Building A Map Of The World

What Is A Map

Building a map is the audience understanding the relationship between different shots and scenes, and how they relate to each other geographically.

A map, or "mental map" is just a model, a metaphor really, for understanding how the audience constructs and understands the geographic relationships between scenes.

If a character goes in one direction, where will they end up?

If an audience can answer this question, then an edit that cuts between the scenes will be all the less jarring and uncomfortable.

Types Of Maps

There are two types of maps that audiences form in their heads. The first is one of reality. An accurate understanding of the environments that the characters are in. When we show audiences familiar locations, types of buildings, and so on; they are generally capable of understanding the architecture of the environments, which doors lead where, and so on. Frankly, this map doesn't really matter for understanding cuts. It does, certainly, especially when cutting to places for the first time. If a character gets out of a yellow taxi cab onto a sidewalk, we will be confused if they are standing in a western saloon as opposed to a hotel lobby.

For editing between shots, one thing that matters a lot is building a screen-space map.

A screen space map is the audience's understanding of how various environments are linked together. A character can leave a frame through a visible exit (a door), or walk off the screen camera left, right, or behind the camera. By tracking characters from one to the next as they move, and being consistent with these movements and shots, we can form "geographic" relationships between each scene.

A character moves left, now we are here. They move right, and we are back.

A character at their locker in high school could walk off-screen and we could show them in just about any classroom we want. Classrooms lead to hallways, hallways have lockers. The audience does not need to understand the reality of the environment or the layout of the hallways. We don't have to show the journey because conceptually, no transition has taken place. "Hallway" is just one location in the audience's mental understanding of the world, and it is a hub, connecting to many possible environments.

This works because the audience understands the reality of a school, how hallways are all about the same; but also because the audience accepts one hallway location for about any hallway location.

Screen-Space Maps in Film

In many films and video games, the world is established roughly linearly.

Generally, complicated 3-dimensional environments are, in some way or another, flattened into left or right (See "From 3 Dimensions to 2"). For the character to enter a building and get to a particular room, they may have to - in real life - make a series of complicated turns. In a film's screen space, they generally have to do one of two things: Keep moving in one direction, visibly change directions, and/or enter a symbolic teleporter or hub location.

These maps exist in screen-space. The character goes off screen in that direction, the next shot will show them in the next "room", as established by the linear screen-space.

Due to camera placement and character paths, the character can always remain moving left-to-right (or vise versa, or towards/away, etc). We can film the character going into an elevator (aforementioned symbolic teleporter) where we don't need to show the character moving at all, instead they "teleport" and can leave the elevator and be anywhere; ready to keep moving left-to-right, or whatever. The TV show Doctor Who uses this to literal ends.

Stairwells and cars can function as symbolic teleporters. Any such environment that "resets" where the character is, or allows them to go to any number of other locations. In map terms, they are hubs. A character can move them one "linear" set of rooms to another. A stairwell literally moves characters from one hallway to another.

Films can create more complicated maps than a linear system or multiple linear systems connected by teleporters. Generally, these maps can be connected two-dimensionally. Once a character gets in a car, for example, the world opens up. Filming car sequences is thusly done one of two ways, with the directions mattering, or with them disregarded and ignored. Characters just drive, then arrive. Filmmakers tend to avoid any sense of turn-by-turn directions unless it is significant to the narrative.

Building Maps in Video Games

When players understand their environments, they often understand them linearly. They start at the entrance of one area, travel consistently (maybe not right-to-left), and reach the exit. To go back, they would have to go back through where they have already been.

Some video games use a different metaphorical arrangement, like branching tree's (worlds and levels), or where levels are the same geographically but different attributes change, like difficulty.

360 Video

360 Video editing is limited in camera movement and establishing linear off-screen relationships. For a character to leave the screen, they have to walk "away" from the camera, or leave through some environmental element, like a door.

This doesn't help establish linear scenes, but can be useful for establishing 2 dimensional mapped scenes, as with finite state machines, flow charts, and 'mind maps' - all the same type of graph; circles connected by lines.

If one is filming a scene where the connection between rooms and environments is part of the narrative (where characters move around, as opposed to a "travel video" slideshow). It is probably useful to literally draw a map when planning and laying out the video.

Established maps have leniency

Once our map is established and consistent, we can start to take allowances in our editing. Let's say we have a character in their room, down their stairs, and on the street. A simple connection of shots. In some circumstances can jump from the room to the street, and the fact that the character went down the stairs can be assumed.

By graphing out the map, we can learn where we can and can't take these shortcuts.

If, when we cut from one scene to another, it's ambiguous the path that the character took (and that path may matter, like if one character is searching for another), then we shouldn't take that shortcut.

There is always some reason to cut from one location to another when switching scenes, but within the same scene, narratively, using these relationships is a tool that a director can use to keep the audience from being confused during a cut. Keeping edits from being jarring is largely about not surprising the audience, and the audience's ability to predict or understand where a character could be matters.

It doesn't need to be the same shot

As mentioned earlier when talking about the hallway of a school, one 'location' in terms of a map may be a variety of actual, real, locations.

The map exists on a conceptual level that likely closely maps to reality (for 360 video), but may not. Hallways, streets, and other such natural transition areas are important.

Likewise, sometimes one physical location may account for a variety of locations in real life. This would be shot of a character driving a car.

These types of locations would, on the map, likely act as a hub.