Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Cinematography Basics: Panning and Tilting and Tracking, Oh My

I've been playing around in Unity to get a feel for how this game engine works, so soon I can get started on building a very simple environment and moving a camera around in it. Later this week I will post about my Unity progress, but I figured it couldn't hurt to do some primers on cinematography! My project is all about virtual camerawork, but I've done a lot of live-action filmmaking, and the same rules and terminology apply. Plus, I love drawing little diagrams, and everybody loves blog posts with pictures.

First up, basic camera moves. Let's break it down into three basic actions: Pans, tilts, and tracks. In general, most complex camera moves are just combinations of these elements.

(Note: In some cases, I've heard certain terms be used differently by different directors, in different filmmaking books, on different websites, and so on. At the very least, these primers will make clear what I mean when I use these phrases, so you'll know what I'm talking about in later blog posts)

A camera pans when it rotates horizontally, either from left to right or from right to left.

The camera rotates vertically, either from up to down or from down to up.

In a tracking shot, the entire camera moves, rather than the direction it's pointing in. I've actually heard of this being divided up into "pedestal shots" (where the camera raises or lowers, as if it's on a tripod), "dolly shots" (where the camera moves forward or backward, as if on dolly tracks), and "trucking shots" (where the camera moves left or right). But for simplicity's sake, I'm going to lump them all into "tracking shots," where the camera physically moves. You can also think of this as a "crane shot," as if this the camera is on a crane which can move it in any direction.

These elements are great enough on their own, but boil 'em together and you get 6 delicious degrees of freedom, allowing your camera to position and orient itself however it wants.

Next time on Cinematography Basics: Zooms, focus, framing, and composition!

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