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What 'Box' can tell us about Stills Photography

If you haven't already seen it I strongly recommend watching the jaw-dropping short film 'Box' from the US company Bot & Dolly. At first viewing you automatically assume CGI (computer generated effects added in post production), but if you carefully read the explanatory text you'll realise that this is actually a very, very sophisticated projection trick known as projection mapping. Two sopisticated robots carry two reflective panels onto which are projected a series of geometric designs. The movement and projection is coordinated in a complex series of moves designed to create a series of convincing illusions.

So, what can 'Box' tell us about stills photography? Well although the technology is cutting edge and used to create some of the unique sequences in the Alfonso Cuaron film Gravity, the essence of the illusion is based on some very traditional and essential precepts of making a good still image.

  1. Focus on the main elements and remove unwanted distractions. By planning the entire film and animations in black and white with some clever lighting they turn the corner of an industrial unit into a black and white studio. This helps to isolate the vital elements and concentrate our vision on the projection panels. Any superfluous visual details allowed to intrude on the scene would spoil the illusion. The same applies to good stills photography - the more you can isolate the main subject of your image the more successful it will be.
  2. We are constantly striving to make a 2D medium 3D. The 3D illusion in this video I found entirely convincing, but it is after all a 2D projection. Successful composition in stills photography is often based on the illusion of depth or three dimensions, helping draw the viewer of the image into it.
  3. Graphic bold elements are always succesful. Many of the elements of this film hinge on being graphic and bold and using lots of strong geometric contrasts. Equally in stills photography , even if the subject itself has alot of texture and detail, we can make it much more compelling if we can add such lines of geometry and contrast. This can be accomplished in many situations simply by changing our angle of view or re-orientating the camera or the subject in respect of the direction of light. Of course successfully accomplishing this will go a long way to creating the feeling of depth in an image.

If you want to find out more about how 'Box' was made, check out this behind-the-scenes film: