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Time Space Information in Cinematics


As architects, we often mention about the correlation of space-time information in relation to the design project or the philosophy behind it. However, this is not the only domain that uses these key factors in order to compose an approach for their projects. In fact, in cinematic, the audience is usually exposed to these relations under the names of narration and set design. Specifically, in the 90’s, this relationship flourished in movies with radical and fascinating experiments on conventional notions of narrative time and logic. Beginnings reveal themselves to be endings and narratives follow circular routes, multiple narrative paths, independent of each other, crossed, entwined, merged and diverged. These narratives were circular, fragmented, insoluble, performative.

This paper aims to expand time-space-information notions through two circular narratives: Wes Anderson's Fantastic Mr. Fox and Christopher Nolan’s Memento. A time field, created through the deconstruction of the still frames of the movies, consisting of 250 entries with three layers has been used as a method to reveal the correlation between narration and time, space, information. The entries mainly composed of four important factors which are space design, the perspective of the camera, time perception and dialogue as information. Moreover, in contemplation of capturing interactions between these notions on the silver screen, an infographic has been designed as a demonstrative element which is also emphasizing the importance of time perception.

In the first part of the paper, the idea of space information relationship and the concept of time in movies were introduced while indicating differences between narrated time versus narration time through the mindset of post production team- so called architects of movies. Following with a short brief on the new informational era in the 90s, the similarities and differences between two movies with circular time flows were discussed through the medium of parametric narration. The purpose of this study is to present a systematic review of the common conception of time-space information on a different domain, concerning the explorations on the spatiotemporal effects which started to appear after the deviation towards unconventional methods in the 90s cinematic universe.

Space, Time, Frame, Cinema : A short introduction to Architects of the movies

With the beginning of 20th century, the social norms and values have started to portray through the multicultural social lens of the cinema. The effectiveness of movies increased through the implementation of powerful stories, the state-of-art cameras, the lighting and sound design. Despite the promotional aspect of blockbuster movies, the seventh art form—cinema is commonly known for its artistic interpretations of a story which later transcends into a directorial style. In film studies, great directors are considered as the author of their films regardless of how they were funded or the conditions under which they were made. Regardless of the fact that directors act one of the major roles in the production, the contribution of a grand team behind it should not be underestimated.

Importance of Space-Information Relationship

Movies often ask the audience to enter a new world that is not their own and allow themselves to be taken on a journey that the form of a narrative-driven story involving humanoid characters. When a film is shot in a studio, the contribution of every individual in production team is to create the world, resulting in an easier method of storytelling in comparison to the constraints of existing, exterior conditions. Decisions about every element have to be made in order to built or brought into the studio. These decisions are highly important in order to give the audience clues about the movie: where and when it is taking a place. Mostly art directors will provide these pieces of information without being explicit such as using textured materials and warm colors in a character’s home can suggest that he/she is more caring and humane than a character whose home appears more hard-edges and more artificial.

On the other hand, the technical aspects are as significant in creating film perception and comprehension. Framing and composition of an image establish the balance of visual weight (Hurbis - Cherrier, 2012). Along with the growth of digital spatial effect technology, the spatiotemporal possibilities for shots also increased. In the motion picture, the camera has started to gain more importance. In its static or moving state, a frame can give information about temporal variables in relation to the narrative. Moreover, within the process of post-production, the shots can be reorganized, re-fragmented, intertwine with each other in order to create different relations between time-space and information.

Concept of Time in Cinematography

When time is mentioned in cinematography, it is difficult to ignore the theory of narration. Storytelling has always defined the peculiarities of human experience and communication, yet it is hardly specific to the cinematic universe. From the late 1800s, cinema has quickly adopted a variety of narrative strategies from literature, theatre, photography. Since the beginning of motion pictures, movie makers have studied how the audience observes, and how a cinematographic composition can be written.

As an early example of motion pictures Arrivée d’un Train en Gare a La Ciotat by Louis Lumiere in 1896, can be hardly considered as narrated as the minimal criteria to determine a presence of narrative is the cause and effect order in the series of events. Thus, the story presented and the process to its telling or narration were poor due to the absence of other narration elements such as plot ordering, mise en scene choices, editing, sound effects or camera movement. Therefore Lumiere missed an important factor, fiction. As French film theorist Cristian argued, “All cinematic experience is based by definition on illusion. Motion pictures are fundamentally still images projected onto a flat screen. Nothing moves and there is no real depth of space, yet we cannot help but "see" movement and spatial cues as the film are projected. The entire process is based on a fiction that what we see is actually present.”

According to this point of view, the fiction film is a specific type of cinema based on the content of the images and sounds rather than their material traits. The fiction film, the subject of narrative history, theory, and criticism, assume a spectator who not only sees the movement where none really exists, but also constructs characters, time, space, and themes. In narrative structure, the story often indicates to the chronological order of an action, while the plot refers to how the story has been told. As a result, the definition of the plot is about how, where and when the key conflicts are resolved. Generally, three act story plot has been used by directors in movies which is also the most common form of narration—linear narrative. In a linear narrative, events have been told in a chronological order. The act one introduces basic situations and main characters, the second act when the conflict or a problem sets into motion, the third act or resolution is when the characters overcome the conflict and lead to the end. However, as a conventional narrative, the linearity of the plot might have become too predictable by the audience because the patterns in the chronological exposition are formulaic and traditional.

