The Close-Up: Dissecting Wall-E

      21 Comments on The Close-Up: Dissecting Wall-E
All images © 2008 Pixar Animation Studios / Walt Disney Pictures.

OK, I’m back and I’m going to do this post because it’s the last day of 2008 and it’s cool to put up a post on the last day of the year.

Or my analness is just showing through. Whichever.

So! We’re at the fifth post of the series ‘The Shot Tells the Story’ using the movie Wall-E as my lesson plan. Yet again, you can find the whole list of shots in the introduction post.

We’re now at the close-up.

Ooo, the close-up.

The close-up is an ‘information giver’. An ’emotion teller’. A ‘look at this-er’.

But to really sum up what this shot says, it would be:

“This is important.”

When framing a character, the close-up is usually the full head (some of the top can be cropped off), the neck and a certain amount of shoulder showing. The way NOT to frame a close-up is just a full head and no neck.

This gives you a ‘head in a box’ look and it ain’t pretty. Don’t be slicing off your character’s heads and putting them in boxes please. Just. Don’t. It’s all sorts of wrong.

You can crop closer, but that is an extreme close-up which would be, you guessed it…next post.

This shot is all about the subject, be it character or object. It’s telling us something. It’s showing us something. Something important.

Use it wisely.

Let’s take a closer look at the close-up.

“Look, I collect stuff and put it in here.”

When combined with camera movement and a focus change, this shot tells us what to look at.

“I’m staring at something off-camera.”

“This is what I’m staring at. Look at that.”

“I’m touching it gently. It’s delicate.”

“See this light. I can’t grab it.”

“I can be threatening. Don’t mess with me.”

“Hot! Hot! Hot!”

“I’m capable of emotion. Watch me laugh.”

“See my wipers wipe away the dust. Cool, huh?”

“I see him, he sees me, you see us.”

“I’m fixing the videotape.”

“I’m watching my movie intently. I see them hold hands.”

“This plant is causing me to react. What’s happening?”

“Watch my eyes.”

The close-up is much more intimate than the previous shots we’ve looked at.

We can smell the character.

We can get inside their head.

It’s taking a step closer to someone and them whispering something to you.

It tells us the important stuff we need to know to understand the story.

If the audience needs to see something, grab them by the nose and drag them to see it with the close-up.

“This is important.”

And so is this:

Happy New Year! 2009! (almost) Wee!

Read the Storyboard Blog by RSS Feed or by email for the next post in this series and the first one of 2009; ‘the extreme close-up’.

21 thoughts on “The Close-Up: Dissecting Wall-E

  1. Pingback: The Shot Tells the Story: Dissecting Wall-E | Karen J Lloyd's Storyboard Blog

  2. Christian

    Hi Karen, Im a vfs foundation student who couldnt wait for storyboard class on monday nor could I wait to start on my lil project, well after that was said I gotta add I landed on the right place.yay! Ur blog is awesome, especially the Wall-e shot list and the free downloadable sheets. Thnks for the tips and happy new year!

  3. Karen J Lloyd Post author

    Yes, that little spork gag was very cute. And it even served a purpose.

    It showed Wall-E’s thought process and that he wasn’t just a mindless robot. He really was torn with which pile to put it in. It was a very ‘human’ thing to do.

    That gag ‘told the story’ too. 🙂

  4. steph

    I loved the close-ups in this film. I really noticed all the expressiveness they loaded into each character too, even working with such basic shapes, like Eve’s eyes. And God, look at the back of Wall-E’s little head as he watches that TV. It chokes me up! How on earth I can feel such emotion toward these mechanical beings…the film-makers were just brilliant with the eyes, the movements, the sounds.

    I am so in love, and each post makes me appreciate it even more!!

  5. Level_Head

    Hello! I, too, am enjoying the series. I’ve greatly enjoyed the movie (and have now written a 50,000 word mini-novel continuing the story) — and there are multiple links to your blog from the Wall-E discussion forums. In there, quite a few thoughtful folks are dissecting aspects of the most excellent film.

    And your own posts are being discussed and enjoyed as well.

    An aside; it seems that the link to the Introduction Post (near the top of this one) may have a hiccup in it.

    Best wishes, keep up the great work, and have a most excellent New Year.

    ===|==============/ Level Head

  6. Karen J Lloyd Post author

    Hello and welcome Level Head!

    Thanks for the info on my broken links! Gah! I think I have them all fixed. How embarrassing.

    Good for you for writing that novel. Wow. Was that for NaNoWrMo…(or whatever that’s called?) Quite the accomplishment. 🙂

    And I’m very pleased about the forum links.

    Thanks again!

  7. Friar

    See? The “Don’t mess with me” Eve is a great example of her being MEAN.

    And look how sad she makes Wall-E. (Awww.. Poor guy.)

    In fact, it took half the movie before she warmed up to him.

    Sigh. Does dating be THAT difficult? ;-(

  8. Karen J Lloyd Post author

    Well then, maybe you should stop dating robots… 😉
    (And if some guy was following me all over the place, I’d pull a “don’t mess with me” too. A gal’s gotta protect herself after all.)

  9. Level_Head


    On dating robots — there’s the whole age thing; Wall•E is something like 700 years old. And, of course, still very youthful in outlook; maybe it’s okay.

    Your descriptions of scenes and focus are quite insightful; I’m finding myself thinking in those terms now with regard to [i]written[/i] scenes as well. I was trying to frame scenes that way, but did not have good terminology for it — and it seems that a number of aspects of camerawork that you’re describing for storyboards applies as well to the written word. It’s at least a useful series of metaphors.

    I’m aware of NaNoWriMo, but this story came later; it was written in December (more than half on one intense weekend just before Christmas). My goal was to treat the characters and science in a deadly serious fashion, while trying to preserve the depth of relationship between the pair.

    Science is good, but heart is crucial. Your detailed dissections of the shots in the movie are helping to illuminate how Pixar achieved something that is so much more than mere science fiction — or “kids’ movie”.

    ===|==============/ Level Head

  10. Karen J Lloyd Post author

    That’s true! He’s an old coot following her around. Even more creepy. 😉

    Happy to hear my posts are helpful for your writing. I’d like to work with screenwriters too with story consulting in the future too. It’s ‘story’ that I love.

    That’s a lot to write in such a short time. You must have had the story quite clear in your head that you wanted to tell. Very cool.

  11. Level_Head

    I hardly think of Wall•E as “creepy” — though in one of the commentaries, members of the Pixar team referred to him as “a charming stalker”.

    In fact, Eve is probably about the same age — her designed almost certainly is.

    These characters are so very far from human in some respects, and yet Pixar’s work — including the storyboarding that you are ably analyzing — has distilled humanity down to a bare essence, and filled these two with it.

    When the story ended — and I hope you are able to comment on the ending credits of the movie! — I was left with wondering what life would be like back on Earth for these folks. There would be a rather severe transition shock, but nine years later things have turned a corner. And then there’s a complication, or so I’d imagined. That story is here, if you’re interested:

    I look forward to more of your blog, and I’ve been enjoying the archives and your Go-To guests and perspectives on the field.

    Best wishes.

    ===|==============/ Level Head

  12. Karen J Lloyd Post author

    I was *definitely* kidding about “creepy”. I don’t think that at all. I like the Pixar analysis though.

    I’ll have to give your story a read when I have more time (busy as heck right now!). But the forum folks really seem to be enjoying it. Bravo.

    Glad to have you here. 🙂

  13. Karen J Lloyd Post author

    Hi again Cheeks.

    Again, this one might be hard to explain here because there really is no set ‘system’ or ‘formula’ for it. I can always explore it further in new posts.

    But you have to depend on your storytelling instincts in a way.

    What does the audience need to see at that moment?

    Is it an intense moment? And important moment? If we went wider would we miss something? A facial expression?

    If you answer yes to any of these questions then it’s probably a good place for a close-up.

    Choice is the tricky part in storyboarding. And why you make those choices. The good news is, the more you do it, the faster those choices come to you. 🙂

  14. Pingback: The Shot Tells the Story: The Wall-E Wrap Up | Karen J Lloyd's Storyboard Blog

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