Legend of Korra: Book 4 – Operation Beifong Frame Composition

Once again the amateur eye examines the frame composition of select scenes from Legend of Korra, the art and film world unite in praise and delight! Okay, so that might be a stretch or an outright lie.  Regardless, I enjoy looking at them from my perspective and hope you, the reader, will enjoy doing the same!  Thank you, as always, for your patience with the barely trained eye.

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First up is one of the opening scenes of Zaofu from a mountain overlook.  This is a neat frame for a couple reasons.  Zaofu, in all its disassembled glory, is on the right side with a literally thick line directing your gaze to it.  Likewise, the portion of the frame it’s in is bright and detailed, catching the eye far more than the darker and plainer left side of the frame.  This frame sets up the next, where the invisible camera does two things, refocuses on the clearing and pans away from Zaofu.

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In the second frame, the attention is meant to be on Juicy and his occupants.  The conifers around him all point directly to him, as he stands in the brightest spot of the darkest area of the frame.  Zaofu is still barely in the frame, but it’s out of focus and most of it is gone, thus intended to be less interesting and capable of catching our attention.  So in short, a neat use of focus, brightness and lines in the form of the trees.

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And then Toph appeared.  This frame is fascinating.  First, all the action is happening in a bright area framed by two dark trees.  Next, all the characters are rooted and established by trees behind them, except for Opal, who literally breaks away the darker area where Bolin and Lin are standing to run to Toph in the brighter area.  She’s crossing boundaries!  You then have several lines which guide your attention to Opal’s, Toph, with Opal’s invisible line of sight and then a large branch in the foreground over Opal’s head pointing straight at her grandmother. Finally, the shadow on the ground creates a line in contrast between light and dark that leads your gaze to Toph as well.  Toph is the center of attention and by darn, this frame will make it so.

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Then Bolin recognizes Toph.  KABOOM. FANBOY.  Toph is not meant to be the actual focus of our attention in this scene, and as such, she’s in the foreground off to the side, out of focus, with the color of her outfit muted by shadow.  Meanwhile, our true focal point is Bolin and his reaction.  The trio are centered in the frame by the blue expanse of the sky behind them with several lines directing our gaze to Bolin, be it the line of sights of Opal and Lin, or the subtle line running diagonally from the tree, down over Opal’s head and then Lin’s head toward Bolin.  You also have implied lines from the mountains in the background and the branches of the tree to the right of Bolin. Fanboy on, Bolin, fanboy on.

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Angry Opal glares angrily.  This is a fun frame and it would be great to have the storyboard artist or director’s input on the decision that was made to keep it relatively balanced.  We have Opal and Toph standing side by side, but Toph is quite small compared to her granddaughter, so we would have quite a big gap between eye level and their faces if they were alone.  But they’re not.  Instead, the person involved slapped good ol’ Juicy in between them and placed his eyes and face at pretty much the middle spot between Opal’s and Toph’s.  On top of that, Juicy is actually the centering figure in this scene. He’s exactly centered in the frame space between trees to the left and right of Toph and Opal to the point a line bisecting his arrow also equally bisects the same space.  The result is that the viewer isn’t left with an uncomfortable and distracting open space between Toph and Opal.

This also goes to a point about a lot of frames, the artists are always very spatially aware of their subject’s surroundings.  It’s just pure awesome to see the backgrounds illustrated to reflect the line of sight of the camera/viewer given the position of the subject in the space at issue.  It’s a nice touch that adds to the overall quality of the work.

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Glum Republic City President Glums.  The next several frames come from the Varrick and Asami update on their efforts to defend Republic City to President Raiko.  This frame is divided almost exactly into thirds for a balance approach with Asami and Varrick’s respective shoulders framing Raiko in the center.  A number of lines draw your gaze to the president’s face, be it the wood paneling behind him or the lines of his chair.

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Our heroes stand in profile!  Yes, Varrick is now a hero, at least by the company he keeps and helpfully aided by the conscience he developed while working for Kuvira.  Interestingly, Varrick has turned out pretty much like Suyin hoped, he’s the pirate chef of innovation!  What’s great about this frame is generally how the four are drawn with regard to the perspective lines and also how the blue shades are grouped together.  Helping to push the perspective forward, like their gaze, is the brightness of the window in front of them in contrast to the darker window behind them.  We also have the lines of the window frames directing our gaze forward, too.  Lastly, Wu is barely visible, apparently not quite a hero yet.

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The plan is flying mechs, operation Mecha-Bumjus!  Here Asami and Varrick display the blue prints of their mechs to the president, with the lines of his desk directing our gaze straight to the designs.  Likewise, the color of the desk brightens in the space in front of our two inventers.  The scene is somewhat framed by the large green spirit vine pointing down at Asami, while the actual positioning of the attendees actually create lines pointing toward Varrick.  So Asami has the desk and the vine focusing our gaze on her, but Varrick gets his own billing due to the lines you can draw from the tops of the heads of Asami and Tenzin to him and the tops of the heads of Mako to Kora to Varrick. 

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Korra is the center of attention in this finale frame from the meeting.  Varrick’s and Raiko’s bodies help frame Korra, who stands essentially in the center of the frame.  She’s also centered with the column of the wall behind her with tons of lines directing our gaze to her, be it the window frames to the line of Varrick’s shoulder sloping downward toward her.  Korra is also viewed from below which adds to her stature, it’s a more powerful position to view her from, and we see it used with Kuvira later on.

