Multimodal Terms

Some Common terms for multimodal production

General Terms

Garbage in/garbage out: a phrase concerning the quality of source material. In audio/video production, you can never increase the quality of the source, but you can always decrease the quality during editing. The recommendation is to record the information at the highest possible quality and reduce the quality as needed for later use (e.g., for YouTube). With this in mind, as great as they are, Flip cameras are absolutely no match for the video quality of a direct to miniDV camera.

GUI (Graphical User Interface): before the integration of a computer mouse, computer commands were input via a command line, which required users to type in textual commands in order to access directories, subdirectories, programs, and files. The GUI interface replaced typing with a mouse and textual commands with the image of folders and file icons. Most users input commands via a GUI, but all computers still have command line access as well.

Pan: this is moving a video camera left to right on a horizontal path. Contrast with tilt.

Pixel: the smallest piece of an image (or text, or video, etc.). The more pixels, the more detail, but larger the file size, of the image, text, video that is displayed.

Resolution: a) the number of pixels a screen can show at one time as represented by the relation between horizontal pixels by vertical pixels. For example, a screen might be 1280 x 800 pixels for a total of 1,024,000 pixels (or 1.024 megapixels) on screen. b) the maximum number of pixels devoted to a single image, text, or video.

Rule of thirds: a common term from photography and film/video. The rule divides your camera viewfinder into a 3x3 screen (some recent digital cameras and phones can overlay a 3x3 grid into your viewfinder). You then can break up your shot into segments to create more interesting and dynamic shots.

Storyboard: commonly used for moving pictures (be it animation, film, video, and so on), a storyboard describes in visual form how those moving pictures will be strung together to achieve whatever purpose the author desires.

Tilt: this is moving a video camera up and down on a vertical path. Contrast with pan.

WYSIWYG: literally, What You See Is What You Get. This is a graphical interface that displays code (e.g., HTML) as what the code will look like once translated through a software program (e.g., Internet Explorer). Many HTML editors allow for a WYSIWYG view; most also allow for code view or simultaneous WYSIWYG and code view.

Film and Video Terms*

Aspect Ratio: The relationship of the frame’s width to its height. The standard Academy ratio is currently 1.85:1.

Cinematography: A general term from all the manipulations of the film strip by the camera in the shooting phase and by the laboratory in the developing phase.

Mise-en-scene: (French) All of the elements placed in front of the camera to be photographed: the settings and props, lighting, costumes and make-up, and figure behavior.

Montage sequence: A segment of film that symbolizes a topic or compresses a passage of time into brief symbolic or typical images. Frequently dissolves, fades, superimpositions, and wipes are used to link the images in a montage sequence.

Scene: A segment in a narrative film that takes place in one time and space or that uses crosscutting to show two or more simultaneous actions.

Shot Composition

Close-up: A framing in which the scale of the object shown is relatively large; most commonly a person’s head seen from the neck up, or an object of a comparable size that fills most of the screen

Framing: The use of the edges of the film frame to select and compose what will be visible onscreen.

Long shot: A framing in which the scale of the object shown is small; a standing human figure would appear nearly the height of the screen.

Long take: A shot that continues for an unusually lengthy time before the transition to the next shot.

Medium shot: A framing in which the scale of the object shown is of moderate size; a human figure seen from the waist up would fill most of the screen.

Pan: A camera movement with the camera body turning to the right or left. On the screen, it produces a mobile framing which scans the space horizontally.

Point-of-view shot (POV shot): A shot taken with the camera places approximately where the character’s eyes would be, showing what the character would see; usually cut in before or after a shot of the character looking.

Reframing: Short panning or tilting movements to adjust for the figures’ movements, keeping them onscreen or centered.

Shot: 1. In shooting, one uninterrupted run of the camera to expose a series of frames. Also called a take. 2. In the finished film, one uninterrupted image with a single static or mobile framing.

Superimposition: The exposure of more than one image on the same film strip.

Take: In filmmaking, the shot produced by one uninterrupted run of the camera. One shot in the final film may be chosen from among several takes of the same action.

Tilt: A camera movement with the camera body swiveling upward or downward on a stationary support. It produces a mobile framing that scans the space vertically.

Tracking shot: A mobile framing that travels through space forward, backward, or laterally. See also pan and tilt.


Backlighting: Illumination cast onto the figures in the scene from the side opposite the camera, usually creating a thin outline of highlighting on those figures.

Fill light: Illumination from a source less bright than the key light, used to soften deep shadows in a scene. See also three-point lighting.

Frontal lighting: Illumination directed into the scene from a position near the camera.

Hard lighting: Illumination that creates sharp-edged shadows.

High-key lighting: Illumination that creates comparatively little contrast between the light and dark areas of the shot. Shadows are fairly transparent and brightened by fill light.

Key light: In the three-point lighting system, the brightest illumination coming onto the scene. See also backlighting, fill light, three-point lighting.

Low-key lighting: Illumination that creates strong contrast between light and dark areas of the shot, with deep shadows and little fill light.

Side lighting: Lighting coming from one side of a person or object, usually in order to create a sense of volume, to bring out surface tensions, or to fill in areas left shadowed by light from another source.

Soft lighting: Illumination that avoids harsh bright and dark areas, creating a gradual transition from highlights to shadows.

Three-point lighting: A common arrangement using three directions of light on a scene; from behind the subjects (backlighting), from one bright source (key light), and from a less bright source balancing the key light (fill light).

Underlighting: Illumination from a point below the figures in the scene.


Asynchronous sound: Sound that is not matched temporally with the movements occurring in the image, as when dialogue is out of synchronization with lip movements.

Diegetic sound: Any voice, musical passage, or sound effect presented as originating from a source within the film’s world. See also nondiegetic sound.

Direct sound: Music, noise, and speech recorded from the event at the moment of filming; opposite of postsynchronization.

Nondiegetic sound: Sound, such as mood music or a narrator’s commentary, represented as coming from a source outside the space of the narrative.

Postsynchronization: The process of adding sound to images after they have been shot and assembled. This can include dubbing of voices, as well as inserting diegetic music or sound effects. It is the opposite of direct sound.

Sound bridge: 1. At the beginning of one scene, the sound from the previous scene carries over briefly before the sound from the new scene begins. 2. At the end of the scene, the sound from the next scene is heard, leading into that scene.

Synchronous sound: Sound that is matched temporally with the movements occurring in the images, as when dialogue corresponds to lip movements.


Continuity editing: A system of cutting to maintain continuous and clear narrative action. Continuity editing relies upon matching screen direction, position, and temporal relations from shot to shot.

Cut: 1. In filmmaking, the joining of two strips of film together with a splice. 2. In the finished film, an instantaneous change from one framing to another.

Dissolve: A transition between two shots during which the first image gradually disappears while the second image gradually appears; for a moment the two images blend in superimposition.

Editing: 1. In filmmaking, the task of selecting and joining camera takes. 2. In the finished film, the set of techniques that governs the relations among shots.

Superimposition: The exposure of more than one image on the same film strip.

Wipe: A transition between shots in which a line passes across the screen, eliminating the first shot as it goes and replacing it with the next one.

*From: Bordwell, David and Kristin Thompson. Film Art: An Introduction. 6th Ed. New York: McGraw Hill, 2001. Print. pp. 429-436.