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Shot Context

May 7, 2007

Glen Keane popularized the idea that there are only 3 parts to any scene (which he probably got from one of the 9 Old Men). It’s important in helping us to see the big picture of how our shot or series of shots fits into the larger drama.

Part 1: Where you’re coming from. (the previous scene)
Part 2: What you’re doing here. (the point of the current scene)
Part 3: Where you’re going to. (what scene you lead into)

Your scene of animation is there to convey a very important part of the story, but it does not do it alone. No shot exists in isolation. Your shot is one in a series of shots that together form a larger whole.

Where are you coming from? What just happened? The previous shot is not merely important for continuity and hook up, it provides context for your shot. It is the background of what you are about to tackle. In fact, you should know the whole sequence to have an idea of what’s at stake, what is really going on.

Where are you going? What is to come after? The next shot has to work out of the one you’re presently doing. In essence this shot is one of a series that are building up to some story element. This is your most immediate concern. But you must also consider the larger framework.

There’s an old saying in interpretation:

‘A text without a context is a pretext.’

What that says is you cannot arrive at an accurate meaning without understanding the whole context. If you don’t understand the context then your text, or your shot, has just become a pretext, a speed bump, a false note…a derailment of the story.


A significant part of our job is to get rid of these false notes…to get the bent rails back in line with the rest so that the story runs smoothly as a whole.

The framework for doing that is to find the contexts that are operating above your scene.


The most immediate context is the series of shots that surround the shot. The next context is to know what’s happening in the scene, and where your shot is placed within the scene. Third, you have to know where in the sequence this falls. Usually this is obvious, but it often helps to reconsider where your shot is happening within the sequence. And finally is the Act (in a 3 act structure.)

Thinking about your shot in story terms, your immediate context is the character and the conflict that they are facing. Beyond that you can consider the story and the theme.

This does not mean you need to de-construct every single shot you have to animate. What it is saying is that each shot has a purpose. Shots cost money, and if you have been given the task of working on a shot, there is good reason why it’s there. Shots are like individual bricks in a wall. They have a specific function and relationship to all the others. If you know that relationship then you are less likely to waste valuable time going in a direction that is false to the story.

So, our formula now becomes:

A shot without a context is a false note.

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