Why 'Dunkirk' Is a Perfect Example of Great Visual Storytelling

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Movies often use expository dialogue to set up the world of a film so the audience is oriented and understands the "rules." Think back to the cafe scene with Leonardo DiCaprio and Ellen Page in Inception when Leo's character explains the world of dreams to Page's character. 

Exposition is also heavily used in sci-fi films to help explain complex ideas. Think about the worm hole explanatory scene in Interstellar.

Or the rabbit hole scene in The Matrix. 

Expository dialogue is sometimes necessary to inform the audience and to move the plot forward. When it is done well, viewers will hardly notice. When it is done poorly, the results can be groan-inducing.

But can information be conveyed to the audience by relying more on visuals than explanatory dialogue? Absolutely. In fact, as you work on your own films, I would encourage you to strip away as much of the dialogue as you can and focus more on visual storytelling. After all, film is a visual medium.

This is why I love Christopher Nolan's latest film Dunkirk. It's the perfect example of how to do visual storytelling right. There is very little dialogue throughout the film, and yet so much is conveyed about character, motivations, and emotions. The film feels very economic. There's no wasted screen time.

Consider the opening scene (*Minor spoilers ahead for the very first sequence in the film)


The opening live-action shot is an empty street in a small town. Everything is still. No one is out, except for a few soldiers who are walking down the middle of the road with full gear. Papers flutter gently down all around them. One soldier takes one and looks at it. He sees this:

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Instantly we the audience understand the situation perfectly. Rather than use up valuable screen time with a group of soldiers sitting around talking about what's going on in the war, lamenting about the fact that they're surrounded and stranded on a beach, Nolan gives us everything we need to know in one insert.

So, take a second look at the script you're working on. Do you have drawn out scenes of people talking? Is the purpose of their conversation to give the audience explanatory information about the plot, the situation, or the world of the film? If so, consider leaner, more economical, visual ways to communicate the same information.

And if you haven't seen it yet, go see Dunkirk.

How to Create 3D Text Onto Live Action Footage

If you're looking for some excellent After Effects tutorials, whether you are a beginner or an advanced user, take a look at Video Copilot. A few years ago I came across this quick tutorial on how to create 3D titles that appear to live inside your frame, along with your footage. This method will give a unique look to your titles and definitely sets them apart from most titles that lay flat across the frame.

 

Have any other After Effects tutorials to share? Leave them in the Comments section. 

Color Correction: How to Evaluate Skin Tones

Courtesy of Premium Beat

Courtesy of Premium Beat

Every post-production professional has struggled with color correcting a particular shot that just never seems to look "right." If you have ever found yourself going back to the same shot again and again, wondering why it never looks balanced, the problem may be in the skin tones.

Regardless of an actor's race, his/her skin tones should always fall on the same area of the vectorscope. It's called the Skin Tone Line and it runs from the center of the vectorsope up diagonally to the left, right in between Red and Yellow, at about 10 o'clock.

Courtesy of Premiere Gal

Courtesy of Premiere Gal

As you make adjustments to your shot, make sure that your actors fall along this line. The shot will then have a more pleasing, balanced look.

However, sometimes it's hard to distinguish where your skin tones are falling, especially when your actor isn't the dominant object in the frame. How can you quickly and easily isolate just the skin tones to evaluate the shot?

Here's a tip I learned from Larry Jordan. Take a crop effect and apply it to the clip. Then, crop in to the portion of the frame that contains a selection of the actor's skin and nothing else. Now you have isolated the skin tone in your shot and can quickly evaluate the color on the vectorscope, making sure that it lands right along the Skin Tone Line.

Have any other color correction tips? Leave your advice in the Comments section.