Cinematography describes the process of making decisions about factors that communicate a meaning in your 3d animation/ film. The camera angle, action and direction, lens type, camera motion, and lighting all affect the meaning of your work. The use of color is also a key factor.

The prowess of a 3D cinematographer includes understanding how the arranging of objects and movements in the frame will communicate and build a meaning. Traditional ideas of cinematography that come out of film are applicable to 3D animation, though animation and ways of using new technologies like virtual reality or projection mapping, question the notion of narrative and storytelling in the traditional sense of the word and can and will expand the notion of cinematography. Real-time graphics and nonlinear storytelling also present new challenges to filmmaking with game engines and participation of the viewer in the determination of the way the story may progress.

Shot Types

  • Extreme long shot: Captures a complete scene and can be used to establish a location in exterior shots. Used in westerns and war and can reduce objects to small dots in the frame.
  • Long shot: May accommodate the entire figure or form. This render or camera angle may capture background and movement as well as gestures and body expressions.
  • Medium shot: May contain a figure or character from the midsection or knees up. This shot is used in Hollywood for scenes with dialogue.
  • Close-up: Includes very little if any background, concentrating on an object or, if an extreme close-up, a fragment of an object, such as the human face. Close-ups often accord great significance and symbolic value to the objects they portray.
  • Deep focus shot: A variation of a long shot keeping objects in the foreground, middle ground, and background in focus all at once. This kind of rendering preserves spatial unity and lets the viewer scan the image for meaning through using depth of field can also allow meaning to occur over time.
  • Shot-reverse shot and over-the-shoulder: Two types of shots used during 3d dialogue scenes to give a sense characters conversing with each other or to create a relation between objects in time.
  • Point-of-view shot: A shot that makes you believe you are looking from a character’s point of view. These kinds of camera manipulations can contribute to the process of creating audience identification with one or more characters in your 3d film.
  • Opening shot

Camera Types

  • Target Camera: A target camera will always follow an object and once the target is designated will always be focused on the target.
  • Motion Camera for moving a camera through space of the frame and to allow the camera to focus on different objects in the frame while creating the illusion that a human or figure is holding the camera.
  • Camera Crane is one of the cooler new features of c4d where you can use a crane to move the camera back and forth as well as change its pitch, heading and banking.
  • CINEMA 4D gives you several methods to animate cameras along splines and you can create an effect where the camera appears to be from the point of view of a flying bird or plane banking in space by using rail splines to control the tilt of the camera as it moves through space.
  • VR cameras are panoramic cameras that also cover the top and bottom in their field of view. There have also been camera rigs employing multiple cameras to cover the whole 360° by 360° field of view.

Camera Movement

3D cameras can remain in one place, be rotated or zoomed. 3d Cameras can do many things that normal cameras would find great difficulty in achieving.

  • Pan: Side-to-side rotation of the camera follows the movement of 3d objects or figures and keeps them within the frame.
  • Tilt: Top-down rotation of the camera, often used to view an object that extends above or below the frame.
  • Tracking: Movement of the camera in any direction, often used to follow the movement of figures and retain their positions and proportions within the frame. Cinema 4D has tracking tags that can be used effectively to allow the camera to track the object or subject.
  • Crane: Movement of the virtual camera above ground level involves a vertical rise or drops and can be used to reveal elements at different heights in time. Think of how you can reveal aspects of the story by revealing aspects of a character or scene in time through crane movement and control.Variations of this shot can position the camera on a custom spline moving above the scene.


  • Shaking: Use of handheld cameras can express a psychological state or generate a documentary-like aesthetic, as opposed to the usual placement of a camera on a tripod to prevent shaking. In c4d you can create the illusion of a shaking/walking human holding the camera as the “first person” figure moves through the scene.This can allow the illusion of being in the point of view of a bird or plane for example.
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  • Zooming: Adjustment of the camera’s focal length. An animator who wants to emphasize a portion of the image can zoom in, which increases that portion’s relative size within the frame and signals to the viewer that whatever it contains is of significance. An animator wants to expose the environment to a figure or action can zoom out, revealing the larger context.
  • Rack focus: Adjustment of focus within a shot in order to change the portion of the image that is in sharp focus. Rack focus guides the spectator’s attention from one area of the screen to another or from one object to another. It is possible because, in most shots (that do not use deep focus), only certain portions of the image are in sharp focus.

Camera Lenses

The 3D camera is highly fluid in rendering and staging and allowing effects to occur in the frame of the animation and through compositing.

  • With Normal camera lenses, you will get a minimum of distortion, approximating the way that objects are perceived by the human eye through the 3D camera and lens effects really open the expressive possibilities for the 3D artist.
  • A telephoto lens may be used to capture broad scenes or when the artist wishes to be far from the action. A telephoto lens has the affect of collapsing distances between foreground and background which can dampen the effect of movement within the frame. It also keeps background elements out of focus, which allows a single element to be emphasized and isolated.
  • The wide-angle lens captures a wider field of vision than a normal lens. Deep-focus shots use wide-angle lenses, exaggerating movement and shapes (especially in close-up). Lines and shapes are distorted at the edges of the frame.
  • Alfred Hitchcock’s 7 minute masterclass

Camera Angles

The direction in which the camera is pointed in relation to the action being recorded is called the camera angle.

