The Extreme Close-Up: Dissecting Wall-E

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

Well, I’m still busy, busy, busy as a storyboard supervisor and being all drunk with power and stuff.

*clears throat*

But anyhoo, here we are! The final post of this long-ass Wall-E series known as ‘The Shot Tells the Story’. As usual, you can find the rest of the shots here in the introduction post.

Actually, there might be one more wrap-up post. Because I thought it would be fun to string the shots together. Don’t ya think?

We find ourselves at the Extreme Close-Up. You can guess what this shot looks like. It’s a Close-Up.

A really close, Close-Up.

In the last post on the Close-Up, I told you that getting close like that is very intimate. It’s getting very up close and personal with your character or subject matter.

So you’d think with the Extreme Close-Up it would be super-duper-intimate, right?

Sometimes yes and sometimes no.

It can be super intimate or it can just be a very useful information tool. It depends what you’re showing and why. I find it to be much more of an information-teller myself. Because to me this shot says:

“You need to see this and ONLY this.”

In this shot, nothing else matters but the subject matter. And it’s usually going to be a particular part of that subject matter. Backgrounds are unimportant (or unrecognizable) in the Extreme Close-Up.

It’s all about one particular thing. One particular part of your character. The eyes. A hand. The mouth.

This is when it can be a super-intimate shot.

Pair an Extreme Close-Up with a pair of eyes and a voice saying, “I love you.” or of a mouth saying, “I hate you.” and you’ve got yourself a pretty intense moment there.

Sidenote: One of my biggest pet peeves is the ‘one-eye shot’. I guess it comes from looking at too many student films (usually in Anime style) that tried to use it to be all deep and stuff. Ugh. It never worked. If there is no good reason for showing just one eye. DON’T.

The only exception is if you work on ‘Lost’. They use one-eye shots and I love them. Because I love ‘Lost’. So the ‘Lost’ guys are off the hook from my rant. Thank you.

On the other hand, if you’re showing an object, the Extreme Close-Up is a very effective information-giver. This is when you’re really telling the audience, “You need to see this and ONLY this.”

This is the one shot that can really save your butt in the ‘don’t lose your audience’ department. Using this shot in the right place keeps your audience informed. It keeps them comfortable. They have all the information they need.

Let’s take an even closer look at the Extreme Close-Up and what information the shot provides.

“Look, I press this button and to make the conveyor move.”

“Hmm. Part spoon. Part fork. Which side?”

“Here’s how I recharge.”

“Ack! I squished you. Are you OK?”

“I’m pressing my little red record button.”

“Ooo, shiny diamond ring in a little box.”

“I’m mimicking the holding hands I see on my movie.”

“See this cool little component.”

“I’m reaching out. I won’t hurt you.”

“See this red light. See it? You better.”

“I’m trying to hold Eve’s hand like in the movie.”

“Plant symbol equals REAL plant.”

“I’m suddenly shutting down. You can see it by my eyes.”

“This plant symbol is important. I’ve shut down and it’s all that’s left.”

You have quite a range in these samples. Some are emotionally charged. Some are just general (but important) information. And some have really, really important information the audience has to know.

Go through the movie and mentally remove these shots. You’ll lose the story really fast. You’ll find yourself saying, “Huh? What? What’s going on? Why’d that happen?”

These shots prevent that.

So use them in the right place to prevent that. Don’t ever make your audience go “Huh? What?” when they shouldn’t be.

Give them the information they need with the Extreme Close-Up.


“You need to see this and ONLY this.”

Read the Storyboard Blog by RSS Feed or by email to catch that bonus wrap-up post!

26 thoughts on “The Extreme Close-Up: Dissecting Wall-E

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

  2. davidbernal

    first post of the year!! wooo-hoo!!
    I loved these wall-e series! thaaanks!
    the removing shots exercise sounds fun! am gonna try it! ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. steph

    I was looking at these shots, remembering the movie, and feeling them, and then you said, “emotionally charged.” EXACTLY. That’s totally what I got.

    I remember gasping out loud when he squished his cute little friend (and sighing with relief when he popped up a-okay), but I think a great deal of that emotion was evoked by the close-up. Close-ups really make you feel, I think, like the one where he imitates holding hands, and then when he tries to hold Eve’s “hand” or wing or arm or whatever. The close-ups emphasize what you’re supposed to feel…and they really do work!

  4. t.sterling

    I just realized that some of these shots, especially the extreme close-ups, would make some hot desktop wallpaper.

