Dynamic occlusion – Irregular moves

Contrary to cyclic character occlusions, jerky occlusions are — by definition — unpredictable. Whereas rhythmic motions suggest mechanical and relentless danger, erratic movements bring out a wilder, more uncontrollable situation. And as usual, the less the characters appear to move on screen, the greater the impact of the jittery foreground on them.


Physical occluders

In The Abyss (J. Cameron, 1989), Bud watches Lindsey trying to get them out of a desperate situation by repairing damaged devices with a ratchet wrench. In the following shot, Lindsey’s forearm intermittently conceals her face, which symbolizes the dreadful, impending danger she is facing. In La Femme Nikita (L. Besson, 1990), Nikita also faces impending danger as she watches a surgeon prepare an injection. His forearms and hands in foreground keep moving across the screen, visually tormenting her.

In Dances with Wolves (K. Costner, 1990), a soldier jumps off the cart where Dunbar lies, which temporarily occludes his face. In Point Blank (J. Boorman, 1967), Reese talks Walker — who is drunk — into taking part in a robbery. In both cases, the main character appears victimized by the wild leg movements in the foreground. This irregular pattern accentuates the fact that the action is out of their control.

In La Femme Nikita (L. Besson, 1990), Nikita tries to escape the training center where she is detained with a hostage. The backs of the instructors and other prisoners in the foreground mask the characters’ figures erratically as they walk sideways in the background. The irregularity of this game of hide and seek contributes to the sense of panic conveyed by the action. In Sherlock – A Study in Pink (P. McGuigan, 2010), Inspector Lestrade finds himself heckled by a horde of journalists in a press conference. The backs of hands and heads in foreground intermittently mask the character’s face as the camera moves sideways. Although this hide and seek pattern is much slower than the previous one, its irregular pace is maintained throughout the scene thanks to quick-cut editing. Note that although Nikita and her hostage are the only moving characters in the shot, the tracking camera makes them look relatively still on screen, which enhances the effect.

Dynamic shadows

In Little Big Man (A. Penn, 1970), Custer and the 7th Cavalry make a surprise attack on a Cheyenne camp. These shots show fleeing horses casting dynamic shadows on dead bodies. In Apocalypse Now (F. F. Coppola, 1979), Willard regains consciousness in a dark room with holes in one wall through which children move their hands to cast shadows on his body and face. Although shadows are not genuine occluders — they aren’t physical obstacles, that is — they do occlude characters in a similar way. Whether they are concealed by way of masking or shading, the characters appear battered by the irregular motion of the occluders in an unpredictable manner.

What’s up?

As we have seen, characters can appear battered by dynamic occluders in many ways. Unlike cyclic movement patterns, the unpredictability of irregular patterns provides a sense of wild, uncontrollable danger, whether occlusion is obtained by masking or shading characters.In next article, we will focus on a scornful and humiliating effect: sightline crossing.


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