First and foremost in order to understand visual composition it is important to appreciate the fundamentals. These are: line, shape, colour, texture, form and space. Each are as important as one another yet it is difficult to separate them from each other. For instance - line can be used to create shape, texture, form and space. Underneath I’ll look at each in a little more detail:
Line - is possibly the most expressive element of composition. At a basic level it can be used to create shape. To create a sense of depth or perspective two points can begin at either side of a line and connect without forming a perfectly straight line. Line can even be used to express emotion or at a primitive level, a symbol of masculinity or femininity.
These two shapes are known to be mankinds earliest symbollic representations of man and woman. The shapes literally representing an extremely simplified version of each's sex organs.
Shape - can either be as simple as flat circle in the top right hand corner of your drawing depicting the sun or an absence of shape, constructed by what else lies in the picture. Hence shape can either be positive or negative space. Shapes can also signify certain meanings; such as how a circle associated with fertility or organic matter.
Form - really exists within shape, since it is through form that a two dimensional shape can make the transition into 3D. Something as simple as shading the side of an orb in a certain manner is enough to suggest a sense of physical roundness to the object.
The Silent Hill series is known for its take of horror in a sexual manner. In Silent Hill 3 the player will constantly encounter either creatures or areas that are reminiscent of some kind of sexual representation.
That hole doesn't look that way by accident. It was a concious decision to shape it accordingly in order to represent an 'entrance'.
Colour is a powerful tool, capable of provoking emotion, temperature, calm, cleanliness and even memory. In the game “Mirrors Edge” colours were used to represent different paths. The city was a sterile metropolis consisting only of shades of white; areas shaded blue were monitored by the police and anything red (which depicted danger) was the path you (the protagonist) would take being the out-law, hero that you are. In the Silent Hill series the colour palette never ventures outside of greys, browns and dull reds; this being a conscious decision by the artists as they knew the colours are associated with dirtiness, depression and unfriendliness.
A truely unique game in which colour was not only used to create mood, but also an integral part of the gameplay.
Value and Hue are measures of colour. Certain colours are also complimentary to each other; Such as purple and yellow. An aesthetically pleasing composition might feature a yellow vase casting a purple shadow. Also it is virtually impossible to come across the colour black in nature as it is an unnatural colour and considered by some (along with white) to merely be the absence of colour.
The colour palette utilized in Silent Hill 2 is one of the most important features; adding to the murky, grim atmosphere.
Space - is the conscious decision of deciding where everything is placed within your composition. Negative is just as important as positive space; sometimes placing an object (or a character perhaps) within a wide, empty open area can suggest isolation, freedom or significance. It can also help indicate a sense of scale.
Whilst the battle in the skies is obviously the main focus in this composition it is important to note that the characters standing beneath it help to suggest a sense of scale as well as reinforce an indication of habitation within the environment.
When attempting to portray a particular feeling, or ‘mood’ within a piece it is important to consider a few things. The viewers ‘eye-level within a picture can change the way we view either the character or landscape we are perceiving. For instance, looking down upon the character can make them seem vulnerable or child-like even. Where as viewing the character from underneath can make them appear heroic or even menacing.
Notice how heroic that angle make Master Chief look! It also makes him all big and strong too :) How unfortunate he has the charm of a block of lego... notice the way the background is composed; the buildings appear to be getting smaller which denotes their scale - not possible without line.
In contrast to the previous example, notince how Heather is seen from above; this makes her look vulnerable. Not only that but she makes eye-contact, so to speak, with the viewer offering a greater emotional connection to the character than the previous composition exhibited.
A screenshot depicting Angela, another character from Silent Hill 2, contemplating suicide. The composition is carefully considered which makes it so powerful. Her eyes alone give away her sense of emptiness, and its important to note that they are focused on the knife. I personally love this shot of Angela since the viewer can practically sum her up from this composition alone.
I believe that a good piece of finished concept art should be able to tell a story; and I believe this particular piece does so very well. It depicts James and Maria separated by bars and facing each other. The first thing I notice, judging by the furniture on both sides is that both of them are in a cell. James appears to be permanently trapped with her but at the same time, she is unattainable to him. We know this piece focuses on James since Maria’s face is hidden from the viewer. This powerful narrative depicts James’ inability to remove Maria (or more to the point, Mary) from his mind and is effectively trapped with her.
Sometimes a single picture can convey a thousand words - I think that belief can be applied here.
Underneath is a particularly helpful webpage I used to reference my work: