Dialog is a common element in visual storytelling and while its basics are easy enough, its execution can be a bit tricky for beginners and even experienced animators if you don’t do a little research on the subject. Just as you need video editing skills, you’ll also need to properly set up cameras for dialog.
While we can shoot standard dialog with one camera, it can be a bit boring unless the conversation is well-written, well-animated, and riveting.
In live action they have physical cameras and in animation we have our software-based equivalents with a good amount of control in terms of internal attributes. Using the iClone camera system is very simple as most of us learn right away. Using cameras effectively takes a little more time and maybe we can cut down some of that learning curve for you.
Using cameras in general can fill volumes of books and more videos than there are viewers to watch them. With this in mind, we will stick to the basics of shooting dialog. You’ll learn the basic rule of shooting dialog and I’ll point you to resources of when to bend and break that rule.
Yes… I know some of you have a real dislike of rules and you didn’t get into this to be told that rules exist. The great thing is that you can ignore them and move along on your animation journey if you so desire. As an Indie we all like to chart our own path but keep in mind… we need an audience to play to.
Whether it’s for financial or artistic/creative reasons we need to make sure we don’t lose our connection to the viewers by losing audience focus with bad camera angles. There is already enough to keep up with in the animation game, so many opportunities to drop the ball, that we need to shore up what we can control when we have the opportunity.
THE 180 DEGREE RULE FOR DIALOG
The rule states that the camera should stay on one side of an imaginary line between two characters so that each character always appears to be facing the same direction, regardless of where the camera is positioned.Masterclass.com
In other words, don’t change the direction of view in a two-person dialog for each or any character. The characters always need to face the same direction on the screen without regard to camera positioning. Otherwise, it can get confusing to the viewer if a character or even both, for that matter, are suddenly facing the opposite direction at different times during the course of the dialog.
There is a lot more to it than this, so I recommend you search out and study the rules of dialog if you aren’t already familiar with them. Keep in mind that as the creator or producer you ALWAYS know what is going on, but the audience hasn’t read the script.
In filmmaking, the 180-degree rule is a cinematography principle that establishes spatial relationships between on-screen characters. The rule states that the camera should stay on one side of an imaginary line between two characters so that each character always appears to be facing the same direction, regardless of where the camera is positioned. When you keep your camera on one side of this imaginary line, you preserve the left/right relationship of your characters and help the audience maintain a sense of visual consistency. This means that no matter what type of shot you use, the viewer still knows where everyone in the scene is located.Masterclass.com
We all know that rules are made to be broken but I would tread lightly in doing so with a vital conversation. What may seem like a cool shot to you may be confusing to the audience. Interest could wane if the viewer cannot keep up with the onscreen conversation because they are too busy questioning the jarring change of direction from an inconsistent camera angle.
This rule seems very straightforward and don’t overthink it but it can be a hard concept to grasp or to convey when you first start to implement it. It’s also very easy to misunderstand what the safe area of the rule is and how it affects camera usage. Diagrams representing this rule tend to be simplified because it is a simple concept.
THE OVER-THE-SHOULDER SHOT
If, like the image below, you see a camera on each side that doesn’t mean this is the way an “over the shoulder” shot must be made. It’s just the extreme edges of the safe camera area. Cameras can go anywhere in the green area and maintain the continuity of the conversation. This is a very simplified example.
In the image above you can see the female and male dialog actors and the blue line that bisects them marking the Safe Camera Area on one side and the No Camera Area on the other side. This image is an extreme example of an “over-the-shoulder” shot.
While you can see some of the available camera positions don’t interpret this as being the only camera positions you should use. Focus more on being on the proper side of the bisecting line when setting up the individual camera shots. Once you get a pairing you like then it’s advisable to stick with it. Don’t get fancy for the sake of fancy. Let the cameras tell the story with consistency so the viewer doesn’t miss any important plot points.
Below is an excerpt of my initial research (including ChatGPT and Bing Chat) and it checks out as a solid list of reasons why you should pay attention to this rule.
– The 180-degree rule is a fundamental guideline in filmmaking that helps maintain spatial continuity and visual coherence in a scene. Here’s a summary of why it’s important:
– Maintains spatial consistency: The 180-degree rule ensures that the spatial relationships between characters and objects in a scene remain consistent. This is crucial for the audience’s understanding of the scene’s geography and the characters’ positions within it.
– Preserves screen direction: By adhering to the 180-degree rule, filmmakers maintain the same screen direction for characters and objects throughout a scene. This consistency helps viewers follow the action and maintain a sense of visual orientation.
– Enhances continuity: Maintaining the 180-degree rule contributes to visual continuity, making it easier for viewers to connect individual shots and understand the flow of the narrative. This consistency is vital in avoiding confusion and distractions.
– Creates a natural look: When you break the 180-degree rule, it can result in jarring or disorienting shifts in perspective. Sticking to the rule helps maintain a more natural and fluid visual experience for the audience.
– Facilitates editing: Following the 180-degree rule simplifies the editing process by providing a range of shots that cut together smoothly. This allows for seamless transitions between different camera angles and perspectives.
JUMPING THE LINE
This refers to throwing all this out the window and crossing the bisecting line of the scene. It’s not always bad either.
In indie filmmaking, there will always be those who jump the line, break the rule, and come out on top. I’m not an expert here by any means so I will give you some more references to check out so you can make up your own mind.
While we all have our own ideas as to how a shot should be framed or presented, we do need to keep in mind what the industry has trained the audience to expect. It might be wise to not step outside of the norm unless there is a compelling reason to do so from a storyline viewpoint.
After all, the story is the most important part of all this, and we don’t need to be distracting the audience without good reason to do so. Rules are there for consistency and are not intended to stifle creativity but to aid in getting that creative story across to the audience.
Sight Unsound – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yTaPI3nsH88 Crossing the Line. How and Why it’s Done.
StudioBinder – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iW0bKUfvH2c The 180 Degree Rule in Film (and How to Break the Line)
Camber Film School https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e-QbgIpK3zM Breaking the 180 Degree Rule for BETTER Storytelling – Crossing the 180° Line Examples in Movies
Jesse Trible – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jmCpFbZ20Fg – The 180° Rule (And How to Break It)
Garrett Sammons – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7H1EtLBhB9k&t=226s – DON’T CROSS THELINE!!! | 180 Degree Rule Explained
Indie Film Hustle – https://indiefilmhustle.com/180-degree-rule/ – What The Heck Is The 180 Degree Rule? – Definition And Examples
Adobe – https://www.adobe.com/creativecloud/video/discover/what-is-the-180-degree-rule.html – Channel the 180-degree rule for compelling cinematography.
MD McCallum – WarLord
Digital Artist MD “Mike” McCallum, aka WarLord, is a longtime iClone user. Having authored free tutorials for iClone in its early years and selected to write the iClone Beginners Guide from Packt Publishing in 2011, he was fortunate enough to meet and exchange tricks and tips with users from all over the world and loves to share this information with other users. He has authored hundreds of articles on iClone and digital art in general while reviewing some of the most popular software and hardware in the world. He has been published in many of the leading 3D online and print magazines while staying true to his biggest passion, 3D animation. For more information click here.