  • Top View/Bird’s-eye view: Camera is positioned high above the action, looking down on the scene and figures may seem powerless or vulnerable.
  • Top View/High: Camera is positioned above eye level, reducing the size of figures and suggesting stasis and weakness.
  • Eye level: When the camera is positioned at eye level this neutral vantage point may not impose meaning on the action.
  • Low: Camera is positioned below eye level which may increase the size of characters and render them powerful, threatening or heroic.
  • Canted cameras are tilted cameras, creating a diagonal composition that suggests tension or strangeness.


The intensity, position, and direction of lights in relation to the action have a significant effect on the look and mood of a shot as does color.

  • Lighting intensity: Intense lighting, or hard lighting, creates stark shadows and lines of contrast; soft lighting creates a diffuse illumination. When lighting in 3D keep in mind that more lighting and clear materials add significantly to render times.
  • 3D Natural vs. 3D artificial lighting: In the film, realize directors avoid the use of artificial light and choose instead to rely on natural light that approximates reality and in C4D you can create the illusion of natural or artificial light.
  • 3 point lighting system: The principal light illuminating the scene is called the key light. A fill light is often used to cover the shadows created by the key light though in 3d lighting you can selectively exclude elements that you do not want to have in the scene. Typically, a three-point lighting setup is used in order to light a scene evenly.
  • Lighting effects: A high-key lighting scheme minimizes the contrast between darker and brighter parts of the image. A low-key lighting scheme creates a chiaroscuro effect, with dark shadows and stark contrasts.
    Frontal lighting eliminates shadows though shadows can be selectively added to a 3D scene.

    • Noise channels and fog effects can be added with volumetric lighting.
    • Side lighting accentuates features of the texture and form of the 3d object
    • Backlighting can create silhouettes and shadows.
    • Top lighting can create a kind “halo” effect.
    • Under lighting makes a figure look sinister or dramatic
    •  you can selectively animate and add color to lights in time to shift the mood of work lighting direction creates an array of effects by manipulating the size and directions of shadowsColor:


Mise-en-scène is the arrangement of objects and movements within the frame—the rectangular border of the film image. When applied to the cinema, mise-en-scène refers to everything that appears before the camera and its arrangement—composition, sets, props, actors, costumes, and lighting. Although analysis of mise-en-scène involves close inspection of the film image, keep in mind that film images are always open to a variety of different interpretations. The meanings and effects of film images are a function of the broader contexts within which they operate: those of narrative, representation, genre, history, and culture.

Blocking refers to the arrangement and movement of actors on the film set.

  • Animators can use the tradition of filmmakers and use blocking to explore the psychological/ social relationships between characters in their animations.
  • A shot of two characters in which each share an equal proportion of the frame, at equal heights and depths suggests a balanced relationship, in which neither of the characters has power or advantage over the other.

Framing refers to the placement of people and objects within the rectangular frame of the film image. Typically, the center of the film image contains the most important visual information. Animators who want to make framing as unobtrusive as possible use centered compositions.

  • The top of the film image carries more intrinsic weight, so balanced compositions usually keep the horizon line above the middle of the frame. A low horizon line can lead to a top-heavy composition, emphasizing the threatening or oppressive nature of the sky or of figures situated in the top part of the image.
  • The edges of the image carry less intrinsic weight optically, so figures placed there can seem insignificant or marginalized.
  • Open framing refers to compositions that situate the action depicted in the film within a broader context, suggesting that there is an “outside” to the “inside” of the film narrative.
  • Closed framing is used when the animator wants the film image to express the totality of reality, to keep the viewer focused on the action of the film, or to express claustrophobia and entrapment, such as in prison films.
  • Framing that creates diagonal lines of composition emphasizes a scene’s anarchic, unsettled, or dynamic nature. Horizontal and vertical lines suggest order, balance, or stability.

Offscreen space is the area outside the confines of the frame.

  • Offscreen space often is a crucial component of the visual composition, with characters pointing to, moving toward, or looking at something that is outside the frame.
  • Animators use offscreen space to create mystery or to encourage viewers to use their imagination.

Sound and Editing in 3D


Sound design in the 3d film involves the arrangement sound effects, and music and at times of live sound where the voices of actors are used.

  • Sound effects and live sound usually are synchronized with images to achieve a realistic representation of the action.
  • Sound effects can also be used to direct the viewer’s attention off-screen or trigger the 3d camera or character movement.
  • Tags exist in C4D that allows you to synchronize sound to animation.
  • When sound and image do not match, the sound is called contrapuntal or asynchronous.
  • Music establishes genre conventions (such as the eerie music in horror films) and has emotional effects on the viewer. It also contributes to the rhythm of narrative and can be used repeatedly to establish motifs.
  • Perspective sound regulates sound volume to make it seem as if the sound originates at a certain distance from the camera.
  • Dialogue overlaps and sound bridges can be used to minimize the disruption caused by visual transitions at the shot level and the scene level, respectively.