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The spirit cannon.  The vanishing point in this frame is actually in that gray space in the back, next to the cannon, but because the cannon is perfectly on the perspective line to it, we definitely focus on the big giant gun.  Numerous lines direct our gaze at the weapon from the horizontal lines of the flags to the window frames on the right side.  Likewise, one’s gaze is drawn down the railroad tracks straight to the gun, which like Korra before and Kuvira to come, is viewed from below, a more dynamic and powerful perspective.  We are meant to be impressed.

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Baatar, Jr, and the cannon on the horizon.  This is actually one of my favorite frames from the episode.  The vanishing point for the perspective is immediately adjacent to Baatar’s eyes and as our eyes are drawn to it, they’re immediately directed to Baatar’s eyes and his serious expression.  The cannon and the railroad tracks also point us to the vanishing point, which does the aforementioned effect to his eyes.  Just a cool placement of Baatar and the vanishing point.

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Can we say super Kuvira?  This is a quasi-silhouette of Kuvira as the hangar doors open up with light flooding in around her.  She’s almost perfectly centered in the frame with the rays of the light directing our gaze straight to her, not to mention her presence in the white versus the contrast of the black doors.  As discussed above, we are viewing her from below, which adds to her stature and provides a sense of power.

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Kuvira hasn’t moved, but now she’s joined with two mechs which create symmetry in the frame and also help focus our gaze on Kuvira.  In addition to the upward gaze, Kuvira’s own stance with her legs apart, forms an inverted “V” that draws our eyes up to her face.  She may be the smallest object in this frame, but she’s the most important.

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Kuvira stands in the center of the frame in front of the giant spirit cannon.  The two railroad tracks pull us front and center to focus on the Great Uniter, as do a whole bunch of other perspective lines.  Even though we have two mech suits and an Avatar universe equivalent to an atom bomb, the center of attention is Kuvira.  She’s the most powerful person or object in the frame.

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Korra tries to beseech the spirit residents of Republic City’s spirit wilds to help in the defense of the city in this frame.  It’s a nice frame because the Avatar is centered in the middle of the building behind her, even the stone plaque set into its roof.  The lines of the pavilion all draw your attention to Korra, as well the spirit vines to the bottom left and upper right.

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The infamous dinner where Toph finally reveals who Lin’s father to Bolin.  In this frame, we have several things established at a glance.  One, everyone’s attention is focused on Toph on the right with a bunch of lines, be they lines of sight from Opal and Bolin, or the lines of the table, or even a light that can be drawn straight from the top of Lin’s head down to Opal and on to Bolin.  Even Juicy gets in on it with the line of his head pointing to Toph.  Meanwhile, Lin is also supposed to be a focus of our attention to, being in the foreground and thus, the largest person in the frame.  Yet, she’s in shadow, indicating that while she’s seated with everyone else, she’s not a part of the conversation.  Her slightly hunched over posture could reference her holding on to her pain or anger that’s visible on her face.   

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It’s the Beifongs.  The darker wood bars contrasted with the lighter wood bars help frame our trapped family with Suyin’s sole “window” helping to make her the main focal point.   You also have the line of sight of her family, all directing their eyes toward her.  Interestingly, we have a glimpse of how the family connects to each other with the twins next to each other, Baatar, Sr., right next to Lin, and the “individual” Huan by himself.  Lin is also helped by being placed right next to the center divide of the frame, so in the middle of the frame.   

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This is a pretty simple frame, but well built.  Opal’s uniform contrasts wonderfully with the blue of the sky and she’s centered in the middle of the frame.  The clouds have been drawn to draw your eyes toward her, as well the blue sky between them.  Just a well built frame.

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It’s the Anti-Bolin in a scene perfectly framed in the center with the corridor behind him drawing every eye straight to the bad guy checking in on the prisoners.  The warm red light in contrast to the dark greens immediately draws your attention to that lovable stolen curl on the forehead.

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Lin is framed between Suyin and Baatar, Sr., with multiple lines of sight from the characters in the frame directing our attention back to her.  Of course, she’s also “framed” by the opening in the top of the cell.  A neat perspective.

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Baatar, Sr’s, knee is awesome.  Here’s why, the perspective of the scene is designed entirely to focus our attention on Bolin on the right side of the frame.  As a result, to keep all the characters in focus, they’re spread out with varying degrees of distance from the screen with Baatar being the closest, and due to his posture, his knee is right up front.  They all help form lines that turn our gaze to Bolin who is set apart by the blue sky behind him and a bunch of other lines that also pull our focus back to him.  You have to admire the confidence of the artists to put that knee right up front.

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Korra in meditation.  This is definitely her space on Air Bender Island, as you can notice the Water Tribe motifs that run along the wood beams that form the structure.  It’s not a surprise that she chooses this spot to turn inward or to stand with Asami in the infamous clip episode to talk about her emotional worries.  All lines lead to Korra in this scene as she’s the center of attention and the center of this frame.  The shadows, the wood working, and the ocean’s horizon, all the lines.  Even the clouds in the sky seem to be pulled inward toward her.

All photos used were sourced from cap-that.com, an awesome repository of high quality screen captures from the Legend of Korra.

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