Follow TV Tropes


Face Framed in Shadow

Go To

"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, or to temporarily hide that one side of their face is vastly abnormal. This can overlap with Hidden Eyes. Sometimes accompanied by having the eye on the obscured side of the face glow ominously.

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 and Sinister Silhouettes.


    open/close all folders 

  • 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 & 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 92% of the story.
    • Diavolo in Part 5 is introduced in much the same way — he even has a full battle with Bucciarati without revealing his face. And since the reader doesn't already know who he is, it helps keep his identity more secretive... at least, if you aren't able to pick up on the very unsubtle clues dropped throughout the middle of the series.
  • 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: When They Cry 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 PandoraHearts 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.
  • In My Hero Academia, All Might's Heroic Build form is perpetually drawn in heavy shadows with half his face obscured and Hidden Eyes (this part also persists with his more sickly civilian form). His nemesis All for One is also shown like this in flashbacks (we do get to see what passes for his face in the present).
  • Symbolic example in Magi: Labyrinth of Magic: when Alibaba meets his father, the King of Balbadd, his face (and hands) are shown as blank darkness. Later, on his deathbed, Alibaba finally asks the King if he ever really loved Alibaba's mother; when he confirms that he did, his face is suddenly revealed.
  • Justified for Maria Campbell in My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom!: As the Player Character of the Otome Game Fortune Lover, she wouldn't have any personality features save what the player gives her via gameplay and dialogue choices. So she is depicted in this way in Catalina's imagination in the manga and anime adaptations. Once they meet face-to-face, and thus effectively become a real person to Catalina, Maria is shown normally.
  • Soga Ninokuru of Ayakashi Triangle has hair so rigid, his bangs perpetually cast a shadow over the top of his face, though his eyes shine through just fine.
  • This shows up countless times in Hellsing; Kohta Hirano appears to particularly enjoy drawing panels of characters' faces where one of their eyes is visible and the other is concealed by either shadows or eye-glasses.

  • The technique has been used by many 16th and 17th century painters, including Rembrandt van Rijn and Caravaggio.
  • Used in Miguel Iglesias's Primarch series of paintings for dramatic effect with some of the Patriarchs. In particular, Alpharius and Omegon are shown in opposite lighting to show how different both men are even when they look exactly the same. Alpharius's left side is shown in bright light, bringing prominence to his scar and cold, blue eye. Whereas Omegon is shown with his right side looking at the viewer, the shadows hiding his scar.

    Comic Books 
  • 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)
  • 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.
  • In Violine, Francois' face is covered in shadow to indicate that he is being mind controlled.
  • The Wild Storm:
    • Mark Slayton is introduced standing in the shadows, with only his lower jaw in the light. And his creepy, glowing red eyes. Surprise, he quickly turns out to be a murderous lunatic.
    • Gloria Spaulding also keeps to the shadows, but while she is a also a murderous lunatic, she's much less of a murderous lunatic than Slayton.
  • Frank Castle is sometimes shown with his face covered in shadow, the better to convey the utter menace that he is capable of. A perfect example is in the second issue of The Punisher: Born when Castle, after giving a VC sniper girl a Mercy Kill and killing her rapist in cold-blooded fashion, explains his reasons for doing both of those things to Stevie Goodwin.

    Fan Works 
  • A non visual example in the Hellraiser fanfic The Dark Angel: the crime boss that employs Scarface and later Two-Sides is almost completely hidden by the shadows in his appearances so far.
  • TS!Underswap: Chara's face becomes covered by a shadow once Genocide is triggered, with their eyes hidden. In an aborted Genocide run, Chara's eyes become visible again but their face remains eerily shadowed, creating the appearance of them having a Thousand-Yard Stare.

    Films — Animation 
  • Cars 2 featured a variation of this: The film's Big Bad has his entire body concealed by having his hood open wide so no one will ever see his windshield (his eyes), with the only part of his body being visible being his own engine. But then Mater figured out whose engine it was...

