Over the shoulder dialog in Stop motion

DafterThings Posts: 985 Enthusiast
edited May 2019 in Practical Filmmaking

When is it necessary (normal?) to include the 'over the shoulder' person in a dialog scene?
With my stop motion I tend *not* to do it simply because it makes it very difficult to get my chubby fingers in to animate. The alternative that I use is to greenscreen the back of the person and then add it to the shot using  bit of blur and darken.

Do you see a dialog scene focusing JUST on the talker and think "This is wrong" or do you not notice the person they're talking to isn't in shot?

What, if any, rules are there to follow or break?

<edit> Hope all that makes sense.


  • Palacono
    Palacono Posts: 3,414 Enthusiast
    edited May 2019

    Good question and your method of putting them in afterwards sounds like a great solution to the problem, plus you can add 'focus' blur more easily that way.

    Disclosure: I have no idea what's 'normal', so I'll just muddy the waters with some rambling.

    If your characters have to exchange information and can't be sitting in a car etc. so we see both their faces at once (usual fudge), then if the initial wide shot is setup so we know their relative positions, it shouldn't be confusing to switch between them with, or without shoulders. Insert occasional wide shot if it goes on for a long time to break the monotony of the ping-ping, or mix with 'noddy' shots (see below).

    In a closeup on the face you'd be past the shoulder of the 'other' person, although you regularly see shots in movies where it looks like they are 2ft apart in one shot, with the shoulder visible, and 10ft apart in the wider shot. With stop motion and the inability to do too much with the faces, I'd have thought you would be doing more medium shots where the shoulder could potentially be seen, but also the person could be far enough away that it didn't matter if you didn't see them. i.e at their desk/position. Close ups on faces to actually see a reaction is when there wouldn't be a shoulder shot. Unlikely with stop motion, other than for Spock's eyebrow, I'd have thought. Although you do manage to inject quite a lot of personality into the models, so maybe closeups would work at other times? If the camera would literally have to be inside a wall/console to be able to do the 'over the shoulder', then that's a good reason not to do it.

    The opposite of what you're talking about is the 'noddy' shot, where you look over the shoulder of the character talking, see part of their face/head and the camera is focused on the other person, who just nods, or reacts in some other way. Are they horrified, happy, guilty, bored, interested at what they're hearing etc.? You see that a lot in interviews where we might get tired of looking at the same person talking for a long time, or they pull funny faces while they talk (Kiera Knightly for one, being regularly cut away from for this in the first Pirates movie). Always distracts me when they use this shot with dialogue from another part of the interview, and what we can see of the speaker's face and head movement is them clearly not saying what we can hear, so the reaction shot we can see is to that other dialogue. Not a problem with stop motion: just me rambling.

    I'm sure there are 'rules' as to when / why we'd see the shoulder in frame. Is it large and intimidating and taking up a lot of the frame and almost squeezing the view of the speaker out, and that other person is therefore threatened by the 'shoulder' person while they talk? Or are the shoulders slumped and therefore the person we don't see is upset by what we hear/see the other person saying to them etc. But that's probably too nuanced for what you're able to do with the models.

    tl;dr: do what you're already doing, consider distance between characters and whether or not we'd need to be concentrating on - so closer to - the face we're looking at, or not, and why?

    Go watch some blooper reels on YouTube, as they'll generally be of dialogue scenes; so you can see lots of examples of camera/actor setups in a short period of time.

  • rutxer
    rutxer Posts: 176


    I think you can get away with an establishing and then single shots without over-the-shoulder.

    However, I'd think that one of the challenges of stop-motion is how to get dynamic sequences and I'd say that having variety of shots (mid shots, close ups, over the shoulder) would help on that. Also L-cuts and J-cuts help on that.

    The risk I see is that a dialogue could end up looking like a tennis match without variety of shots :)

    And on the practical side, the green screen is a good idea, but because of the blur you might not even need that. Just get a few frames with the "shoulder guy" in place, take him away to animate the talker and just composite both (like the typical cloning-yourself shot).

