Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Eye tracking and film

Where do our eyes look when we watch a movie? Eye-tracking technology can record in real time how  the observer's eyes land on important features, and then jump to new points of interest. 

Image from Pixar. Overlay by Avni Pepe
Scientists can take the data from the visual experience of many individuals and compile it into heat maps showing where most observers actually look. That information can suggest the cognitive activity driving the eye movements, and it can help editors understand what information people are taking away from the moving pictures.

Researchers used this technology on three films: the war movie "Saving Private Ryan" and two Pixar movies, "Up" and "Monsters, Inc." 

The researchers' concluded that the eyes and the mouth were especially important for delivering narrative information:
1. "Hot spots emerge around the character’s mouths, as if our viewers are conditioned to look for identification through the way a film’s central characters 'speak', and are searching for narrative clarification through dialogue exchanges that actually never emerge."

2. "Objects and motifs that actively move the story along and define character mood are picked out of the mise-en-scène and gazed at even when the scene is fluid and action is taking place across the filmic space."

3. "Our eyes seem to be active in finding emotive objects even when they are found in a busy scene. There is a caveat here of course: the 'extra' attention to significant objects may well have been because the scenes were free of dialogue." 
4. "When the sound is off, viewers actually migrate slightly away from the character’s mouths to focus on their eyes, and to objects that are pregnant with narrative information." 
5. "The viewer is searching for non-verbal signs to confirm what might be taking place and because the eyes, culturally speaking, are where “truth” is to be revealed."
Read the whole article at The Conversation


Daroo said...

Interesting. Thanks for posting this --I'll have to read the article. But I wonder if they discuss movement between scenes/shots. In a well designed film the viewer's eye is set up to start in a certain part of the frame from shot to shot. This makes for a different compositional experience than a painting.

James Gurney said...

Yes, the eye position carries over from one shot to the next....something that George Miller and his team were very aware of when shooting and editing the fast action sequences in Mad Max Fury Road.

Susan Krzywicki said...

I read somewhere a long time ago that, if you take a line of text and cover the bottom half, versus covering the top half - our ability to figure out what is being said is greater when we can see the top half of the text. It seems like this may be a learned behavior, but what you are saying about the movies - is that intrinsic to people's nature?

I love to read about how our brains are working - and how the nurture versus nature debate is shaping up with new info like this.

That idea the our eyes hang around the same space from scene to scene in a movie - that is not how we do things in real life...since there are no "cuts" in real life. So, I think that might be very significant. It is as if we are waiting for continuity. The quick cuts that are in movies - how does this relate over time as shorter and shorter sequences have been the style in movies and television?

James Gurney said...

Susan, the fact that our eyes remain for an instant in the position they were in at the end of a cut is not surprising—it takes a few frames to perceive the new composition and redirect the attention to new points of interest. The eyes are an extension of the mind, and as you say, the puzzle solving skills are constantly in play in a good movie.

Your observations raise so many interesting thoughts. In what ways do our brains get rewired as they adapt to the language of film? Or to the "language" of computers and web surfing? I remember reading that the cognitive habits and patterns of the brain are restructured pretty quickly when a naive person is exposed to hyperlinked pages, and I still remember the weird headache and mild euphoria I'd get simply by spending an hour with a computer on the Internet back in the 1990s.

Kessie said...

A while back, you posted a lot about eye tracking analysis of various paintings, verses eyepaths, which is what we're taught in art class. I then caught my toddler coloring in a book. I took it away and accessed the damage. And to my amazement, she had colored in all the spots that eye tracking would indicate. The faces. The writing. And oddly, one of the animal's legs, which is more pronounced in the picture. I wonder if a person could just mark the parts of a picture that their eye first lands on? Or does it take the uninhibited mind of a toddler to do that?

Lynnwood said...

I read recently about research that shows that our eyes actually can't "see" continuous movement,only instant"snapshots"_that our brain fills in(imagines !?) the space between according to what it EXPECTS to see! Has anyone else heard of this? Reminds me,when watching those Transformer movies ,when the robots morph I want to slow it way down or keep hitting the pause button to see what's actually happening! I always suspect its just a tricky clever blur.Funny I've never really y tried it!