I'm sure you've already noticed that shadows have been attached to virtually all animated characters in any lighting situation in this film. While this is a very time-consuming and expensive technique, the integration of characters into a naturalistic background benefits from it if done properly. Essentially the luxury of shadows is only justified if they are used to enhance the storytelling. So in many animated films we only see animated shadows when needed to strengthen a composition or achieve a certain effect. In Tarzan, the shadows do not attract our attention when they are used for stronger staging because they are always present. The foundation for this can be found in the magnificent visual development work by John Watkiss among others. Watkiss' paintings and sketches are on display in the DVD bonus material and in this slim book.
|These Watkiss images have been lifted from Hans Bacher's animation treasure site|
|As a sidenote: just look at the marvellous clean-up in all the close-ups of Kerchak.|
Apart from the rocks and the extreme low angle shot, in the scene above Kerchak has also been seen in the back light
Shadows over Kerchak
During the "son of man" montage we see Kerchak, still shown from a relatively low angle but without a shadow over his face.
For the first time, his shadow is over Kerchak's body and not the other way round.
After Sabor has overthrown Tarzan, Kerchak attacks the leopard. Sabor is stronger, though, whereupon Tarzan fights back and finally kills Sabor in a riveting action sequence.
|Sabor is now virtually in the back light (as seen from Kerchak's lower point of view) which makes him look far more impressive and scary.|
|As Kerchak is able to off his attacker, he is once again seen in the back light which makes him seem all the more powerful.|
|While Sabor is fully lit and not scary any more, Tarzan himself is standing completely in the shadows. He has finally killed another animal and it looks like he doesn't know how to react to that immediately.|
|Kerchak turns from the light to the shadow again. When Tarzan is coming to him, he doesn't look him straight into the eyes.|
In the camp, Kerchak is seen in plain sunlight at first. His large angry figure and dark appearance is enough, of course, to scare Jane and force her to crouch down.
|left: another great example of careful clean-up; right: Kerchak's shadow over Jane's face.|
In the next two key scenes – Kerchak tells Tarzan to protect his family (1) and Kerchak calls Tarzan a traitor (2) – dusk is already in full swing and colors the emotional impact very strongly.
|With Kerchak almost in silhouette, Tarzan and his mother are in full light: Kerchak fears the humans, Tarzan is in love with one.|
|Tarzan is almost completely in Kerchak's shadow. The frame is very dark overall.|
|Kerchak has to straighten up to his full height, to "overwhelm" Tarzan. Now there's no light area on the forehead left.|
|After running away, he seems to be occupied with himself. We are denied any closer shot of him.|
Against Kerchak's warning Tarzan brings his human "friends" to meet his “mother” Kala at dusk. It's no surprise that this scene is using the same type of color palette as the warning. Like the very first scene, the light changes according to Kerchak's emotional involvement.
|Humans in light, Kerchak in shadow.|
|Similar lighting as in the Sabor battle but with warmer colors overall.|
|It's getting darker, redder and more dramatic..|
|Tarzan is turning against Kerchak to save Clayton.|
|Technically, the light would probably not come from high above at this hour, but dramatically this "heaven's light" works very well. In this stark light Tarzan realizes what he has done.|
|Tarzan is running away once again after a confrontation with Kerchak. A thousand thoughts seem to spin in his head. Visually this fiery place is brimming over with detail. Tarzan's silhouette is almost obscured by the shadows and leaves.|
|This time he gazes far out to the horizon, we are given a reverse shot|
I'm aware that film makers might be surprised what scholars see in their creations. It is entirely possible that many of the things I notice when analyzing were never planned in such a conscious and schematic way as they present themselves. The artists may have just done the scenes the way they intuitively felt was right, or they may have discussed and planned certain aspects over a long period of time.
To me it is important to analyze what there is in the film and not what film makers say they wanted to achieve. However, if I write about a certain composition that it has a dramatic effect, this is based on my emotional perception of that composition and the effect it has on me.
As these posts show, I'm able to write extensively (and not in a negative way) about a film I don't even really like as a whole. This would be different had I chosen to write a movie review and not an analysis of certain aspects.