    Actually, in the short we're working on I had to to some of this trickery in a shot with 5 actors to hide a door that was supposed to be closed and wasn't...

    Oh, another trick is to shoot in higher resolution than delivery, and use cropping to get different shots.

    I hope this was somewhat helpful :)

  • DafterThings
    DafterThings Posts: 985 Enthusiast

    Excellent  @palacano and @rutxer

    Exactly the sort of advice and input I was looking for.
    I've been trying to do a few more shots and cuts. The video I am editing now is a little longer with quite a bit of dialog so needs *something* to keep it 'snappy'.  It does mean having to film the same scene from different angles at times but...

    I think I have what I need (but anybody else feel free to pitch in) and will think of some guidelines to follow to keep it consistent. 

    Thanks... as always


  • Palacono
    Palacono Posts: 3,414 Enthusiast

     On thing that occurs to me re: models. As they don't move themselves, maybe actually slightly move them from shot to shot in the 'over the shoulder' - or the green screen version - so they look like a person who would have moved at some point during the conversation. If they're always in exactly the same place, they'll look like a dummy would being used as a stand-in in a normal movie: unconvincing, and their lack of movement will actually mark them out as 'fake'. Only teeny tiny movements, or, with the green screen version, just slightly different frame placement might be enough. Possibly have them actually move during the other person talking, if what they've said would warrant it, such as a slight tilt of the head in a "Whaaat?" way, or a nod or shake of the head at the end of a point being made by the speaker that doesn't otherwise require a switch back to their face.

    tl;dr: Basically, if we can see them: use what we can see of them to convey something useful about them, or maybe don't show them at all?

  • DafterThings
    DafterThings Posts: 985 Enthusiast

    @palacano Yep good point.
    I have heard this before but something I need to keep reminding myself : Do it if it adds to the narrative or moves the story along. I'll include adds to the immersion to that list.... or is that the same as narrative?

  • Palacono
    Palacono Posts: 3,414 Enthusiast

    TBH, I've no idea, but don't sweat it: you seem to be doing fine so far.

  • triforcefx
    triforcefx United StatesPosts: 1,641 Moderator

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but if I remember correctly, TOS didn't have a ton of over the shoulder shots, particularly on the bridge. I'd imagine mostly due to the limitations of the sets... A similar situation to what you're in. So assuming it's another Star Trek TOS short, not having so many over the shoulder shots might be more "authentic".

  • DafterThings
    DafterThings Posts: 985 Enthusiast

    thanks @triforcefx This one isn't TOS but I'm still working on a tight set so you'd be right.

    TBH : Nobody has picked me up on it in the past and I now know when I *should* consider doing it.
    I'll see what the thoughts are after I release this next one 

  • Triem23
    Triem23 Posts: 20,278 Power User

     OTS in Trek depended on the director and season. Some found inventive ways to shoot, others, less so. Third season had budget and schedule cuts, so, whatcha gonna do? 

    The main thing to remember is shot language and mood. Alternating close up solos add distance and openness, OTS shots are oppressive or intimate (depending on mood). Since they're physically harder to set up (OTS), you know those are better for  saved for emphasis shots to drive the mood. Figure this out in the storyboard/Animatic phase.

    If you wanna get really fancy, with Lego sets, everything is pretty Planar. You could probably actually set up a virtual enterprise bridge in Hitfilm and move scaled cutouts of Lego figures in 3 D space. I have an entire tutorial on matching Hitfilm's camera to yours and scaling for distance...

    Since you probably have a limited set space you could actually probably set up real fast draft sets. A plane with a grid could be a brick wall, etc. 

  • DafterThings
    DafterThings Posts: 985 Enthusiast
    edited May 2019

    Yeah. I'll use this next video to test how the still-frame back shots affect the composition.
    I know it does sometimes look better. Just have to figure out why and when.

    Oddly I really thought I could build an entire virtual world not for the storyboards but the whole video. I am sure it is possible but, if you watch my first video (Avengers : Minor Dispute) you'll see I learnt a tough lesson fast