Who's Got Style? Film Visualization Project Breaks Down Our Favorite Films

<p>Fred Brodbeck takes minuscule details from entire movies or film genre and compiles them into arresting graphic visualizations.</p>

Jul 27 2011, 5:50pm

With many auteurs, we know their work when we see it. The editing techniques, shot composition, dialogue, etc. are all so distinctive as to be immediately recognizable. Many filmmakers have such a unique style that as soon as our eyes meet with a piece of their work, it’s like the opening bars to a familiar and well-loved song start playing. We can easily identify it within their larger body of work. A director such as Wes Anderson, for instance, is well known for his use of color, dry humor, folk-laden soundtracks and flawed characters. The defining characteristics of a director’s style typically permeate each of his or her films, while also manifesting themselves in a unique manner in each new film. The same could be said of a film within a particular genre or of a remake. Each work is constructed within a varying set of overlapping parameters, while also maintaining a ‘fingerprint’ that makes it unique.

The difficulty with these kinds of categorizations, however, is that even when considering only the works of a single director, they can sometimes feel like approximations, as if attempting to pigeonhole a film within a framework that cannot contain it. So how do we get a better idea of how a film fits into these categories without doing it a disservice?

The film visualization project Cinemetrics by Fred Brodbreck may have found the key. Whereas film is practically defined by its temporal structure, where individual scenes are seen successively as opposed to all at once, Brodbeck’s ‘fingerprints’ compile the entirety of a movie or genre into a spatialized graphic visualization. By transforming individual films and genres into abstractions that represent particular aspects of each film, the key features of specific works become more apparent and easily compared to other films. Besides more fully portraying the similarities of a single director’s work, it also has the potential to foreground more incidental aspects of a style within the larger overarching structure of the oeuvre. It makes a film’s barest elements more analyzable and allows us to see what unnoticed data could be culled from the work.

Brodbeck used custom designed software to analyze otherwise impossible to track information, such as shot length, shot detection and motion measuring. One can actually see how much movement there is within a given film based on the visualizations.

The video above showcases how one might compare some films or genres by juxtaposing the visualizations. For example, although the films 2001 and Aliens share a similar color palette, the latter’s movement is comparatively much more spastic and intense. The color palette of Andrei Tarkovsky‘s original Solaris is much lighter than Steven Soderbergh’s remake, while the films of Wes Anderson have a decidedly brownish color tone to each of them.

Beyond their function as cinematic deconstructions, the graphics are visually arresting in their own right. Brodbeck has turned some of his visualizations into posters, some of which you can see above. He also is willing to take requests for films to visualize and transform into posters as well.