Visual Imagery To CommunicateOur words and the way we communicate with one another are so complex that universities now teach communications as a field of study.  It is also a very important feature in acting.

The most fascinating aspect of communication is how words evoke images.  Images engage our full compliment of senses, causing us to not only see what the speaker wants us to see, but also experience the sensations that go along with those images.  Tropical beach vacation can evoke a world of images., As soon as you hear those three words you picture the pristine white beach the vast blue ocean, feel the warm tropical breeze as it flows through the palm trees.  All of that happened with three simple words.  This type of visual imagery is called a stream of thought.  It is when one can hear, feel, smell, see, and taste or experience any combination of those senses.

The Real Experts

The use of visual imagery is not new.  The real experts in this field aren’t the language specialists or psychologists or even scientists of any kind.  Actors and directors have been using these communication methods with each other and their audience for years. One can see examples in successful movies, television shows, and plays.

History of Use

Actors and directors create with imagery.  Even in the silent film era, which lasted about forty years, lack of sound did not detract from the film’s message to its audience.  The element of silence required the audience to immerse themselves into the lives of the characters.  It allowed their imagination to complete the scenes, which the actors and directors had partially created.

The movie Sunrise, made in 1926 by F.W. Murnau, won an Academy Award during the first ever ceremony in 1929.  Sixty years later, the Library of Congress chose to preserve it in the National Film Registry as a significant piece of our cultural history.  The film, a dreamy tale of a young man, has been able to capture the hearts of its audience to this very day.  Murnau provided the background of images and the actors showed us their feelings through body language.  No words, just imagery.

Applications Today

Film today is not all that different.  The director must convey his vision to the audience through his actors. The ability to imagine how a character looks, moves, and behaves is essential to both the actor and the director.  If the director is unable to communicate his vision effectively, then the actor will not be able to become the character.  Without the true character, the audience’s experience is incomplete.

Once a director ignites the spark to connect the idea to the character, and the character to the actor, the actors use imagery to help them become the character.  For instance, in the movie Grifters, Angelica Huston connected to her character by using the image of a fox caught in a trap whose only hope of freedom was to gnaw off her own foot.

Actors relate to images differently.  Think back to the beach vacation mentioned earlier.  Your beach probably doesn’t look exactly like mine.  Maybe you imagined fine, powdery sand with green sparkling ocean, but you still created an image from a few simple words.  Actors do the same.  A script is just words until someone transforms those words into images.

Describing the Image

Terminology is an essential component of how a director will communicate with his or her actors.  The more detailed the description of a character, the better the actors can develop that character.   Simply saying that a character is a fun guy is not enough. Why is the character fun?  Is he fun because he is funny? Who thinks he is funny?  What in particular is funny about him?  By supplying a detailed definition, the director ensures that everybody sees the character’s personality the same way. Angelica Houston’s translation of the fox image into a personality led to a much better understanding of her character by the audience.

In creating films, it is essential to understand the use of imagery. Images are basically words in picture form.  We achieve the process through associations. The word “blue” will immediately create an image of what we associate with it: the sky, the ocean, or maybe a favorite shirt.  The picture is not as important as the feelings it evokes. Images are the instruments of language that directors and actors use to express a character’s feelings, intentions, and motivations.  The director uses visual imagery as a tool in the creative process.