Subframes – Cookie cutters

In the first article of this series, we will consider a special kind of subframes which delineate subjects without masking the rest of the image. This technique makes the audience to focus on hotspots while letting them embrace the whole frame. ‘Cookie cutters’ also inherently bring the same feeling of constraint as other frame splitting techniques (read more in compression strips, frame blockers and compartments).



At the beginning of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (S. Leone, 1966), two horsemen arriving in town are watching another one who seems to be waiting for them. The following shot — the two men’s POV — shows the other one at a standstill, delineated by a wooden gate in the background. Hardly visible in the distance, the character appears to the audience as a target or a prey, but he might as well be a sting in the tail. A caged animal is a dangerous one.

In The Lord of the Rings – The Two Towers (P. Jackson, 2002), Éowyn watches horsemen (O.C.) coming to Edoras from afar as one of the flags detaches from a pole and flies in their direction. In Titanic (J. Cameron, 1997), Rose reproaches Jack for being too direct with her. In both cases, the female character is delineated by a couple of dark lines to bring out that they live in a cage. They both are prisoners of their social conditions.


“Jack. Mr. Dawson. It’s been a pleasure. I sought you out to thank you and now I have thanked you.”

“And you’ve insulted me.”

“Well, you deserved it.”



Focus area

In The Lord of the Rings – The Two Towers (P. Jackson, 2002), Éowyn’s solitary sword-fighting practice is interrupted by Aragorn’s sword. The character’s face is delineated by the weapons and the arms in a diamond shaped ‘cookie cutter’, focusing the audience’s attention on her expression of anger and surprise. In Brazil (T. Gilliam, 1985), Sam and Kurtzmann find out that a name has been misspelled in the Information Retrieval database. Their faces are delineated by a question mark shaped ‘cookie cutter’ emphasizing their surprised expressions.


“Tuttle should have had £31.06 debited against his account, not ‘Buttle’.”

“My God! A mistake!”

“Well, at least it’s not ours.”

In Rambo: First Blood Part II (G. Cosmatos, 1985), Rambo watches the Russian chopper he has just blown up through the broken windshield of his helicopter. The character’s face and the explosion are delineated by the missing piece of transparent plastic, concentrating the audience’s attention to the most meaningful part of the screen.



What’s up?

In the first article of this series, we saw how using a thin subframe could draw the audience’s attention to meaningful parts of the screen, without obfuscating or masking the image, while bringing a sense of pressure or constraint. In next article, we will thicken subframes with ‘boxes’.


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