Written by Alcator.
This article will be followed by an article that explains how to make movies in TMN/U. Before we get to that, however, I’d like to take this opportunity to explain some basic rules of real-life film making, as many of them apply to game movies as well. This guide is accompanied by a set of demonstrational tracks for TM:United – go grab them here as a zip file, unpack them and try them to see both good and bad examples.
In real-life movie making, that is in the movie making that is done using real cameras, with man-operated focus, lense, zoom etc., there are many rules that don’t need to be mentioned here, such as rules about focusing – the game will ensure this on its own.
In movie, the viewer sees “a shot” – a two-dimensional changing image of (supposedly) three-dimensional things that move and change with time. Based on our experience, we decode the two-dimensional image that we see using our brain in order to understand the “original” three-dimensional stuff. Quite often, the movie making needs to utilize this “experience-driven decoding” in order to fool us – a good example being false perspective, where objects placed at different distances from the camera create an illusion of being at the same distance, but of different sizes (Hobbits in The Lord of the Rings were sometimes made using this trick).
When two shots do not smoothly connect, we call that a cut. Cuts must be done with care, because they are points where the so far obvious continuity of events is interrupted and right after a cut, the viewer must be allowed to quickly find out what place and what time is shown to him now. Because of this, the first rule I’d like to tell you about is this:
The rule of zoom
Before I explain this, I’ll repeat that this rule refers to CUTs, not SHOTs. The rule of zoom should be kept in mind whenever the second shot that comes after a cut shows the same scene, but is more zoomed into it – i.e., we are cutting from wide shot into a close shot; or when it is zoomed out from it, i.e. we are cutting from close shot to a wide shot.
The rule says: Cut from wide shot into medium shot and from medium shot to close shot. If you zoom-in too much during a single cut, the viewer easily loses track of where the location he sees now is. In the opposite direction, the rule applies as well: Go from close shot to medium shot and from medium shot to far shot. If you cut from close shot to far shot, the viewer may easily lose track of the objects that he’s supposed to watch.
This following picture shows it very clearly: The Far view shows the whole hill, all the trees, the building, and the small figure next to it. The medium zoom view shows some trees – these help in understanding that we are watching the top of the hill. And only after the second cut can we show the figure next to the structure in great detail. Since in the Far shot, the details on the structure (bricks, windows etc.) or on the figure (clothes, stature etc.) are not recognizable, if you zoom from Far to Close shot in one cut, the viewer doesn’t know for sure that it’s the same structure/figure – it might be something entirely different.
You should remember to vary between close and medium shots even if you don’t use far shots at all – if you have two close shots next to each other, showing different places, the viewer easily gets confused. The solution is simple: Before cutting to the second close shot, cut to a medium distance shot that shows both locations. In the following picture, the red angles show positions of two close shots cameras, and the magenta angle shows a medium-distance camera. If you cut from Cl.1 to Med. and after that to Cl.2, the viewer has a good idea of the situation. If Med. was instead placed similarly to the close cams (between them), the cars would seemingly “skip” from one edge of the screen to the other during the cuts.
You may remember some action movies (racing ones) that take place in cities – quite often, the cuts are so wild that you easily lose track of which street the camera is showing – that’s exactly what happens if you don’t use inter-cuts (from Close to Medium and after that to some different Close shot).
Watch “Zoom” demonstrational track to see the difference.
Second thing to remember when cutting is that the viewer has no knowledge of how the camera was moved between the shots, or how much time has passed between the shots. This means you should never confuse the viewer by negating directional vectors. The second rule that handles this is called “The rule of axis”.
The rule of axis
“An axis” is “an important direction” – an axis of an airplane indicates where it is headed, the Y axis indicates at what direction the Y-value grows, etc.
The rule of axis says: Never position the camera on the opposite side of the main axis (of the objects or events that you are showing) during cut. The following picture helps to understand why:
Cam A is the first camera to show the car that moves along the black-bordered road; the direction of the car is indicated by the red arrow. The cam, initially seeing what’s inside the dark-blue angle, slowly turns clockwise (as indicated by purple arrow), until it comes to the light-blue angle. The viewer of this shot sees the car going from LEFT to RIGHT.
Now if there is a cut and the next shot is from Cam B, the car suddenly goes from RIGHT to LEFT – so all the senses of the viewer tell him that the car has turned at an instant and is now returning back!
An exaggerated version of this “bad thing to do” is shown in the demonstrational track “AxisBad” that comes with this guide – watch the replay and see how confusing this can be. There’s also an example track “AxisGood” that shows what the replay looks like if you stay on one side of the track.
If trackmania had some “passage of time”, this rule would also apply to time: It’s generally a bad idea to cut from sunset to sunrise, because during sunset, the light levels sequentially decrease, while during sunrise, they increase, and a cut from dusk to dawn creates a feel of time running backwards suddenly.
The rule of wipe
This is the third rule that is especially strictly observed in real-life movie making; in games like TrackMania, “wiping” is perhaps the most tolerable sin you may commit, but it’s still advisable to avoid it.
“Wiping” is moving (rotating) the camera in opposing directions – i.e. first from left to right and immediately after that from right to left. Real-life cameramen are drilled to never wipe; if there actually is a need to return back in the opposite direction (such as when you are shooting two people that converse – an interview is a typical case of this), the camera has to stay at the “target” position of the first movement (rotation) for a while, and only after this pause can it start returning back.
Tip: Should you ever get into a situation when you are asked to shoot an interview, ask the participants to answer in whole sentences that take at least 2 seconds to say, because otherwise you’ll be wiping from left to right and right to left as you desperately try to show the person that is asking-answering-asking-answering…
Wiping applies to shots as well as to cuts – You should be careful to arrange your cuts so that if you are cutting from a moving/panning camera shot to another, the two should have similar direction of moving or panning. Complying with the rule of axis helps a lot in this – because if you “stick” on one side of the road, the cars will always go from one side to the other, and if the camera stays targetted on the cars, it will always pan in the same direction. Sadly, sometimes this is not an option.
There’s a demonstrational track for wiping that shows bad wipes and also one “somewhat good” way of dealing with it.
Next week: More on how to make movies in TM!