What is Visual Motif in Film_

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What is Visual Motif in Film?

The use of motifs in film is an incredibly common practice that creates recurring patterns. In a variety of visual elements that are carried out on the screen. While motifs are frequently used in film and can be presented in a variety of ways such as through sound, dialogue, physical appearance and colors. Visual motifs are those which are specifically visual. What is a visual motif in film? And how do visual motifs create the recurring patterns of a story which filmmakers use to connect with the audience?

What is a Visual Motif in Film?

Firstly, a motif is any recurring pattern that supports the underlying theme of the narrative. Also, visual motifs are those recurring patterns which can be visibly seen on the screen. Such as props, costumes, set design, symbol and events. 

The idea of a visual motif, or simply a motif, is to support the underlying theme of showing, not telling, your audience what your story is about. So, visual motifs provide subtle clues and symbols that can help your audience understand the theme of your story.

Strengthening the Narrative

Visual motifs strengthen your narrative theme. They’re often used to reintroduce elements of importance throughout the story in order to underline the significance and reinforce their purpose in the narrative.

Most filmmakers are particularly interested in visual motifs because these are the cues that the audience will see and which can help to tell the story. 

Types of Visual Motifs in Film

As you know, visual motifs in film are those recurring elements which strengthen the existing thematic elements of the story. Many different visual elements can become visual motifs.

A key defining factor of a visual motif is that they have representation multiple times throughout the story. And, with each subsequent instance that the motif is seen, the audience becomes closer to understanding their purpose/meaning. 

For Example

Furthermore, your set design may act as a visual motif. Think about a set design that showcases a deteriorating church with pews that are breaking and a steeple with a broken bell.

This set design could be a motif that represents time running out. Or a loss of faith for the character as the church falls apart around him or her with each subsequent visit. 

Moreover, if the set design reinforced the theme of the film and provided supporting insight as to the character’s qualities. While reinforcing through multiple instances of being visible in the film. You’ve got yourself a visual motif!

Visual motifs can be made up of just about any visible element within the film including:

  • The set
  • The props
  • The character costumes
  • Costumes
  • Design Elements
  • Colors
  • Symbols
  • Patterns
  • Textures

In Summation

Finally, in answering the question, “What is a visual motif in film?” There are many different elements that can act as visual motifs in film. Depending on their use and how the Director incorporates them into the story.

Think you could use some examples of visual motifs in film? Studio Binder does a fantastic job of outlining this through the magic of video: