue everything together while supporting the Story.

By following these steps we aim to deliver clear messages with our artwork, frame by frame. and in continuity with the story as a whole. (Mateu-Mestre 2010).

Similar to an author carefully craft a book’s cover, table of contents, and detailed content to convey a message, motion designer must prioritize and order their element to achieve clarity and impact. Understanding the desired emotional intensity, narrative detail, and artistic execution is essential for delivering compelling messages, frame by frame, and ensuring alignment with the overarching narrative.

Title Sequence

A title sequence aims to captivate and pique viewer’s curiosity, urging them to delve into the show. It sets a tone, creating intrigue, and often establishing a narrative thread. The visual grammar here might lean towards more dramatic compositions, dynamic forms, and perhaps a darker or more enigmatic color palette to arouse mystery and anticipation.

This can be observed in All the Light We Cannot See Title Sequence (1:22, Elastic, Nov 2023). This title sequence of 27 shots is marked by gradual camera movement, focal points created from lighting casting into interiors or objects, negative spaces crafted from shadow, and small font sizes for the titles (Figure 1.1).

Utilizing Adobe After Effects to analyze the title sequence in black and white with an overlay of dynamic symmetry grid, the videos showcase various dynamic compositions. In Figure 1.2 , red lines delineate the primary form of the composition, green underscores secondary elements such as lighting that steer the gaze towards the focal point; blue demarcates horizon line; and yellow boxes encase and pinpoint the placement of the credits. Several compositions utilized the key light to create a triangular shape, isolating the compositions, whereas others adopts a more neutral stance with a head-on shot of the subject with a rectangular framing by the shadows (Figure 1.3).

Figure 1.1 All the shots in “All the Light We Cannot See Main Title” with grid overlays, 2023, Elastic
Figure 1.2 Selected frames from “All the Light We Cannot See Main Title” with grid overlays, diagonal compositions.
Figure 1.3 Selected frames from “All the Light We Cannot See Main Title” with grid overlays, neutralcompositions.

Explainer Video

On the other hand, explainer videos can employ animated infographics to educate the inform the viewers about a particular product, service, or concept. The objective is to deliver clarity and understanding in an engaging manner, persuading the audience being-factual claims made by the video. The visual grammar would lean towards clear, straightforward compositions, simpler forms, and easily readable text-on-screen, and or even a brighter color palette to foster an environment conducive to learning and persuasion.

In Order in Chaos with Arm (1:25, Andrew Vucko, September 2019 ), the visual grammar employed involved how compositions are mostly centered or symmetrical making it easier for video to follow video. It has a total of 8 scenes with each duration to the voiceover (Figure 2); this makes it easier to understand the video rather than having 27 shots in the previous piece examined. Notably, there is a limited color palette of blue, red, yellow, black, and gray, allowing viewers to differentiate between visual elements.

Figure 2 Selected frames from “Order in Chaos with Arm” with grid overlays, Vucko, September 2019

Conclusion

Mastering visual storytelling is more than a display of technical skill or visual flair in design and animation. It requires a deep understanding of the project’s requirements and its contextual backdrop. Such mastery is not about the aesthetic aspects; it fundamentally involves enhancing enhancing the storytelling or communication purpose through the effective use of visual language. By thoughtfully articulating and refining these design choices, we sharpen our ability to convey messages with greater precision and impact.

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