Every Encounter an Emotion

Chromatic Chameleon's picture

Some people are influenced by books or music. I'm influenced by movies. Because of this, I often watch the short clips of Tony Zhou’s Every Frame a Painting to learn tradecraft. The last one I watched was “Akira Kurosawa: Composing Movement.” While watching, I realized it was full of advice that players could use for their characters.

In the clip, Tony discusses five major types of movement used by Kurosawa: weather, group, individual, camera, and cut. Of these types of movement, the “individual” type with its focus on character seems to be the most useful, and indeed Tony takes a full minute to talk about character.


Can you portray your character's emotions by your movement? If you have control of the scene, you can use the setting, the group or even simulated camera movement to show how these emotions play out. Be subtle about it though: we want cinematic action, not the kitchen sink.
According to Tony, Kurosawa would often have his actors develop a particular movement to represent their character. This is great advice! Think about your character’s main emotion; is there a way to represent it in your movement, instead of simply describing it? For example, if you're a thief: “My character moves about nervously, skulking around the golden dagger.”


The camera is another tool you can use. Kurosawa would often divide the shot into three parts, each designed to tell a scene. Continuing the example, let's say you've decided to take a magic item that's caught your thiefly eye. Using Kurosawa’s technique, you could add cinematic drama to a simple description: “With everyone distracted, my eyes narrow their focus on the dagger. My hands quickly reach out with all their skill to snatch the dagger. I turn on my feet, running with lighting speed.”
Other Kurosawa techniques require you to negotiate control of the scene. After obtaining it, think about the kind of cinematic action you’re trying to convey.

Weather or natural forces can often be used to add an extra layer of meaning to your actions. Say you're in a fight with an evil wizard, deep in his secret lab, and your character tragically dies. Why not have the roof start caving in? It doesn’t have to collapse completely, just a few damaged ceiling parts are enough to add some dramatic essence to your death.

The “group” technique can be used if the other characters are already established in the scene. For example: “The wizard’s ten young apprentices scream and run off as the ceiling falls around them.”

The cut gives you the ultimate ability to define the end of the dramatic scene. This technique is best used to display a major emotion: “As I die my eyes close, and the last few hours of my life pass before my eyes, until I see the cave entrance and its torch light. Do I enter or not?”

Instead of just giving a bland description of an action, a theft or a character’s death, we can use these techniques to give deeper descriptions.

In fact, you can use any combination of these tools to achieve a cinematic effect for key scenes. This ability bridges the gap between descriptive play and roleplaying, allowing players with less expressive styles able to create dramatic scenes. I hope Kurosawa’s techniques are as informative for you as they were for me. His methodology improves my GMing, my playing, and even my writing.

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