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How Shapes Help Us Decipher Which Movie Character Is The Villain And Which Products To Buy [Thoughts After Dark]

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Thoughts After Dark answers the questions you have in those final moments before you fall asleep when a simple Google search turns into an hour-long exploration of how things are made and how they work. Your random late night questions are answered here – even the ones you didn’t know you had.

The human brain is equally interesting and confusing. It works in unexpected ways, especially when it comes to how he attaches abstract meanings to shapes, sounds, and colors.

For example, psychologists have studied the impact of certain colors on human behavior. Red is aggressive and has been found to raise people’s blood pressure. Green has naturalistic attributes, which actually calm people down. Blue is often associated with tranquility, but it can also exude power or strength. These proven perceptions impact marketing and advertising campaigns, and even product packaging. (Why does green mean healthy? Oh yes, the color gives off “nature” vibes.)

Directors and cinematographers, meanwhile, also choose forms to communicate who a character is – or will become – in a film. I hated math in college, especially geometry. But it’s a side of the equation that I think about a lot because this concept goes beyond movies and into the products we buy.

Bouba/Kiki effect

If you didn’t know the story of Sleeping Beauty and just googled some 1959 character list images, who would you perceive as the villain? It’s probably not the three smiling, elderly, pink fairy godmothers or the sleeping pink princess.

Of course, the color scheme plays a part in any assumption you make of the characters – the pink, blue, and green definitely scream “cheerier” than Maleficent’s masked character. But there is more at stake here.

Maleficent has a few angular features that scream “too sharp to touch” at her and ultimately translate into her dangerous appearance. His horns are curved but pointed, and his face is shaped in such a way that his chin and eyebrows appear pointed as well.

Her dark clothes, sharp features, and grumpy crow make it obvious she’s the villain of Sleeping Beauty. But, more specifically, his angular features are the perfect example of the bouba/kiki effect, or how humans perceive certain shapes as more friendly or dangerous.

The bouba/kiki effect was a famous experiment performed in 2001, in which two researchers asked American undergraduate students and Tamil speakers in India to determine which shapes were “bouba” versus “kiki” to map the link between speech sounds and the visual form of an object.

The results concluded that curvy shapes were most often considered “bouba” while irregular shapes were “kiki” and suggested that the human brain attaches abstract meanings to shapes and sounds.

This, in turn, affects how filmmakers design characters and construct scenes to suggest intent or manipulate how he is seen.

How Filmmakers Use Geometry In Film

Because the brain imparts abstract meaning to a variety of shapes in a very consistent way, filmmakers continue to use it to their advantage. In animated films, like the previous example of Sleeping Beauty, the villain is pointed and long, while the sweeter characters, like the fairy godmothers, are round and soft. It even translated into the live-action movie Maleficent, where Angelina Jolie’s angular features maintain the villainous look.

In a video essay for the YouTube channel Now You See It, creator Jack Nugent explores how filmmakers use geometric shapes to conceptualize and tell a story.

For example, circles remind viewers of things in nature, like planets and clouds, and are often associated with anything soft, like a baby’s chubby cheeks. That’s why heroes like Princess Leia’s updos in star wars, are rounded. Compared to Darth Vadar who has a triangular mouthpiece on his helmet, Leia exudes friendliness.

It’s also easy to draw Disney’s most iconic – and perhaps friendliest – character, Mickey Mouse, with just three circles.

Circles, like that of yin and yang, also often represent completeness; while pointed, triangular chins, like Hades in Hercules, represent mistrust or danger. Even Hercules and his love interest in the movie, Meg, have totally different face shapes – Hercules, with a rounded chin, is a superhero, and Meg, with a more angular face, is more of an antihero.

For some reason the tip of the triangles is suspect. I’m certainly not optimistic when a movie hero sets off on a quest to a spiky mountain range.

Squares, on the other hand, are often seen as solid, but can also represent feelings of being trapped. Thus, in The Incredibles, when you see the air office scene of Mr. Incredible working his office job, you can tell that he is not very happy there. Or, even more obviously, the famous scene from the brilliant, when Jack Nicholson says “Here’s Johnny” and the camera zooms in on his face stuck in the door. They are two depictions, albeit in very different ways, of people trapped.

How Shapes translates beyond the movie

The importance of form goes far beyond film and is often considered when designing a product, brand or advertisement. Here’s a quick look at some other cool ways to use shapes in design.

Shapes in logos

Just as they benefit movies, marketers also use shapes to get a message across. Geometric shapes such as circles, squares and triangles are easy to remember and are almost immediately recognizable. This is important when you want a brand to stay relevant.

For example, the largest coffee chain, Starbucks, has a green circular logo. Similarly, Target’s logo is a mixture of circles. These brands are instantly recognizable and have been seen as signs of commitment and community.

On the other hand, companies or online banks can use squares in their logo to be considered solid or reliable. Luxury brand Givenchy’s logo is a quadruple “G” forming a larger square, while Instagram’s logo is a large square camera. Logos need to convey the right message to illustrate the voice of the brand, and choosing the right form has a lot to do with it.

Font shapes

From the Sears Tower in Chicago to the pyramids of Giza, architecture is all about shapes. Most commercial designs are square or rectangular because they are sturdy shapes that are easier and faster to produce.

But when it comes to typography, the psychology of shapes plays an important role. Brands choose fonts based on angles and lines and whether they want to come across as more feminine or masculine. Straight lines and sharp angles can appear more formal, while curved and rounded typefaces are more playful.

Shapes in products

When you decide to buy an off-the-shelf product that has a little leaf logo on the front, what are you waiting for? Most likely you think it is a more “natural” product. Indeed, organic forms, such as a leaf, are now ubiquitous in nature and health.

When a yellow star is on a package, the product is also more valuable. Do you remember when your teacher put star stickers on your tests in elementary school when you did well? Of course, consumers want packaging that reminds them of that sense of importance.

Beyond the organic or geometric shapes on the packaging, the actual construction of a product also matters. A study by the International Journal of Scientific Research and Management Studies found that the shape of a package actually influences consumer buying habits.

If the packaging was easy to carry and transport, it performed better than an irregularly shaped product in the market. The study also revealed that brands need to consider how a product will be stored when designing a new product: is it so big that it won’t fit on a closet shelf, or so small that the consumer will forget it’s there?

If you’re interested in more coverage like this, read more from Thoughts After Dark:

Image credit: Laughing Calamar

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