March 1

Visual Language & Grammar


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Civilization is built on communication. Click To Tweet

Video is a form of communication.

Every communication medium has rules – otherwise it would be a series of grunts and unintelligible sounds that are just that: unintelligible. If we do not determine what each sound means, then each sound has, well, no meaning.

This is of course true for the communication you’re reading right now. 

If the sentence abrubtly

Wait, what just happened? Did the sentence end? Was it forgotten, a misplaced period or even several words?

What about a tYpo. Or even the dreaded “quotation marks.”

It changes the communication. I, the writer, have broken the rules. I have broken faith with my audience and they in turn will tune out what I have to say – or show.

Because the same is true for video.

If the composition of a scene is off, if the tone of the visual does not match the dialogue, or perhaps the visual telling of the plot is lacking information – ever found yourself puzzled at a scene, simply because you lost track of where each actor is? This is the importance of visual grammar – understanding the language of the eyes, of the brain and how it receives narrative – the way that visual mediums can enhance, or detract, from an engaging message.

But though the world is turning to video at an ever-increasing pace, not everyone has the eye to know when they are communicating improperly.

Consider visual language as a second language –one you’ve not been taught from a young age. While spoken and written language and grammar have been fed to both willing and unwilling students since the day they could hold a pencil, not many have learned the finer points of film and video. Click To Tweet

Thankfully, there is someone who has been paying attention. Ryen Veldhuis, Vice President and Studio Head at BuzzMasters, has been studying film since he was a child.

“I was immediately captivated by film,” said Veldhuis. “It’s hard to remember exactly which called to me but being impressionable during the turn of the millennium helped a lot. It was around that time some heavy-hitters came out: Phantom Menace, Matrix, Lord of the Rings, Jurassic Park (a few years before), and technology really started to liberate the abilities of filmmakers.”

Once he’d had his fill of the current, he began “backtracking” to the recent past. “Instant-classics like Alien, Terminator, Indiana Jones, and too many to list,” he said.

Even though he says the films he loved early could be considered “superficial” as they’re not overly artistic, they have a commonality he loves. “What they all share in common is a relative level of innovation,” he said, “and it was truly the innovation of filmmaking that drew me to making stop-motion LEGO animations as a kid. I couldn’t watch enough 2-disc DVDs to satiate my curiosity for behind-the-scenes. I’d often rewatch them more than the movies themselves.”

As he grew to appreciate the art form, he explored further. “I’d start more deeply exploring the artistry of filmmaking: colour, composition, tools to execute shots – and I couldn’t get the ‘why’ out of my mind. To execute a shot is thousands of dollars and hours of planning. Everything done has a purpose. And I suppose at the root of it, the absolution of intention is what has always drawn me in. An absolute mastery of skill and precision.”

And it’s also the idea that to create a piece of work that effectively uses visual grammar, you must also have a mastery of written grammar, to sound grammar, even, as Veldhuis notes: “Movement and total emotional evocation. It’s in the skill and precision required to execute an absolute vision that liberates the ability to target audiences on so many fronts.”

It’s this level of skill and precision you will have access to when you work with a qualified and passionate team like the one at BuzzMasters. And, when you create a narrative piece that is engaging for your audience, you can inspire action.

“While people mostly understand communication as spoken or written forms of language, communication is so much deeper than that,” says Veldhuis. “An ambiance set by a scene can communicate an idea from the brain of the creator to yours, on a level language cannot replicate. It’s why in film school, so much time is spent on tearing a shot apart to understand what is communicated and why. With film, so long as you have a desire of accomplishment for your audience, you can achieve that goal totally.”

We’d love to hear about the visual languages you’ve learned!

Read Comics? You’ve learned a visual language that begins with left to right – tell us about your favourites!

What about documentary styles – a commitment to telling a factual tale, not much room for embellishment. How might visual grammar affect the story?

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grammar, language, storytelling, visual

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