    I had a photography teacher tell me that some photos look better the closer you get to the subject. There’s no doubt at what you want the viewer to see, and not only do we see that subject, but all of it’s detailed glory. (I paraphrased what she told me, and embellished a little.)

    Anyway, thanks for showing the spork and the roach. Awesome, awesomenss all over!

  5. Friar

    I notice somethig…howcum you haven’t shown one single shot of the pudgy muscle-atrophied dorky-looking humans?

    Or maybe I just answered my own question.

    The robots in this movie were definitely much cooler-looking.

  6. Karen J Lloyd Post author

    @ T – Yeah, I love that first one I have up there with the POV thru his eyes. It would make great wallpaper. And I was thinking of you when I put up the spork scene (even though I already had it screen capped). ๐Ÿ™‚

    @ Steph – Have you bought it yet?? I think I let out a little scream when he squished the roach too. It worked well the way he just popped back to life. Thank goodness. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Hey Friar!
    Because in the intro post I said I was only going to deal with the first half of the movie. The fact that it was basically without dialogue and was truly visual storytelling was my point for the whole series, really.

    It wasn’t a breakdown of the whole story like my other movie posts. It had some great lessons in that first half. ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. Level_Head

    Your writeup is enjoyable, as always. I chuckled at the Lost reference; while I don’t watch TV and have never seen the show, I’m aware that it has passionate defenders. It would be interesting if you were to take up the sort of self-laid gauntlet and describe how these shots work as the exception. Yes, there was humor in your comment, but surely there was some truth to your assertion?

    On the first of the extreme closeup shots: I wonder if a new category might be involved in that first one, perhaps something like an “overlay” shot. In such a shot, the background might by close or far or in the middle distance, but the audience is expected to split their focus between the image in the background and the imagine (often computer related) in some sort of overlay.

    This sort of shot has been used in movies for a long time — in wartime films, it was the view through a periscope or a gun sight. Both layers were important, in a “this is a periscope view” and “look at the torpedo bubbles heading to the target” sense.

    In “relatively” modern movies, such as Terminator, they were often used to emphasize some computer aspect, such as the Terminator’s internal mind’s eye view — including some robotic treatment of coming up with a rather ribald response. In that instance, the background wasn’t important.

    WALLโ€ขE uses overlay shots several times to excellent storytelling effect. The shot you capture above has middle distance significance: “This is me looking at my home” as well as “You’re inside my head looking out.”

    We’d already seen this sort of view, introduced during the storm as he looks across the city to see how much time he’s got. In that case, there is much detail in the background for the quick eye, as well as having to quickly grasp the notion that we can see through Wallโ€ขE’s eyes. It works.

    Later in the movie, we see through M-O’s eyes, through Eve’s, and through Auto’s, as well as many more times through the eyes of Wallโ€ขE himself.

    These are all conveying meaning from the overlay data as well as the subject in view (whether close or far away) — you need both layers to “get” the shot. So, it almost seems to be another category, hence the term “overlay shot” which I just made up but which might even be in use. It doesn’t seem, for example, that Wallโ€ขE’s view out across the city is quite properly described as “extreme close up” — but “wide shot” doesn’t quite do it justice either because of the layer right in front of your eyes that you need to absorb as well.

    What do you think?

    And best wishes; you are entertaining and educational as always.

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

  8. Friar


    Awww…as if I’m gonna remember what was written a few posts ago! ๐Ÿ™‚

    (Plus, I’ve just had a few beer with Brett…so I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed right now).

    But you make a good point. The humans are almost an afterthought in this movie, anyway. I don’t see toy stores making pudgy-spaceship captain dolls, for example! ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. t.sterling

    @ Karen – Aw, you thought of me. [Internally blushing.] Although I wonder if everytime you see a spork, you associate it with me… I’m not sure how I feel about that, but if I may quote a popular song us whipper snappers listen to “I don’t care what you think as long as it’s about me.” :oD

    I actually let out a little gasp, possibly a slight wimper, when Wall-e rolled on his friend. But that is an awesome shot. And I think Steph used the perfect word for a lot of those close ups: intimate. I haven’t seen this movie in about 2 months(?) and I already know the movie won’t be as effective without those shots of Wall-e mimicking the hand-holding, and his attempts at holding Eve’s hand.

    This movie definitely made me laugh, wimper, feel warm-fuzzies and environmentally aware (not that I wasn’t already but I will do my part). Oh yeah, and I’ll be sure get plenty of exercise so I don’t end up like the latter half of the movie… although I want one of those chairs.