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Cries and Whispers, Maria's and Karin's disturbing flashbacks are introduced with shots of their faces in dim red light, half in shadow. Anna's maybe-maybe-not dream sequence is also introduced this way.
  • 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. At the opera scene, it is played the normal way, where half his face is framed in light and half is framed in shadow while he regales Anakin with the Tragedy of Darth Plagueis the Wise.
  • 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 a Rank Scales with Asskicking warlord. And despite that, Brando was worth every penny, ad-libbing some of 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 in The Mask of Zorro 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.
  • In The Bishop's Wife, Dudley the angel is shot this way when he first meets the person he's been sent to help, Rev. Brougham. Dudley's a good and benevolent angel, but the effect is still spooky.
  • Many times throughout Juliet of the Spirits, as Juliet's mansion isn't very well lit at night. Jose the bullfighter, whom Juliet is obviously attracted to, is framed this way when he first appears. When Juliet goes to bed while contemplating her husband's infidelity, her face is in shadow except for one strategic beam of light illuminating her eyes. Suzy is framed this way when attempting to get Juliet to have sex at her house.
  • Billy is framed this way in Days of Heaven, when he's peering into Abby and the farmer's bedroom, before he sneaks in and lures Abby out.
  • O.J.: Made in America: A portrait of O.J. Simpson with the left side of his face hidden in shadow is shown for dramatic effect when Part 2 of the series starts to go into how Simpson beat his wife.
  • Madame Curie: A lot of this in the dramatic scene in the lab, where Pierre and Marie go over her findings and realize, through logical deduction, that there is a third, unknown element in the pitchblende emitting radiation.
  • Decision Before Dawn: Rennick, an American officer behind the lines in Nazi Germany, is framed this way when he's hiding behind a pillar, silently pleading with the German child looking straight at him to not give him away. The boy runs off without telling the nearby Nazi patrol.
  • Spectre. When James Bond infiltrates a board meeting of the Nebulous Evil Organisation, their leader's face is hidden in shadow. At first this looks like they're going to do the No One Sees the Boss trope as with the original SPECTRE, until he turns his head to look directly at Bond.

  • Isaac Asimov and Robert Silverberg's The Positronic Man: The 1993 Doubleday cover has a small portrait representing Andrew Martin, with a half-human, half-robot face. The robot side of his face is much darker than the human half, the better to emphasize his glowing red eye.
  • Battle Ground: When McCoy does battle as the Blackstaff — an Archmage with unique license to wield Black Magic — his eponymous Evil Weapon shrouds one side of his body in impenetrable darkness that resembles a Wicked Witch silhouette.
  • Isabella is drawn like this in Dear Dumb Diary, while Jamie describes her as probably having herself under sinister lighting when on the phone asking about when she'd get her puppies.
  • Discworld does this with secret societies. A lot. They try for The Faceless, but generally have a hard time with it.
  • 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.
  • Dolores Umbridge of Harry Potter was introduced with her face framed in such a way as a member of the tribunal trying Harry for use of underage magic in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.
  • The Lord of the Rings: When the hobbits first see Strider, he is sitting in the shadows of the Prancing Pony Inn, and "in spite of the heat of the room he wore a hood that overshadowed his face; but the gleam of his eyes could be seen as he watched the hobbits." This sinister first impression is a subversion, as Strider is really Aragorn, heir to the throne of Men who will end up being a loyal friend and staunch defender.
  • The Mysterious Mr. Quin: When Mr Quin appears on the scene, there is often a shadow falling on his face in a way that suggests a harlequin mask.
  • The Night's Dawn Trilogy: Quinn Dexter uses his powers to do this deliberately to freak people out. Whenever he loses his temper however, his face rapidly reappears.
  • The Story of Valentine and His Brother references this when Val and Richard are arguing in a lamplit room: "A dim room is an admirable field for deliberation, with one face in the shade and the other in the light. Should he settle the subject with a high hand, and put the young man summarily down? Should he yield?"

