The Fixation Database is a visual study of color and light rhythm in films, music videos, and other time-based media. Each image in the database presents every frame from its source video placed sequentially in a grid, creating a visual, colored timeline, called a fixation. The database is divided into the three sub-databases: film and animation, music videos, and video games. The primary goal is to create a community of researchers, artists, academics, filmmakers, visual designers, gamers, musicians, and film buffs who will share and discuss insights and discoveries about the visual structure of time-based media. There are over 7,000 images in the database, and it has accumulated nearly 100,000 downloads.

The term fixation comes from the technical, biological usage: a specimen whose motion has been arrested and its structure stabilized in preparation for scientific investigation. A film is a moving thing, and by arresting that movement and unreeling and stacking the frames, we can view it as a whole. Regardless of the length of the film, the fixation conforms to a rectangle with a three to one ratio, a reference to microscope slides—with the added benefit of being easily divided into beginning, middle, and end. The fixations are colored timelines and can reveal visual structures of story arcs, scene sequences, color signals, palette trends, and light design.


The best example for understanding what these timelines show is The Wizard of Oz (1939). The dramatic and famous transition from sepia toned, greyscale to a technicolor explosion when Dorothy lands in Oz occurs 20% of the way into the film. ¬At the 33% mark, Dorothy starts down the Yellow Brick Road clearly visible in the fixation as a shift to yellow. Having collected her companions, they dash across the poppy field at the halfway point and enter the Emerald City, represented by stripes of pink and green, respectively. At the two-thirds mark they finally meet the Wizard, and the film goes dark, metaphorically and literally, as they enter the castle and battle the Witch. Examining films with similar, direct signifiers of scene, location, and mood can reveal how filmmakers use color in telling their stories.

Jeffrey Moser
Assistant Professor
West Virginia University

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Browse the Fixation Databases Collections:

Fixation Database of Film and Animation

Fixation Database of Music Videos

Fixation Database of Video Games