  10. Karen J Lloyd Post author

    @ Level-Head – Well, these ‘overlay’ shots as you’ve described are, quite simply, just P.O.V. shots. Point Of View.

    The overlay part of these POV shots is just part of the tools you need to achieve an effective POV. If the subject has goggles or glass in front of their eyes, then we will see the reflection of it in the shot. The audience becomes the eyes of the character in these shots so we have to see what they would be seeing. And if it needs that overlay, so be it.

    I didn’t describe that first shot because it could have NOT been classified as an Extreme Close-Up. But I just liked it anyway. And it IS close of his eyes, so what the heck.

    I may devote a whole post to POV shots in the future. As well as up shots and down shots which I haven’t even touched on.

    Thanks for the great input! (And links…better go shopping Friar!)

    @ T – Well after our last little chat about the spork, how could I not think of you? I loved that scene.

    I still hope you get it for your birthday (the movie, not a spork…though that could prove useful). And yes, those chairs are pretty cool and will probably exist at some point! That’s where we’re going.

    And I feel like those blobs of people after I’ve been sitting working for 14 hours. Ugh.

  11. t.sterling

    I put an end to my wanting yesterday by ordering the 3-disc edition of Wall-e. I know nobody else will know I want that one (although they should because I’m into all those special features) but it’s all good. It’ll be an early birthday present.

    I’d like a stainless steel spork at some point in my life.

    14?!? Wow. I sometimes struggle with the 10+ hours I work (4 days a week) so I do the best I can to get to the gym as often as I can. Or I at least walk around at some shopping centers. And I love food so I need to stay active and non-bloblike :o)

  12. Level_Head

    I’d enjoy seeing your commentary on POV shots. They were used to good effect in the film. It still seems to me that there is some intended “audience read” difference between picking up from the view that you’re looking through a character’s eyes, and being expected to get information from the overlay part of the view.

    In M-O’s case, for example, we see not just that we’re looking through his eyes, but we are expected to note from the overlay itself that Eve is 16% contaminated, and Wallโ€ขE 100%. We wouldn’t know what characters to attach these numbers to if we were not simultaneously reading both the overlay and the view through it.

    In other cases, all we care about is that we’re seeing a view through the character’s eyes — such as Auto’s red-tinted view looking for the captain hiding in his quarters. That’s a simple POV shot, it seems to me, in that instance constructed with both the red filter and a bit of fisheye-lens effect.

    Oho! Even WALLโ€ขE has a Vaseline-on-the-lens shot! Using “virtual Vasoline” of course.

    As to the other two you mentioned — those would be interesting writeups as well, though I think I have the upshot. ];-)

    The distinction between wide shot and up/down shots seems that it might be blurry at times. In this film, for example, there is a scene looking out from the bridge of the Axiom down toward the Lido deck, and you can see Eve as a white speck racing across the area disappearing below the window.

    Is that a “down shot”? A “wide shot”? It’s aiming about 50 degrees down from horizontal.

    I look forward to your writings; no doubt I’ll get a different angle.

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

  13. Karen J Lloyd Post author

    @ T – I am very blob-like right now. Occupational hazard. Yay for your DVD and I hope you get that stainless steal spork someday! You deserve it. ๐Ÿ™‚

    @ Level_Head – I see what you’re saying about the overlay thing. But it’s still just a POV and that’s the *reason* they used them in those instances. So that we’d see both elements. Another very useful tool.

    And as far as up shots and down shots, they aren’t separate shots really. It is another element – the camera angle – that you add to any of these shots I’ve talked about in this series.

    So you can see how adding camera angles and movement can start to really give even more variation to your choices! Because camera angles also help ‘tell the story’.

    Good material for future posts. ๐Ÿ™‚

  14. t.sterling

    I guess I shouldn’t find it too surprsing but I found several metal sporks on Amazon! So I’ll buy one (or more) some day, and perhaps pens, sporks and my insatiable love of breakfast foods will the be icons of what is “Indoob!”

  15. coffeedrinker

    i love this blog and want to use it to teach storyboards to my students – when will your last post be up? (the one that you said you might do, stringing along storyboards)


  16. Karen J Lloyd Post author

    Hi coffeedrinker and welcome!

    I hope to write it tonight or tomorrow and have it up before the weekend. It would have been up by now but I’m being strangled by a deadline within a deadline right now!

    Damn this “work” thing.

    But thanks so much for wanting it! I *will* do it though. ๐Ÿ™‚

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

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *