Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Welcome to the Citizen Kane: Case Study blog. This blog is solely a single person's analysis and study on the classic film Citizen Kane created by Orson Welles and his talented crew.
This blog was created by Christopher Barischoff for a Visual Effects class instructed by Raul Moreno at Otis: College of Art and Design.

To view posts in written order, please use the archive links on the right side of the blog, starting with "introduction"


It's easy to see how Citizen Kane really is a movie that has inspired the rest of the industry. The mood and feel set by this movie set a standard in cinematography and visual effects since its creation until present. Many reviewers and other film makers name this movie "the best movie ever made", and while some disagree, it's hard to argue that Citizen Kane has left its huge mark in movie-making history.

Saturday, October 6, 2007


The use of matte paintings in Citizen Kane was not a first, but it was novel in that they were not used to depict fantasy scenery, such as in The Wizard of Oz, but to make believable scenes look more impressive, or difficult camera angles possible, such as the one depicted above.

The out-of-order presentation of Citizen Kane depicts his life in a way that was very unconventional for the time, but has since been adopted by many movies (Pulp Fiction, Memento). Even though Kane dies at the very beginning of the movie, the viewer has a good understanding of his life because it is told by all of the side characters. The very beginning of the movie presents a question, “what is rosebud?” and by the end, the viewer’s curiosity is satiated with an unfamiliar twist that was right under his nose throughout the whole movie.


The idea of showing footage of still imagery in Citizen Kane, just for the sake of setting the mood was really a first in feature films. Many movies would show a close-up of a sign or letter, but they were for the sake of giving the audience information, not to describe atmosphere.

The Direction in Citizen Kane was very much focused on the setting, environments, and lighting. Being the lead actor, Welles had no bias in terms of filming the actors, rather than the environment. Even in important scenes, his artistic choice to focus on simple props, or a backlit scene were well placed and uninfluenced by actors hungry for screen time. As seen above, the main focus in the scene is of the cup and spoon, and not Welles himself.

Citizen Kane was also a first of its kind in that the director used floorplans and miniatures of the set and actors to lay out the scenes before they were shot. In doing this, he had a very planned and precise idea of what would happen in each scene of the movie.


The use of storyboards and extensive concept art, as seen above, helped to form the moody and interesting look of Citizen Kane. In a way, this is a natural visual effect in that it is a manipulation of a set based on the imagination of an artist.

The aspect of Citizen Kane that it is likely most known for is its cinematography. The most unique aspect of Citizen Kane is the use of black and white film, coupled with a subtle use of 1940’s visual effects to create a standard in look and feel for films, both black-and-white and color. As seen in the clip below, the use of matte paintings, cross-fades, contrast, lighting, and visually interesting imagery creates a feel unlike other movies of the time.

The film Wizard of Oz was being created at the same time as Citizen Kane. It had a much larger budget, more experienced talent, used extensive matte paintings and make-up, and was shot mostly in color. With all this, it still does not come close to the overall mood and intrigue of Citizen Kane because of the cinematography. Citizen Kane's overall look is a landmark not because of an abundance of visual effects, but because it was one of the first to integrate visual effects in a way that did not compromise the film. Even many modern movies tend to exploit visual effects, rather than use them only where they really shine, such as in Citizen Kane.


When Orson Welles started a film project titled Citizen Kane, he had no idea that his very first feature film would eventually become one of the most, if not the most, influential films ever created. Among critics and filmmakers alike, Citizen Kane is the canon for a good film, which is observed through artful cinematography, brilliant directing, and key editing (among other beautiful aspects of the film).