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Punctuation and Grammar of Moving Image texts

Moving Image texts can be watched by anyone. Though they do not use letter icons like books, they do, however, have many other key attributes of a language.

They have:

  • a defined 'vocabulary' of shots and angles;
  • 'punctuation' in the form of camera movements and edits; and
  • a codified 'grammar' that imparts specific meaning to particular shot sequences.

These 'linguistic' elements are used to build and define audience's relationship to the characters, action, objects and emotions depicted – and to progress the audiovisual narrative in an emotionally engaging and apparently seamless fashion.

In this section we will look at the basic choices available to filmmakers in constructing the complex meanings of their narratives, choices that students should be aware of when close-reading a screenwork.

It is important to note that we can only look at these areas briefly and in isolation here. When close reading a film, the student needs to look both at the individual use of these elements as well as their total effect. For instance, one can show a reaction shot in medium-close, close or ultra close up to varying effect; similarly, the meaning of a cut may be significantly changed by a subsequent camera movement such as a pull back to reveal. Worth noting too, that the shots, cuts and angles that filmmakers don’t use can also be significant.

Camera Placement

Choice of lens

Camera Movements

Special Shots

Edits and transitions (punctuating the film)

Sound and Music

Needless to say this is only a basic introductory guide to the language of Moving Images and interested readers would be strongly advised to seek out more detailed definitions and explanations of each term at

They should also familiarise themselves with visual composition, lighting and the arrangement of subjects within the pictorial space.

A short word about Animation

Animators have much greater (though varying degrees of) freedom to play with the visual space of the worlds they create. In line-drawn animation, lines and shapes can readily transform defying the normal spatial principles of our three dimensional world. That said, most animators will usually still use the techniques of live-action cinematic montage to great effect.