5 Things You Can Learn From Wes Anderson’s Symmetrical Style

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Wes Anderson doesn’t just make movies — he makes art. The director behind films like The Grand Budapest Hotel and Moonrise Kingdom creates sumptuous, intricately designed worlds full of oddball characters, and he does so with an unmistakable visual style. Central to that style is Anderson’s love of symmetry, highlighted beautifully by this recent viral video.

Anderson’s penchant for centering shots isn’t just an overindulgent quirk. It’s actually proof that symmetry can be a highly effective visual technique. Here are 5 things you can learn from the director’s symmetrical style.

1. Humans Naturally Love Symmetry

Our brains are hardwired to love symmetry. As PolicyMic notes (in an article about Wes Anderson no less), humans tend to judge physical attractiveness based on facial symmetry. Its effect is so powerful that “even infants as young as 4 months old recognize and prefer symmetry.”

As a design technique, symmetry can be a kind of shortcut to creating impactful imagery. We’re already programmed to like and respond to it, making symmetry as close to a guarantee as you can get in design work. It also might explain why Anderson has such a loyal, dedicated following. As the PolicyMic piece points out, Anderson “is a cool example of how biology intersects with art, shaping why we love the things we do.”

Axel Lauer | Christian church in Iceland with a lake behind it and cloudy sky.
Axel Lauer | Christian church in Iceland with a lake behind it and cloudy sky.

2. Symmetry Creates Points of Interest

There’s no magic formula for capturing a viewer’s attention, but using Anderson-style symmetry may come close. In the words of renowned film scholar David Bordwell, the kind of central perspective used by Anderson “helps drive your eye to the main items” in an image. In short, Wes Anderson’s symmetrical style makes you look exactly where the director wants you to look.

But Anderson does more than just gaming the system. He’s also giving you something worth looking at. As the School of Digital Photography notes, a symmetrical shot needs two elements in order to be effective: “a strong composition and an eye catching point of interest.” Wes Anderson accomplishes that by using rich colors, fascinating characters, and quirky objects in his shots. To accomplish the same thing, create a focal point worth looking at, then use symmetry to guide a viewer’s eye towards it.

mazura1989 | Modern interior table and chairs
mazura1989 | Modern interior table and chairs

3. Symmetry Can Create Unique, Effective Portraits

We’re all familiar with the rule of thirds, particularly the assertion that centered, straight-on composition diminishes visual interest — especially when doing portraits. Wes Anderson’s style flies in the face of that. Bordwell argues that Anderson’s style can create a “‘painterly’ or strong pictorial approach” whose “stasis and passivity… carries the connotations of a posed photograph.” Or, given Anderson’s love of large group shots, even evokes “over-posed high school yearbook shots.” (We wish our yearbook photos looked as good as anything in a Wes Anderson movie.) The next time you work on a portrait, why not forget the rule of thirds for a moment and use a little symmetry to make that image really pop?

Sidarta | Detail of a young couple's journey
Sidarta | Detail of a young couple’s journey

4. Symmetry Can Be Funny

Wes Anderson’s movies can be hilarious, but the humor doesn’t just come from the dialogue. Bordwell writes that symmetry can create a “static geometrical frame [that] can evoke a deadpan comic quality.” Anderson’s movies demonstrate that symmetrical shots can make almost anything amusingly offbeat. That’s well worth remembering when you want to introduce a bit of humor or whimsy into your next project.

iofoto | Couple wearing vintage clothing sitting in green vinyl chairs
iofoto | Couple wearing vintage clothing sitting in green vinyl chairs

5. Symmetry Makes Information More Accessible

We’ve all heard of the studies that suggest that the more symmetrical a face is, the more beautiful we perceive it to be. According to Mashable, a large part of that is how “symmetry brings aesthetically pleasing balance and proportion” to images. But symmetry doesn’t just make images more appealing. It also “increases the ease with which information is processed.”

Without symmetry, many of the images in Anderson’s films would be appear oppressively busy or cluttered. But in his capable hands, the clutter becomes accessible visual stimuli, easily understood and powerfully affecting. This makes symmetry ideal for infographics and other information-heavy image projects.

Nadya Korobkova | Elegant lady on floral background
Nadya Korobkova | Elegant lady on floral background

For more symmetrical inspiration, explore our hand-curated “Symmetry” lightbox »

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