Anatomy of a Fight Scene
by Russell Stanley Geronimo
Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children (2005)
D: Tetsuya Nomura, Takeshi Nozue
One of the best hand-to-hand combats in animation is the scene between Tifa and Loz in Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children.
The fight occurs in the ruins of a church. Fans of the game will recognize this familiar setting because of the small patch of grass where the altar is supposed to be, illuminated by a sunbeam from a hole in the ceiling.
Before the actual fight begins, there is an establishing shot showing the fighters, with the camera* at 90 degrees with respect to the imaginary axis connecting the two subjects. The initial tension is signaled by a child spectator moving to the foreground while the camera reacts in a reverse follow action, as if to collide with her and unsettle the viewer.
The next series of shots presents the initial attacking stance of each fighter. We see a close-up of Tifa’s hand wearing a glove, then a medium shot of Loz showing his gauntlet. This conventional shot-countershot technique, repeated in many parts of the action, is most crucial in the beginning if it is the intention of the director to make the outcome of the fight unknown to the viewer. The purpose is to establish an idea of power balance between fighters by having a symmetrical duration scheme in the shot reverse shot at the start of the fight.
Before a character makes the first move, the camera passes over the axis to signal a more heightened tension. The impending danger developed in the preliminary shots is coming ever closer. The left/right relationship of Tifa and Loz with respect to the camera at the start is reversed from this point onward.
We have another brief shot reverse shot before Tifa dashes from the left of the screen to punch Loz offscreen. Then we see a cutaway of the child spectator and a cutback to the shot with Tifa having reached Loz. The purpose of the cutaway is to decrease the cinematic duration for Tifa to physically and realistically reach Loz, thereby hastening the pace of the attack.
Tifa continually punches Loz and pushes him to the right of the screen. This is accompanied by dollying with the subjects to keep them onscreen. Then to break the quickness of the successive actions of punching, a freeze frame shot shows Tifa readying her leg to kick Loz. Tifa’s series of hits ends and it is time for Loz to begin his first aggressive reaction. This makes the use of a freeze frame shot all the more appropriate.
We are then shown two reaction shots showing a determined expression on Tifa’s face and a triumphant-looking Loz. This serves as a cue for the next series of shots where Tifa tries to develop her sequence of punches as Loz retains his defensive position. Tifa slides on the floor. The stirring sound of grass and dust is an excellent device for emphasizing that her move has been dodged.
Tifa attacks again and this time there’s a very smooth take on the action combined with complex pivoting movements of the camera. The area covered is now longer in the sense that they have moved away from the patch of grass to another area in the church. The smooth movements are utilized in two long shots, one showing Loz throwing off Tifa in a rotating action. The freeze frame shots that follow prepare the viewer for Tifa’s death blow, which includes tossing Loz upward and throwing him back on the floor. The death blow is captured through a rotating camera action independent of the movement of the subject.
In the last part, the “victory fanfare” theme we hear in the video game after every battle is played. Later on, it is revealed as the ring tone of Loz’s phone. This is an excellent way to end the fight scene because it has an element of nostalgia by referring back to the experience of gamers hearing the tune after every successful combat in the game.
*Note: the camera referred to in this article is imaginary, made possible by 3D animation technology which simulates real camera movements