5 C’s of Cinematography

Now that we’ve seen some of the issues and some past attempts at solutions, I’d like to attack this problem by breaking down cinematography into what are considered it’s component parts and devise a plan as to how we can best preserve all the benefits and leave those that either cannot be solved or are no longer relevant.

While that century-plus art of cinematography cannot really be quantified in simple terms, for the purposes of this presentation I’m going to concentrate on what are considered to be some of the basic tenets of the craft – coined in the 60’s by Joseph V. Mascelli – The 5 C’s of Cinematography.

Above is a dramatic example of Mascelli’s work as a war documentarian, the H-Bomb test Bikini Atoll – what he would consider to be an “uncontrolled subject”. An example of a “controlled subject” would be an actor that has rehearsed his or her lines and has been directed to hit a mark on the floor so the cameraman can predict where they will end up in shot. While Mascelli was aware of the general location of the explosion and the time at which it would occur, the exact nature of the mushroom cloud cannot be predicted – note how the camera readjusts after the event to best frame the subject.

We in videogames have an altogether different problem with our camerawork, in that we almost always know where the subject will be, but instead have an “uncontrolled cameraman”. We cannot predict exactly where the player will be or what he will be observing when we want to initiate our story sequence.


As the name suggests, cutscenes tend to involve cutting. This is more than simply cutting between cameras however, and at worse causes a cut, or disconnect, between the gameplay and the story. Here’s a great example from the excellent Batman: Arkham Asylum that involves a cut on just the start of the cutscene. The fluid transition back into gameplay at the conclusion (combined with the short length) goes some way to lessening the disconnect between gameplay and story, with the sequence ending up feeling more like just another in-game action that can be performed by Batman, but is in fact a character-building sequence right at the start of the game to remove any inclination that this protagonist is at all like the cookie-cutter heros of Spiderman and Superman.

I’ll be using several examples from God of War, which has many sequences that involve no cutting whatsoever – greatly aiding the transitions between gameplay and story and helping to blur the line between when one starts and the other begins. Below we see the camera push past the hero Kratos, taking the audience/player’s focus past the character and onto the vista beyond, then back in one seamless sequence.

This and many other techniques I’ll touch on used by God of War are made possible by their relatively unique decision to afford absolutely no control over the camera to the player whatsoever. As this is not the case on most games nowadays, alternate issues and solutions need to be considered when the player can be looking in the opposite direction as we transition into our cinematic camera movement.

This is where level-design must come into play, using techniques such as channelling the player down corridors and presenting them with the subject ahead of them. In this next example from Gears of War, the player is briefly led between two fences towards a door. That, and the fact that the sequence-triggering door cannot be interacted with when facing away from it, cause this brief scene-setting sequence to play out seamlessly. This is also aided by the fact that the camera doesn’t change much from its original position, and instead zooms in to best frame the hanging bodies, which is a technique I’ll touch on in greater detail later.

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