3d Editing

Rendering is a challenging process, and while you may have many renders, just a fraction of these may be used, though wonderfully, if you are organized with how you archive your footage, portions of your animation renders can be used in your final edit. A contiguous scene or segment of a scene shot on film is called a take, or in our case a render. The process by which portions of different renders are connected together to organize the work into its final form is called editing. The connections between renders are called cuts.

  • A typical Hollywood film can contain over 1,000 cuts—and a typical 3D animated film can contain the same amount.
  • Realist and or art films often contain fewer cuts and rules can be broken to have a dialogue with the film.

Optical effects: The editor can use a number of optical effects to connect different shots together.

  • A fade-in gradually lightens the beginning of a shot from black; a fade-out gradually darkens the end of a shot to black.
  • In a wipe, the initial shot is replaced by the subsequent shot through a horizontal motion, as when one piece of paper is gradually slid over another.
  • In a dissolve, the subsequent shot is briefly superimposed over the initial shot. Dissolves often denote the passage of time.

Continuity: The dominant style of editing in the Western narrative film is continuity editing, which tries to keep the aesthetic qualities of images before and after a cut the same, designed to minimize the distraction caused by cuts.

  • The 180° rule, the practice of keeping the 3D camera on one side of the action to retain consistent spatial relations between figures from shot to shot.
  • Editors commonly use establishing shots to familiarize audiences with a given space and matches on action to present movement from multiple angles.

Spatiotemporal effects: Whereas continuity editing seeks to present events in chronological order and show events only once, editors often deviate from these norms.

  • Flashforwards and flashbacks present events out of sequence or show events more than once (such as a persistent memory or nightmare).
  • Crosscutting enables editors to show events at two or more locations simultaneously by cutting back and forth between them. This technique disrupts spatial continuity but establishes temporal simultaneity.
  • Often, a film presents an event in a shorter amount of time than its actual duration. This effect is achieved by letting a character move out of a frame and then, after a cut, showing the character move into the frame at a new location. This effect may also be accomplished through the use of fades and cutaways.

Other editing techniques: With continuity editing, the primary site of meaning is the scene. By contrast, a montage sequence, such as the newsreel passage in Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane, uses the rapid juxtaposition of images to create meaning at the shot level. Experimental filmmakers often break the rules of continuity editing, such as through the use of unexpected jump cuts to disorient the audience and undermine the realism of their representation.


The majority of 3D animated commercial films have a narrative—events that make up a story. While most people use the terms story and plot interchangeably, in film studies these two terms have different meanings.

Story and Plot

The plot of a film consists of all the events and characters that are represented directly during the course of the film; the story is a broader set of events and characters, some of which are contained within the plot and others that are alluded to but not shown in the film.

  • For instance, a detective film often begins at the scene of a crime. The criminal act is not shown in the film, so it is not part of the plot but is part of the story.
  • Elements of a film that takes place within the world of the film’s story are called diegetic. Elements of the film that exists outside of that world (such as music heard by the audience but not the characters in the film) are called extra-diegetic or non-diegetic.

Narrative Development

Film narrative usually is linear and driven by cause-and-effect relationships among characters and events.

  • To stimulate interest in the narrative, films typically present characters with whom viewers can identify. The characters are assigned certain traits and motivations that propel the events of the film to their conclusion.
  • Although most films are character-driven, other forces can affect the course of the narrative, such as the natural world, societal structures, and historical events.
  • The beginning of a film often establishes a conflict that is then resolved, after a turning point and a climax at the conclusion of the narrative.
    • Films that follow this normative pattern of conflict resolution (common in Hollywood films) are said to have a closed ending.
    • A film with an open ending never fully resolves the conflicts it initiates.


The narration is the process by which the film reveals relevant information to the viewer.

  • Since in most cases the audience initially knows nothing about the world of the film, early scenes typically involve exposition, wherein a large amount of information about characters and events is provided.
  • If a film reveals all the relevant information required to understand the story, and the audience knows more than the characters in the film do, the film is using omniscient narration.
  • If a film allows the audience to know only as much as, or less than, the characters in the film do, the film is using subjective narration.
  • Films sometimes employ a narrator, whose voice can be heard on the soundtrack in the form of a voice-over, to deliver critical information to the audience.

Narrative Meaning

Films help to contextualize the world in which we live. Films create meaning through the use and manipulation of symbols,  motifs, and metaphors.

  • In an allegorical film, plot events take on meanings that are greater than their function within the logic of the narrative.
  • Contemporary film narratives are often highly intertextual and therefore often refer to other early works in the cinema, television or perhaps other arts.
  • Filmmakers who want audiences to take a critical position at times use a technique of alienation to remind viewers of the unreality of their narratives.
  • Films depend on a suspension of disbelief allowing audiences to lose self in the events and characters of the film experience or in fictional narratives that have been constructed.

Other film making and sound resources: