Face Framed in Shadow
"He was dark, too. I don't mean dark-skinned. No, this was different. It was as if he was always walking in a shadow. I mean every step he took towards the light, just when you thought his face was about to be revealed, it wasn't. It was as if the lights dimmed... just for him."A face half-covered by shadow, very often through a partial Lightning Reveal. Good way to emphasize a character's sinister side. This can overlap with Hidden Eyes. Not to be confused with The Faceless, who requires full coverage of shadow all of the time. Often called Chiaroscuro, because it uses the more general chiaroscuro effect. May be called Rembrandt lighting, because Rembrandt used it, a lot. Stark chiaroscuro such as this is technically known as Tenebrism. Compare Emerging from the Shadows.
open/close all folders
- The "Who Is Richard Drucker?" ad that keeps popping up on this wiki.
- Saul Bass's two-tone redesign of the Quaker logo covered up the right half of the Quaker Man's face with the background blue color.
Anime and Manga
- The Death Note anime has both varieties.
- Used with the chairman of Nergal in Martian Successor Nadesico, emphasizing his role as what amounted to the show's Big Bad... before we even knew what he was guilty of.
- Dio looks like this through Part Three of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure... for no real reason, because we know who it is. This was done to add mystery to Dio's newly acquired Stand, whose time-stopping powers were kept secret from both the characters AND the readers for 99% of the story.
- Vexen does this in the Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories manga.
- Most of the time the Mad Scientist Professor Tomoe◊ of Sailor Moon is seen with his faced obscured by a black shadow, Scary Shiny Glasses and a strange red smile.
- Higurashi no Naku Koro ni does this at times.
- After a tense battle in Code Geass, Lelouch slumps exhausted against the side of a building, and talks to his second-in-command Kallen, brazenly not wearing the helmet of his Zero disguise, only from the chin up is his head bathed in shadow. It's at this point the bond of trust between him and Kallen fully crystalizes, with nothing but a few paces between Kallen and Zero's true identity.
- Before his introduction Jack of Pandora Hearts uses this. More like, Face Framed in Shadow and Fancy Curtain, though.
- Sgt. Frog has Kululu/Kururu, who always has a shadow over the center of his face.
- Until his actual introduction, Father from Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is always shown like this.
- In Act 2 of Sailor Moon Crystal, this is twice used to communicate emotional agitation
- Evil Queen Beryl's eyes and left side of her face are shadowed during her testy scolding of her minion Jadeite in her throne room
- Afterwards, a troubled Jadeite has the right side of his face in shadow after sending off his second youma.
- The technique has been used by many 16th and 17th century painters, including Rembrandt Van Rijn and Caravaggio.
- In the early decades of Batman comics, his cowl was always drawn as if his face was in shadow (i.e., the front was black, fading into blue at the back). (Some artists (and the 60s TV show) interpret this as his cowl actually being two different colors.)
- Harvey Dent, both before and after his transformation into Two-Face, often has his face framed in shadow, either as Foreshadowing (before), mysterious effect (after), or symbolism of some sort (both)
- Also used in The Dark Knight.
- Hilariously subverted in one The Far Side comic which shows a reporter saying 'Our next guest is an organized crime informant. To protect his identity, we've placed him in a darkened studio. Let's go to him now.' while in the background we see the janitor entering the darkened studio and flicking on the light...
- DC's The Phantom Stranger doesn't wear a mask, but no matter what type of hat he's wearing it always casts a shadow over the top half of his face to achieve the same effect. Even when he's not wearing a hat at all.
- Due to its Film Noir roots, Sin City indulges in this quite a bit. This is mostly seen in Yellow Bastard with almost every shot of John Hartigan invoking this trope.
- In The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck, the Beagle Boys have their faces in shadow before they get their trademark Domino Masks, ensuring we never actually see their faces without them.
- In The Boys the comics showing Sociopathic Hero/Villain Protagonist Butcher's Start of Darkness has several of these, most notably the absolutely terrifying one where a teenage Butcher's face is half covered in shadow (complete with the eye covered in shadow glowing ominously) when he decides to kill his father as he listens to his dad beating his mother.
- X-Men: Dark Phoenix is often drawn this way; ironic, since she gives off a lot of fire.
Films — Animated
Films — Live-Action
- Reversal of Fortune:
Dershowitz: You're a very strange man.von Bulow: (face half hidden in limo) You have no idea.
- Almost every introduction of Harmonica into a scene in Once Upon a Time in the West is like this, especially the scene where he's revealed by a lantern being thrown into the corner of the bar where he's sitting.
- Star Wars:
- Luke Skywalker, in Return of the Jedi gets this while hiding during the duel with Vader, while Vader is taunting him about his sister. Presumably intended to demonstrate Luke being conflicted and tempted to give in to his anger.
- Anakin Skywalker in Revenge of the Sith when he pledges allegiance to Palpatine.
- For a slightly different version, Palpatine's face is shadowed by his deep hood, but only the top half—you can still see his mouth and chin just fine, and sometimes his nose. Occasionally light glints off his eyes for an overall creepy effect.
- Apocalypse Now:
- Kurtz throughout his appearances. Necessary because Marlon Brando showed up for the last week of filming about a dozen pounds overweight, despite Coppola paying him $1 million in advance specifically to play an Authority Equals Asskicking warlord. And despite that, Brando was worth every penny, ad-libbing the most iconic five minutes of film ever shot in the history of movies.
- There's also a shot of Martin Sheen with his face half-covered in shadow and half in light while another character is talking about how every man has both good and evil in them.
- Darkman has a shot of this right near the end.
- Clint Eastwood's face is often framed in shadow in The Outlaw Josey Wales, usually when someone recognizes him or says his name.
- Citizen Kane has a few shots of Kane's face framed in shadow and stepping into light, or the other way around.
- Dr. Gogol gets one of these in Mad Love, when he's watching one of Yvonne's shows.
- Used by Don Diego to protect his secret identity when dressed in a padre's cowled robe… with the Zorro costume on underneath that.
- In Captain America: The First Avenger, Red Skull, when telling Dr. Zola about having located Dr. Erskine, is covered in shadow within a window shining light behind him. Presumably, this was intended in order to hide his true face.
- However, he is having his portrait painted at the time, and you can see the artist's palette has only red paint
- In Pulp Fiction, Butch Coolidge first appears with half of his face in shadow (albeit as much shadow as you can get in a strip club) as he's being offered a large sum of money to throw his upcoming boxing match.
- The documentary U.N. Me had a former peacekeeper official at the UN supply everything he knew about his experiences as a UN peacekeeper (particularly the negative ones) in exchange for his identity to remain hidden. As such, he always is framed in shadow with a voice modifier that sounds similar to a System Lord.
- Dolores Umbridge of Harry Potter was introduced with one of these.
- Raistlin Majere, the mastermind wizard from the Dragonlance chronicles. His face was often hidden in the shadows of his hood, with only his golden eyes glowing from the darkness.
- Discworld does this with secret societies. A lot. They try for The Faceless, but generally have a hard time with it.
- In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Redemption Pt. 1", Sela, daughter of a Tasha Yar from an alternate timeline, first appears◊ with her face half in shadow, after having appeared with her face completely covered (to conceal her identity from the audience) in a handful of previous episodes involving Romulan plots she masterminded.
- Star Trek: Voyager. In "Persistence of Vision" the crew encounters an alien who greets them this way, which Captain Janeway puts down to psychological warfare. When he does step into the light, Janeway is shocked to see her fiance Mark whom she left back on Earth, as the alien is a telephatic Enthralling Siren.
- In the Lost episode "The Shape of Things to Come," Ben Linus and Charles Widmore have a conversation in which each face is only half-visible due to the darkness of the room. This underscores the audience's uncertainty as to which character is the true villain of the piece.
- In Horatio Hornblower, main villain Simpson is introduced with this and dramatic music.
- In the season 3 finale of The West Wing, while President Bartlet is struggling with the decision to order an assassination, he and Leo meet in a dark corner of a brightly-lit theatre where both have half of their faces obscured by shadows. They have a brief conversation about right and wrong before Bartlet gives the order and walks out of the shadows.
- In Rome, during the entirety of the scene where Octavian confronts a defeated Cleopatra after the death of Marc Antony, half of Octavian's face is covered in shadow. This underlies his two faced nature in the conversation, and how his polite invitation for Cleopatra to come to Rome and his assurances that her children will not be harmed are bald faced lies, despite the utter sincerity with which he says them.
- In the Supernatural episode "What Is And What Should Never Be" (S02, Ep20), Sam and Dean get this treatment while in the Impala on a rainy night.
- BIONICLE loved this trope. Almost every single promo image featured a character's face, usually the antagonist's, in the background either half-covered in shadow (sometimes dust or fog), or blended with an image of the current location.
- The teaser trailer for Myst III: Exile does this - the game's Tragic Villain Saavedro leans out of the shadows with a pained look on his face, sheds a single tear, then says "Hello, Atrus" and grins like a maniac. He later disappears back into the shadows, implying that he's hiding there... just waiting for you... Needless to say, the overall effect is quite chilling.
- There are a couple times in Mass Effect 2 where this happens to Shepard. It becomes especially effective if your Shepard is a renegade, as then all you'll be able to see of the shadowed side of their face is the glowing, red scars.
- Giovanni, the leader of Team Rocket, is shown with a partially-shadowed face in his Pokémon Stadium mugshot as well as the mugshot supplied in the official strategy guides for Red, Blue, and Yellow. This is likely also referenced the Pokémon anime.
- Due to its cel-shaded nature and somewhat noir style, Killer7 has its share of shots like this.
- In Blood, a variation of this occurs: The upper half of Caleb's face is shrouded in shadow from his hat. This is the case in the in-game sprite and in some cutscenes. For the in-game sprite, this was accomplished by painting the upper part of the model's face black (the model would later get photographed and converted to a sprite).
- The cover for Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker presents Big Boss like this. Considering this is the game where he embraces his Heel-Face Turn, it's quite appropriate.
- In Vice Project Doom, one half of the villain's looming face isn't even drawn in the opening cutscene.
- The Real Is Brown aesthetics of Akatsuki Blitzkampf use this trope LOTS of times. In example we have Akatsuki's intro◊ and portrait◊, Murakumo's intro◊ and ending◊, Fritz's ending◊...
- Used on Mr. Raven in this El Goonish Shive strip to illustrate a mysterious nature rather than a sinister one.
- Sandra on the Rocks: Used in the introduction of Sandra's possibly-mysterious enemy here.
- Used on Ahem in this early The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob! strip, when he admits he lied about why he came to Earth; an interesting example because as a nonhumanoid, he kind of doesn't have a face.
- In Life, when Lex calls Felicia, his face is wreathed in shadows ... because he's shielding himself from the lightbulb with an umbrella.
- Parodied in Exterminatus Now. Marley calls a mysterious contact, hidden in shadow, to let him know he has the artifact...only for said contact to turn on the light, revealing he's been woken up from bed and has no idea what his friend is talking about. It was a wrong number. When he calls the actual contact, he's cooking while wearing an apron that says "Kiss the Cult Leader."
- Todd in the Shadows, a pop song critic from That Guy with the Glasses. Todd is always backlit, so he projects a silhouette to the camera. In crossovers and live appearances, he wears a black mask that obscures all of his face except his mouth.
- The Nostalgia Critic has this a lot in Kickassia, highlighting how his darker Drunk with Power side is consuming him.
- During "My Eyes", Doctor Horrible sings about the darkness within him growing with his face half lit by a nearby lamplight. When he sings that soon darkness will be all that remains, he steps back allowing the darkness to cover the rest of his face, so that only a few specks of light (coming from a hobo's burning trash can) hit him.
- Agents Of Cracked's "Chief" purposefully puts a lamp behind him to create this effect in his office, which works in tandem with a voice distorter.
- Slade from Teen Titans is shown this way in his earliest appearances.
- The end of "Almost Got 'im" from Batman: The Animated Series has a variant. When it's revealed that Killer Croc is really Batman, a swinging ceiling light casts a shadow over Croc's face and you see Batman's face framed in shadows. Paul Dini even admits on the dvd commentary that it made no sense, but it was just so cool they had to do it.
- In the Kim Possible episode "Two to Tutor", Seńor Senior Senior records a warning message about an upcoming heist by Junior and Shego (he'd gotten annoyed with them because, after he hired Shego to tutor Junior in villainy, she kept blowing him off whenever he tried to check in on them). He recorded the message in a dark room with only his eyes showing... until Junior barged in and turned on the light.
Junior: "Father? Why are you sitting in the dark?"
- In The Simpsons episode "Sideshow Bob Roberts," Smithers, a'la Deepthroat, is in shadow while telling Bart and Lisa to "follow the names," trying to offer as little information as possible about who his identity is other than that he was one of the people in Sideshow Bob's campaign. Unfortunately for him, Homer chose that moment to drive up and activate the front lights of his car.
- Von Reichter's face is always like this in Cyber Six, save for his glowing monocle and bright yellow eye.