    Live-Action TV 
  • Breaking Bad uses this extremely often. This fits with the show's themes of double lives, and the subject matter of Protagonist Journey to Villain.
  • Doctor Who:
    • "The Pandorica Opens": When River Song attempts to convince the Roman soldiers to help the Doctor, one commander who volunteers to go is seen with his face hidden in shadow. Later this same commander appears in shadow after dispatching a Cyberman who was threatening Amy. He emerges from the shadows into the light to reveal that he is in fact Rory Williams.
    • Used to chilling effect in "A Good Man Goes to War", where the Doctor threatens to become The Unfettered.
      Kovarian: The anger of a good man is not a problem. Good men have too many rules.
      The Doctor: Good men don't need rules. Today is not the day to find out why I have so many.
  • In Horatio Hornblower, main villain Simpson is introduced with this and dramatic music.
  • 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 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. Cleopatra is not fooled at all, accurately saying afterwards that Octavian only wants her alive to parade her in chains before a mob.
  • Star Trek:
    • Star Trek: The Original Series: Face-shadowing, eyes-highlighting is frequently used, along with techniques like Gaussian Girl.
    • Star Trek: The Next Generation: In "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:
      • "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 using telepathy to lure victims.
      • "Living Witness": A future historian creates a holoprogram in which Voyager has a Historical Villain Upgrade. The episode opens with Evil Janeway standing in her darkened ready room, back to the audience, monologuing on how Might Makes Right.
  • Supernatural: In "What Is and What Should Never Be", Sam and Dean get this treatment while in the Impala on a rainy night.
  • 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.
  • Werewolf (1987) makes extensive use of this trope in the pilot, during Ted's confession to Eric about being a werewolf.
  • Wolf Hall uses natural and period lighting, meaning that at night, sets are lit by candles and lanterns as they would have been in Tudor times. This is used to excellent effect when Thomas Cromwell interrogates Anne Boleyn's accused lovers, the ones who had mocked Cardinal Wolsey's death, in the final episode—Mark Rylance may not look as naturally evil as Cromwell is said to in the novels, but the sight of his face half-hidden in the shadows is quite menacing.


  • 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.

    Video Games 
  • In the Final Fantasy series, the Black Mage's face is covered in shadows, and only glowing eyes are able to be seen.
  • 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.
  • The lightning engine in Mass Effect 2 makes these kinds of shots common in many scenes. Since this sequel is a bit Darker and Edgier than it's predecessor and deals with our heroes working with the seedier parts of the galaxy, it seems deliberate. Garrus, Kasumi, Zaeed, Shepard themselves and many enemies in Omega and Illium has this effect on them often.
    • 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.
    • Kasumi's face is always half-obscured by shadow thanks to the hood she wears. Seeing as how she's by far the most upbeat member of Shepard's squad and is only a few notches away from being a Genki Girl, this is probably intentionally ironic.
  • 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 his character artwork as seeni in the manuals and official strategy guides of Red, Blue, and Yellow.
  • 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 Protagonist Journey to Villain, 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...
  • Tarion in Telepath Tactics, whenever he appears through a telepathic message. Only his eyes and a bit of his hands are visible. It's not until the final battle that you get to see his Character Portrait in proper lighting.
  • Undertale has an unusual variant with Asgore, the king of monsters. When you fight him, his face isn't visible because he's looking at the ground. It makes him look vicious, but it's really because he can't bear to look the player character, a child, in the eye as he tries to kill them.
    • Ralsei in Deltarune appears to have black fur, but when he takes his hat off, his full face is shown and his fur is actually white, revealing that he bears an uncanny resemblance to the “Boss Monster” species featured in both games, which includes Asgore and his family.
  • Persona 5: Your party members' faces become covered in stark black shadows right before they pop a Slasher Smile and their Fighting Spirit unleashes a damaging Critical Hit on an enemy.
  • Sonic Lost World features a variant on this- prior to the first time they are fought, each member of the Deadly Six will be completely in shadow, even when it's broad daylight. Zavok is the only member who this doesn’t apply to because of his presence in the game's story.

    Web Animation 
  • In TIE Fighter, the Imperial Commander gets this at one point, coupled with a very sinister grin.


    Web Original 
  • Todd in the Shadows 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.
    • More serious Rule of Symbolism version in "The Review Must Go On", as both he and Doug have half their faces obscured by darkness, while innocent sacrifice Donnie always has his in the light.
  • 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.
  • CellSpex has an avatar that is basically just a shadowy shape with purple hair and glowing white eyes that do most of the emoting.

    Western Animation 
  • Slade from Teen Titans is shown this way in his earliest appearances. We find out that half of his mask looks like this, not that it helps with him being unnerving.
  • 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 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 his identity other than the fact that he was one of the people in Sideshow Bob's campaign. Unfortunately for Smithers, Homer chose that exact 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.
  • Fire Lord Ozai's face is seen like this for the first two seasons of Avatar: The Last Airbender. He drops it in the third season premiere, though.
  • He-Man And The Masters Of The Universe has Orko, whose face is shrouded in shadows, save for his two yellow eyes.
  • In My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode "Sparkle's Seven", Luna was in the shadows petting the goose when Spike revealed that she was his accomplice during the Sibling Rivalry.

Alternative Title(s): Rembrandt Lighting