Rules are meant to be broken...
Visual Composition at Directing with Anatoly
Study dramatic literature and playscript analysis in order to understand that your director's language(s) is different.

Study fine art

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THR331 * Directing: Laws, Rules, Principles * Topics : Stage Event = Subjective Time + Dramatic Space * *

TOPICS: drama + comedy + postmodern + time + space + show + spectacle + audience + theory + public +
'If you don't see, you can't stage it.' Anatoly
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Broadway tickets at TickCo. Get the best available Mary Poppins tickets as well as tickets to Wicked and Disney's High School Musical tickets.

Stage Directing Theory
Directing Theory: pre-text, text and super-text
Framing: A "frame" in a photograph is something in the foreground that leads you into the picture or gives you a sense of where the viewer is. For example, a branch and some leaves framing a shot of rolling hills and a valley, or the edge of an imposing rock face leading into a shot of a canyon. Framing can usually improve a picture. The "frame" doesnt need to be sharply focused. In fact if it is too sharply detailed, it could be a distraction.

Directing Directory

200X -- Aesthetics Intro

Film-North *Film Directing*

Visual composition is an established field in Fine Art (see links in 200X).

Use the basic geometrical figures to analyze it -- circle, square, triangle... their combination. Use vertical, horizontal lines. There is always is the special hidden composition in each masterpiece. I would even recommend to "steal" -- yes, in your pre-production period search for each scene's static representation in paintings... the rest of mise-en-scene is the way to get there.

In fact, this is "blocking" -- arranging masses, colors, directions. Called "blocking" because early directors conveyed staging instructions by drawing a grid on stage floor and labeling each stage position, or "block."

Also, it helps your designers -- set, light, costumes.

And actors.

This is SPECTACLE (remember Aristotle #6).

Directing is processing the rest 5 principles through this one!

Ideas have physical expressions...

It's theatre.

You have to STAGE it.

Film Directing 101
Method for Directors?
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Showcase: Part V
event = in-progress = live

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KEY TERMS: Glossary

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We do not offer Advanced Acting II and Advanced Directing (replaced with the senior thesis); contact your advisor.

THR121 Fundamentals of Acting or permission of instructor -- requred for THR331!

Theory of Spectatorship
theatre books
Directing Showcases
ShowCases: 3 Sisters, Mikado, 12th Night, Hamlet, The Importance of Being Earnest, Dangerous Liaisons, Don Juan 2003: Director's Book
prof. Anatoly Antohin Theatre UAF AK 99775 USA
2004: Sign * guestBook * View
THR215 DramLit
my eGroups
Focus, Visual & Dramatic Composition, Vectors, Floor Plan

[Sorry, folks, the fine art images-samples are lost during the relocation to this new home. Collect your own images for Hamlet (your concept) and keep them in your director's master-file. This pre-production process will help you to find the visual style and to communicate your visions with cast and crew. Each your show has it own style and to express it is your directorial dutty. You can see how I struggle with the HamletDreams and do struggle with Don Juan 2003. In Dangerous Liaisons it was a process up to the preview night; we dropped the outdoor French postcards and left only the period pieces of fine art.]

Also, check the Virtual Theatre pages to understand my problems...

Composition rules (photo tips):
Implied lines hold the picture together. Use lines in photographs to focus attention.
The eye will always go to the lightest and brightest colors. Use contrast to identify your subject/purpose
The visual "center" of a picture is not the "bull's eye center", but the intersection of vertical and horizontal thirds. Use thirds.
Look for ways to give the center of interest in your pictues the most visual attention by looking for visual simplicity.
Achiving good informal balance is another composition rule leading to professional looking results.
A "frame" in a photograph is something in the foreground that leads you into the picture or gives you a sense of where the viewer is. Framing can usually improve a picture. The "frame" doesnt need to be sharply focused
When the subject is capable of movement, such as an animal or person, it is best to leave space in front of the subject so it appears to be moving into, rather than out of, the photograph.


Direction of movement : When the subject is capable of movement, such as an animal or person, it is best to leave space in front of the subject so it appears to be moving into, rather than out of, the "frame"...

Diagonals : Linear elements such as roads, waterways, and fences placed diagonally are generally perceived as more dynamic than horizontals.

... the "rule of thirds." This is a principle taught in graphic design and photography and is based on the theory that the eye goes naturally to a point about two-thirds up the page. Also, by visually dividing the image into thirds (either vertically or horizontally) you achieve the informal or asymmetric balance.

visual path: landscape rules (paintings)

* Unity - nothing distracts from the whole you have unity.

visual elements **


Emphasis = "Center of Interest."

* Opposition - on contrasting visual concepts.

The first rule of proportion is the golden mean, which is a ratio of approximately 1:1.62.12 The ancient Greeks discovered that many natural objects, such as pine cones, flowers, and animal shells, are constructed according to this proportion; it is what we have in mind when we say that something is "well balanced." For the nautilus shell shown in Figure 9, for example, the ratio between successive segments approximates the golden mean.

Repetition and rhythm

The "Power Points" created by the intersecting lines were where they wanted the viewer to focus their attention - and it worked! By placing the main subject on a power point, it brought the focal point of the image to the subject. If there was more than one main subject, placing them on any of the other points worked in the same way - drawing the viewer's attention where the artist wanted it to be and giving the composition "balance". Of course, it's not easy to divide a viewfinder into eight equal parts while trying to compose a photo, thus, the Rule of Thirds was developed.

Balance and Weight: To be pleasing to the eye a composition must be well balanced. Dark colors add weight to an image, while lighter colors add space. In most cases, you don't want the subject to appear to be "floating" in space, so something to serve as an "anchor" will give the image balance.

Simplicity: Keeping the scene limited to only what you want the viewer to see (that is, keeping any unnecessary elements out which may be distracting or detracting from the subject).

Key Element(s): This ties in very closely with the simplicity of a composition. Most compositions have one or maybe two main subjects that are the focal point(s) of the image. Always try to make sure there is some sort of relationship factor with the subjects that complement each other.

Lines and Patterns: Is there a certain "flow" to the composition with diagonal, vertical or horizontal lines or patterns? Keep in mind the orientation of your subject when trying to compose the frame - use these elements to enhance the subject and not detract from it. Also always remember to keep the horizon line "LEVEL" in the frame. A level horizon will give the viewer some symmetry to the composition.


Visual Composition amazon


Vsevolod Meyerhold by Jonathan Pitches; Routledge, 2003 - 3: Meyerhold's Key Production
The Government Inspector (77)

The deliberate choreography of the characters within the stage space.
The sense of the stage as a picture or composition.
The use of an exaggerated and expressive physical style.
The use of the face as a mask.
The mixing of opposites.
The direct connection with an audience.
The elongation of an action to make it strange.

The curtain rose, and the spectators saw the characters of the show frozen in the poses indicated by Gogol. The sculptural group was immobile. Only after a long pause did the spectators guess that before them were not actors but dolls - that the 'mute scene' was truly mute and dead.
(Rudnitsky 1981:417-18)

[ LS > MS and CUs ]

* Back to part 3. Directing Space

[ next: part 4. Directing Public (Time)

[ overview of the designers (3. Notes), Concept ]

Pre-Production (Dada case)

Designers Page

Visual Composition


[ full listing ]

shot in film:

200X class

Composition and Design Elements, Principles, and Visual Effects

E-motion (lecture) -- where? designers page?

Sign : Something that stands for something else.
Glyph : A graphical representation of a character or part of a character in a font. A carved figure or character.
Symbol : Something that represents something else by association, resemblance, or convention. Something visible representing something invisible. A symbol can be embued with rich layers of meanings.
Icon : An idol. An image or representation. A religious image in the eastern church. A small clickable image representing files or programs in a computer.

religious symbols

... use of it ?

