This week in Zeferino Professional Lighting we take a closer look to the character’s lateral movement and how relevant this can be. That’s right. It matters whether your actors are moving right or left across the screen. Or whether your character appears on the right or left side of the screen, or whether they are right-handed or left-handed. It all has to do with science and psychology. Today you’ll get to learn about how different directions of character movements affect audiences the way they do.
On screen there are actually three possible directions a character can move; right and left, up and down, and forward and backward. The direction a character moves matters in a scene. Moving towards the camera shows power, domination and aggression. On the other side moving away from the camera shows weakness. Similarly characters being looked down show fragility, and high up characters are much more dominant. These simple explanations make sense, and with the lateral movement happens the same, although it may seem less obvious.
What makes one side of the screen different from the other? Why does movement right to left matter? The answer comes from time and language. In western culture left to right indicates the progression of time; our languages reads from left to right, books begin from left and finish right. On video games players start on the left side and finish the level on the right. On any line graph time increases as we move. On our everyday life movement toward the right means time, progress and normality. And movement towards the left indicates moving back in time, abnormality and regression. From this thinking came the theory among films that people will interpret left to right movement natural and normal than right to left movement, because of how our brains naturally process moving images. Even the left and right side of the screen are perceived as more positive or more negative.
Other factors play a role in how we interpret a subject’s movement within a frame. For instance, movements that are either angled up toward the top of screen or down toward the bottom of the screen. These are defined as easy/hard ups/downs. They’re broken down as such: Left to right from top to bottom: easy down, left to right from bottom to top: easy up, right to left from top to bottom: hard down and right to left from bottom to top: hard up.
All of these things have different indications. For instance, an easy up composition would be Rocky running up the stairs during his training montage. He’s powerful. He’s driven. He’s a good guy. He’s running toward success. He’s going easy up!
Now look at this image… What’s the difference? The zombies are also powerful and driven, but they’re bad guys running toward the destruction of the human race. They’re going hard up.
The first one inspires thoughts of progress, hope, success, even good and heroism. The second one inspires thoughts of antagonism, regression, hopelessness, failure, and evil. Essentially, one is positive, and one is negative and all because of the direction of the lateral movement. Both images are angled up, but the one that moves from left to right is the one we consider to be positive, while the other that moves from right to left is considered negative.