If you haven’t yet, you should check out Wired’s list of five film-school violations in cut-scenes. There’s some stuff in there that seemed obvious to me but then this last gem is one I didn’t catch when I was playing Mass Effect 2.
Spoilers be in this video.
Don’t Violate the 180-Degree Rule
It’s a simple principle and one of the basic rules of cinematography: Characters should maintain the same spatial relationship no matter how many different angles your camera uses. If one character is on the left and the other is on the right, they should stay that way.
In order to pull this off, filmmakers will picture an imaginary line that bisects the two characters and try to avoid crossing that line with the camera. Though there are quite a few exceptions, cinematographers generally don’t break the rule, for fear of nauseating or confusing their audiences.
Sadly, this rule is violated multiple times in one of the final cut-scenes of Mass Effect 2, Bioware’s excellent sci-fi RPG. Because the camera jumps around from angle to angle with no regard for the 180-degree rule, characters’ heads spin all over the place. It’s jarring and not particularly fun to watch.
Bioware usually crafts its cinematics quite competently, and Mass Effect 2 is packed with great cut-scenes — but cinematography is a complicated art, and its rules exist for a reason.