Dynamic occlusion – Closing shots

In Lens flares – In motion, we saw how flares could be used to ‘close’ the final shot of a film. Similarly, any type of dynamic overlays covering characters enough to make the audience lose contact with them can be used the same way, whether to end a scene or merely to disengage the audience from a shot.


Moving particles

In Underworld (L. Wiseman, 2003), two Lycans posing as cops try to administer Michael an injection as he transforms into a Lycan inside their car. The camera moves back until the characters disappear into the fog supposedly coming from channel gratings. In Close Encounters of the Third Kind (S. Spielberg, 1977), Laughlin is scared by the discovery of WWII planes in the desert and the cryptic revelations of a witness. He walks back and waits a few seconds until a sandstorm completely swallows his figure. In both cases, the scene ends with a thick overlay of particles filling the screen. The effect is very close to a fade to white (on the left) or black (on the right).

The overlay shouldn’t be too covering if the following scene is to start with the same characters. In E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (S. Spielberg, 1982), Elliott starts washing the dishes but can’t help thinking about the extra-terrestrial creature he’s found in a field by his house. Louvers stripe the character’s face, and as the camera recedes, a veil of vapor coming from the sink fills the window area and obfuscates the character. In For a Few Dollars More (S. Leone, 1965), Monco — a bounty hunter — enters the town of White Rocks in search of his current target. A sudden rain shower obfuscates the character as he steps into the main street. In both cases, a fairly thick veil of particles covers the characters, but the veil is kept thin enough so that we can still make them out. That way, a new scene can start with the same characters elsewhere or some time later as soon as the shot gets ‘closed’, as is the case with both examples.


Various closing veils

In Little Big Man (A. Penn, 1970), Jack listens to the last words of his friend Hickok who’s just been shot in a bar. A shroud then covers the camera and abruptly ends the scene. In The Fifth Element (L. Besson, 1997), a huge landing spaceship casts a shadow on archaeological digs and on the children who help there in a series of shots (more than shown here). In both cases, we lose contact with the characters thanks to the veil, which allows the editor to cut to another scene (on the left) or to a master shot (on the right). Note the large slash on Jack’s mouth which silences him.

In The Godfather (F. F. Coppola, 1972), Carlo is being strangled to death in the car supposed to take him to the airport. He frantically kicks the windscreen which shatters on impact, obfuscating the characters in the car and closing this 20-second shot (read more in Overlays – Transparent veils (Part 2) and Overlays – Translucency and opacity). Note how a simple reflection of the sky on the windshield drastically reduces legibility and thus anticipates the closing effect.



Simple and clean

In My Name is Nobody (T. Valerii, 1973), Nobody leaves the town where he has just met Jack Beauregard for the first time. Sometimes (very often actually), simple is better. A mere panning camera tracking the rider lets a tree enter the frame and the character disappear behind. End of scene. Simple and efficient.


What’s up?

Dynamic occlusion can be very useful when it comes to ‘close’ a shot, whether to end a scene or to disengage the audience from that shot, as long as the overlay becomes covering enough to make the audience lose contact with the characters. To get this effect, you don’t necessarily need to resort to complex staging. Most of the time, simple is better. Dynamic occlusion techniques can also be used to open a shot, which will be next article topic.


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