Page Design: Establishing Place
An establishing shot in filmmaking and television production sets up, or establishes the context for a scene by showing the relationship between its important figures and objects. It is generally a long- or extreme-long shot at the beginning of a scene indicating where, and sometimes when, the remainder of the scene takes place. (wikipedia)
The wikipedia article on establishing shots is good enough to quote at length here:
Use of Establishing Shots
- Establishing shots may use famous landmarks to indicate the city where the action is taking place or has moved to, such as the Brandenburg Gate to identify Berlin, Empire State Building or the Statue of Liberty to identify New York City…
- Time of day
- Sometimes the viewer is guided in their understanding of the action. For example, an exterior shot of a building at night followed by an interior shot of people talking implies that the conversation is taking place at night inside that building…
- An establishing shot might be a long shot of a room that shows all the characters from a particular scene. For example, a scene about a murder in a college lecture hall might begin with a shot that shows the entire room, including the lecturing professor and the students taking notes. A close-up shot can also be used at the beginning of a scene to establish the setting (such as, for the lecture hall scene, a shot of a pencil writing notes).
- An establishing shot may also establish a concept, rather than a location. For example, opening with a martial arts drill visually establishes the theme of martial arts. A shot of rain falling could be an establishing shot, followed by more and more detailed look at the rain, culminating with individual raindrops falling. A film maker is colluding with their audience to provide a shorthand learned through a common cinematic cultural background.
Examples in Comics
The featured image at the top of this post is from Delilah Dirk and the King’s Shilling by Tony Cliff. Check out the full page:
Delilah Dirk is an adventurer and Selim is her faithful sidekick. In this scene, the two have just narrowly avoided capture and/or death and Delilah was wounded in the process. They have arrived at a safe location where friends can care for Dirk’s wounds.
The establishing shot, a full length panel at the top of the page, is a peaceful contrast with the action from the previous scene.
In this next example (AI City by Shuho Itahashi) have a two step establishment of place and action. In the first panel, a medium distance shot of military vehicles on the move gives way in panel two to reveal a long line of such vehicles making their way through the city.
In this example by Thomas Wellmann, a scene set in a kitchen opens on close-up panels of ingredients followed by a close-up of cooking over a fire before revealing a character in the third panel.
Another cooking example: Here, Atlier Sento shows off a work-in-progress page from Spera vol. 4 featuring steaming plates of food and speech balloons before revealing who is doing the eating and talking in panel two.
In this example from Nameless City, artist Faith Erin Hicks opens with a medium distance shot revealing a character making his way through a festive environment. The establishing shot in panel one reveals enough detail about the environment that Hicks is able to drop much of the background detail from subsequent panels (especially in panels three and four) to focus on the actions and expressions of the people.
Side Note: Notice how easy it is to track the progression of the blue shirted character when everyone else and the environment has been colored with a narrow spectrum of warm colors.
More Examples of Establishing Shots
Adventure Time #40 by Jake Wyatt