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A Study in Composition (Part 1)

Over time, we have come across various fundamental principles from various sources that have helped us study Composition. Our very own Chirag Thakar, has helped us compile of this information.

The three questions:

  1. Why?
  2. What?
  3. How?

It is very important to know the answers to these questions, in this order, before we start out in composition or any kind of design. Let’s look at the importance of composition and what it is.


We use composition as a powerful tool to

  1. Convey an emotion
  2. Create a specific mood
  3. Tell a story

To move forward, we must have a clear concise understanding of the story we are telling, the mood of the moment and the emotion it conveys. Once these are in place, we can go ahead and start.


Put in simple words, Composition is the meaningful arrangement of design elements with the help of design principles within a frame to portray a given situation.


To do so, we have on our side, certain basic principles we can follow. These are:

  1. Unity with Variety
  2. Grouping
  3. Balance
  4. Rhythm
  5. Focal Area/Point of Interest

Let’s look at some examples that show us how these principles are used.


Unity with Variety

  1. Image by Zac Retz


Here we see that the repetition of verticals is unifying the image (unity) with variety in size, shapes, and space.


  1. This is an illustration by Wilhelm M. Busch


















In the background of this illustration we see the verticals and horizontals are repeated, while the figures are unified/grouped with diagonals forming a rectangle with the lamp as a vertex as shown in the paint over.



  1. This is an image from the Art of Ratatouille:


This image shows a connection between Remy and the Eiffel Tower. The Tower is the Focal Point (first read) and Remy is the second read. The rest of the skyline is less important in this frame, so they have been grouped in a single horizontal line that matched the eye level of the character.


  1. This is an image by Paul Felix for Tarzan











This image is all about the interaction between Kerchak and Tarzan. Kerchak is a dominating character with high contrast and first-read while Tarzan is the second read. The rest of the gorillas are grouped in values setting Kerchak’s value dark against light and Tarzan as light against dark which separates them from the rest of the crowd.



  1. Here we have a concept from the film “Wall-E”


In this image, the active space on the right side is balanced by the passive space on the left. The luminous arches help in the balancing the action on the right.


  1. Here’s another concept from the film “Ratatouille”


We can simply break this image in just two values, black and white. The white indicates the active space while the black indicates passive space. The active and passive spaces balance each other. Additionally, the dominating white shapes on the left is balanced by the smaller white figure on the right.



  1. This is an image by Armand Serrano


Here we see vertical repetitions along with the shape and size variations (unity with variety). The height of the elements creates a rhythm as shown in the paint over. This gives the image a certain flow and variation.


  1. Below is a concept from the film “How to Train Your Dragon”


Each element here contributes to creating a flow of lines within the image as shown in the paint over. This also shows the interaction between the two characters and creates a seamless eye movement with the image.

Rhythm can also be used to lead the eye to the focal area.

You can learn a lot about composition by studying and reverse-engineering processes of great artists.

In the next part, we will be exploring the use of shape language and other principles in conveying emotions and story telling. So watch out for the next part of this post!

Posted on February 2, 2017 in Art, Company, Developement Diary

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