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If there are "compositions" on stage (visual), director must be a composer. He follows the dramatic "composer" -- playwright. The great paintings of the past are the great source of learning about composing for stage.

Most of the pages on the subject are in Film Directing (above navigation) directory, but I wish that my students in THR331 Fundamentals of Directions could spend more time in our video shooting sessions and develop the camera-mind attitude. Of course, we do not stage live shows for the camera, but the points of punctuations must be present in the stream of live action. The floor plan exercises are similar in nature with the lighting areas planning and we get really close to the fixed primary motion. A good prompt book does resemble a shooting script. The shot technique asks for a strong visual discipline.

There are some basic rules in positioning actors on stage:

Full front \/ is the strongest.

Next is the full back /\

Third -- three-quoters front and 4th -- three-quoaters back.

Finally, fifth, the weakest -- profile

... Here is a lesson from Michelangelo:

a walk around it.



There are also FIVE basic levels: Standing, Sitting, Kneeling, Sitting on floor, Lying on floor. Emphasis by relation to height. Again, what is "strongest" and "weakest" depends on your mise-en-scene.

Now, the distances. Between actors, actors and audience, actors and the center of action and so on. And of course, it all depends on the stage, number of actors and the set (including lighting).

The "grouping" takes place even if you have one actor on stage. You still balance the positions against the set and furniture. It's easy to check you set by examining the exits and entrances. And again, I advise you to think in geometrical terms. Remember the Golden Triangle Rule? There are "triangles on stage. Try to see them before your actors enter. And, please, add the time dimension (duration) into your equations.

The stage laws (some) and "mood values":

"The visual center of interest is where the lightest light meets the darkest dark."

You have to train yourself to have this "frozen-frame" skill: to see you show "frame-by-frame"...

[ storybording ]

Gesture and poses

[ analysis ]

Did you notice that I broke this word "composition" in two: Com-Position (title)? You "position" actors on stage to get the combine effect. You move from one composition to another. There must be "tableau" pictures at some critical points. If you do it right they will be memorable and invisible.

"Center" is a dynamic target. You have to train yourself (and actors) to go from one fixed position to another. The transitions are another matter...

[ I recommend to read Part II in David Kaplan's book "Five Approaches to Acting" -- Playing Episodes. Pay attention to "Caption" and the "Tableaux" ideas. "Transitions" in Epic Theatre. ]


YES, THINK IN STATIC PICTURES! There must be an image (symbol) we can remember. Almost as if you would stage a (dramatic) group photo.

See? Bad acting, but a great composition.

[ What is difference between "picture" - "image" - "symbol"? see Semio Page ]

Acting Intro
* Balanceis -- the consideration of visual weight and importance. It is a way to compare the right and left side of a composition. * formal (symmetrical) balance * Radial balance *

Focus, directions, grouping. ...

Macro and micro compositions:


[ analysis: main direction, vectors, focal point, stages of concentration ]

"Variety" - You create variety when elements are changed. Repeating a similar shape but changing the size can give variety and unity at the same time. Keeping the same size, but changing the color can also give variety and unity at the same time. In visual composition, there are many ways you can change something while simultaneously keeping it the same.
"Depth" - effects of depth, space, projection toward the viewer add interest. Linear perspective in the real world makes things look smaller in the distance. Some artists try to avoid depth by making large things duller and small things brighter, and so on, to make the objects contradict realism...

[ ]


Vector = Way

* a quantity that has magnitude and direction and that is commonly represented by a directed line segment whose length represents the magnitude and whose orientation in space represents the direction; broadly : an element of a vector space.

to vector = to guide

Vectors in Biomechanics

[ ]

Stage space vertical direction has to have at least three levels as well (horizontal planes are discussed in floor plan). First - the stage floor. In class we do the basics: on the floor, sitting on the floor, standing. The three you can do without any set. On stage it's always multi-level arrangements: in directing class we use chair, table, boxes. This is "vertical reading" of the visual composition. Ask yourself how many vertical levels did you use in your scene. None? Do you realize that "none" is a choice? Does you scene ask for strict non-vertical composition?

Coliseum Do you understand why our stadiums are designed in levels? -- The flat floor = focus! What do you think I have to do on stage with the flat auditorium? Do you see the three levels?

Read Mise-en-Scene Page to understand the need for visual EXPRESSION of drama (conflict).

[ "Mirror Effect" of stadium = symmetrical (of house and stage), a half. See forms of stages on designers page.

Sport = Game (circus)

Return to the Greeks but indoors + The Light of the Gothics (?).

"Cut" the world in two (stage as a mystery "wall" -- church tradition, the gates to the "other universe" = miracle, fantacy, dreams, inner world).

The invisible wall/curtain ("The 4th wall" reconsidered).

* What Is Scenography? by Pamela Howard; Routledge, 2002 ]

Check the Film WebSite for more on laws of Visual Composition shot, color, cut, images (also, semio pages).

Here is MS/CU from Rembrandt: Basics of Dramatic Composition (Action throu Character)

[ missing image, see St. Thomas below ]

He is famous for lighting effects.
Good one to study. Color dramatic composition -- later.


This is El Greco and as a teenager I spent several hours staring at it.

Reconstruction: diagonal (low left to top right), three ground planes + sky, the borderline ... and the focal point ("open heavens" -- window).

Another "triangle" ("looks") :

[ A - D -C -- directions of gazing + upside down triangle of Christ body ]

[ "Peter and Paul" -- missing. ]

Very "high modernity" deformation of forms.

[ slides ]

Color saturation, sometimes called "color intensity" or brightness can also give a feeling of depth and space.

Repetition can be used on all of the Visual Elements. If things are repeated without any change they can quickly get boring. However, repetition with variation can be both interesting and comfortably familiar. Repetition gives motion.
Variation can be used with all of the visual elements. See "Variety" above. You can do this with all the elements. Artists do this all the time.

FOCUS: Adoration of the Magi by Velazquez (1619), CLIMAX: The Madonna of the Rosary by Cavaggio (1605). (Free images from the Lycos Cyber Gallery)

2004 & After

projects: Oedipus 2005

new: Taming of the Shrew 2004

missing: film acting

directing wish list (short):



Virtual Theatre: Directing, Acting, Drama, Theory

playsChekhov, Ibsen, Shakespeare

Class One Act: Proposal Chekhov

ReadSpeaker AudioFeed - Podcast of this blog


How about some visual exercises?

[ Ingres, Oedipus and Sphinx ]

Four lines: the focus is "between" them: the question-answer.

Breakdown by "triangles" (how many?)

[ not the best ]

Other samples [ list ]


[ Some (many) images are still missing! ]

Read Eisenstein analysis of Pironezzi. Also, his color dynamic composition for Ivan the Terrible II.

"Film Form" (?)



[ two other directories could be used for this topic: film composition in FilmMaking 101 and 200X Aesthetics Files. ]

Anatoly, why do you call everything a "problem"?


Because we have to solve them. Like in math.


First, dramatic composition; next -- visual.

Hamlet, 1st scene (Bernardo - Francisco).

Vectors --> the invisible Ghost. Ideas?


Analysis of the text must lead to your search for visual expressions of the drama.

colors "12 shades": in class (assign the color to each character, theme, scene and etc.)

Opposite, conflicting, complimentary, similarity, color dynamics (motifs and through-lines).

Color intensity and acting areas.

Color and shapes of action... What is the "motion statement" in "radial" and "spiral" arrangements?

radial Achieving focus

By body position the actor who is most "full front" will have the focus.
By stage area central areas have most focus.
By level actor on highest level.
By plane farthest downstage.
By triangulation actor at apex of a triangle.
By contrast actor who is apart from group (sitting, while rest of cast is standing).
By movement moving actor will have more focus.



Go to Film-North: Concept, Color, Shot, Camera and other pages for more.

Select one scene from Hamlet and come with the main visual concept for it (class presentation).

Next: back to Part II
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