There are three aspects of silent film that I study: acting poses, storytelling, and use of shadows. This post will focus on shadows.
Silent filmmakers were very aware of light and shadow because their cameras needed extreme amounts of each to create good images. As creative as the Lumiere Brothers dived headfirst into fantasy and pushing what film could do. The German expressionists went full tilt light and shadow. Their design esthetic was crafting light and shadow into shapes and characters.
Shadow is integral to the storytelling, the emotional content, and set design. The power they were able to create is amazing to me. I think the best movies use what the expressionists made. It is a specific language of light that shows up in every decade of film, mainly in the Noir period.
Strong, cutting shadows could show magic, internal thought, emotion extending from a character. Shadow could focus your attention to a specific spot, add depth or importance to something. It can make light brighter. It can expose intent. It can also be used as artifice and create interesting shapes and patterns.
I try to incorporate this into my art when it’s appropriate. It also influences my sense of design. In my comics work, it plays a more important role.
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