Circular Narratives in Cinematic: A New Informational Era

The digitalization of filmmaking has become more accessible than ever with the beginning of information age,1990 when the transformation from analogue mechanical technology to digital technology occurred. The mix of digital cinema projection began, the 35mm prints transformed into DVDs. As the world became more digital, it became more lawless, less controlled and the reproduction of digital artwork became unrestricted. Although digitalization had negative impacts on society such as pirating or alienation from nature, it has made the art of filmmaking more accessible such as decent yet cheap digital camcorders, editing programs which can be accessed on personal computers and websites like YouTube which provides a free showcase for your work. As a consequence, all the rules of cinema are out the window which created a milieu for experimenting unconventional techniques such as nonlinear narratives in storytelling.

A non-linear narrative is a form of anti-narrative in which events displayed out of chronological order used for a variety of purposes, such as mimicking human memory or showing a series of separate sub-plots that are in some way interlinked. This technique can be used by the director in order to have a better understanding of the protagonist’s trail of thoughts through flashbacks or to cover confusion in psychological thrillers or to alter the viewer's opinion on the story. In some cases, a narrative’s main structure starts as linear however it can change into a non-linear narrative such as Fantastic Mr. Fox by Wes Anderson.

comparison of two shots from Fantastic Mr. Fox
Fantastic Mr. Fox by Wes Anderson

As a contemporary auteur Wes Anderson, know for his unique style in set design. Besides his amazing color palette, as a director, he often narrates the time and space in a way that the audience can not precisely figure whether the movie in the past or contemporary. In the stop-motion animated comedy film Fantastic Mr. Fox, Anderson draws a storyline around the survival of a small fox family against nature and humans. Changing the speed of time are so commonly used in all form to the narrative that audience is hardly noticing them. The experience of time is becoming dense at points of significant action in the story or thinning out non-significant periods the fabula. In the first quarter of the movie, it takes one minute narrated time to pass 2 years of narrative time while in the second quarter it takes eight minutes to tell a story that takes only 4 hours in narrative time. Another interesting factor is that how Wes uses space to create time-related metaphors. In the beginning of the plot, Mr. Fox and his wife Felicity trigger a fox trap and become caged while they were trying to steal food from Berk’s Squab Farm. Felicity reveals to Fox that she is pregnant and she tries to convince him to have a domestic life with a different job if they manage to escape. This is a metaphor of a wild animal’s domestication after being forced to have humanly maternal feelings under the pressure of survival. Later in the movie, we will see a scene where Mr. Fox will raise his arm to a wolf which is standing in a long distance on top of a rock in the winter time. This is a sign of rebellion towards his life, the situation that they have been, upcoming harsh winter time and his needs to return to his wild nature. However, at the end of the movie, the conflict resolves with a strategic idea that can only be thought as an urban animal by Mr. Fox. After he leads his family to the new food source, Felicity gives the news that she is pregnant again, then we see the family trapped in a metaphoric man-made cage which is the sewage system. Although the time passes linearly, at the end scene, figuratively Mr. Fox finds himself in the same position when he was in approximately 3 years ago which forms the narrative into a circular one.

Data Visualization of Fantastic Mr. Forx
Data Visualization

Another common director who alters the time and creates atemporal narratives, Christopher Nolan uses non-linear, cyclical and parametric narrative structures in order to play with the direct causality pattern of the events featured and to mimic the human memory in his project Memento. As a neo-noir psychological thriller, Memento has a complex syuzhet, fragmented fabula -which is almost impossible to understand it before the movie finishes- with a parametric narration where he utilises the power of coloured scene and black and white. Unlike Anderson, Christopher Nolan did not use the effects of speed in time. However he often uses the aspect of direction in narration with flashbacks which are typically provoked by finding a memento on his pockets or his body, ends by an interruption from the present. These flashback scenes ordered reversely and interspersed in black and white by Nolan throughout the movie. Chronologically, the black-and-white sequences should come first, the colour sequences next. In Film Anthology, Stefano Ghislotti discusses the purpose of the reverse fragmentation is to force the viewer into an empathic experience of Leonard's defective ability to create new long-term memories, where prior events are not recalled since the audience has yet to see them.

Comparison of two shots from Memento
Memento by Christopher Nolan

It is highly important to note the fact that without preparing a time field of time, the two narratives, Fantastic Mr. Fox and Memento might not be both observed as circular narrations. Apart from they are categorized under the same roof, reading the correlations between time-duration, time-space, time-information, space-information, time-space-information revealed the most significant difference between the two. Anderson’s approach to the production of Fantastic Mr. Fox is more poetic/phenomenal than Nolan. Ending with a metaphorical sequence made the movie’s linear narration turning into circularity which can only be perceived by the senses rather than the mind. On the other hand, Nolan’s approach flourishes with the age of informational era. Experimentalism created more performative results due to the democratization of production and port production procedures occurred in last 20 years in the cinematic universe.

Space time information visualization for Memento
Data Visualization for Memento

Time, Space, Information in Cinematics is a project of IaaC, Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia developed at Master in Advanced Architecture in 2016-2017 of the Academic Program by:


Lalin Keyvan

Faculty: Manuel Gausa and Jordi Vivaldi

two data visualisations
Comparison of Two Movies

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