It was my third year at USC School of Cinematic Arts, and my very first class in cinematic expression. The teacher, famed animator, special effects artist, and IMAX pioneer Lester Novros, came into the crowded classroom and walked up to the blackboard. A hush fell over the room as Lester drew a rectangle on the board and then turned to look at the class. He paused for a moment and then dramatically told us that the rectangle on the board represented the motion picture frame, and that every element within that frame had the power to affect the viewer’s body, heart, mind, and spirit. With a twinkle in his eyes, he promised that he would teach us the rules/structures governing these elements of expression. My perception of myself, the cinema, and the world profoundly shifted as I sat in the back of that classroom and listened to Lester explain how the expressive elements of space, line, shape, tone, color, movement, rhythm, and contrast and affinity, influence the physiological (UR), psychological (UL), cultural (LL), and social/environmental (LR) experience of the cinematic audience.
For example, in the opening of the first Star Wars (1977) we see a relatively large spaceship fly across the screen. Suddenly, another spaceship appears in hot pursuit of the first ship. As the hull of this pursuit spaceship progressively enters the frame for an extended period of time, the viewer is surrounded by a deep rumbling sound that moves from the back of the theater to the front. This amalgamation of the visually expressive elements of open space (the ship extending beyond the edges of the frame), spatial contrast (difference in size between the two ships), and movement (the relative movement of the two ships), combines with the spatially-moving depth-representational sounds to produce a powerful synchronization of the senses that replicates the experience of actually sitting under this massive ship. In an instant filmmaker George Lucas stylistically and viscerally communicates a deep archetypal message to the viewer, the message that we are about to see an epic struggle against a great and mighty force.
When that first class was over, I walked out onto the quad (yes, quadrants are everywhere!) and everything within and around me seemed different. I noticed the bright sunlight streaming through the trees, the patchwork patterns of bright green lawns between winding pathways, and the feelings I was having in the midst of this spatial reality.
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