3 Things Calvin and Hobbes Has Taught Me About Video Editing

By Matter

Reading novels cover to cover has never been my thing. Perhaps it’s my short attention span, or the fact that pictures are way more interesting than 12-point times new roman. The Calvin and Hobbes comic book series by Bill Watterson is a timeless classic about a boy and his pet tiger, which subconsciously taught me a few key elements of video editing long before I started working in post production.

DISCLAIMER:  If you’ve never read Calvin and Hobbes or given the books a chance, please don’t associate the strip with the crude bumper stickers of Calvin peeing on a New York Yankees logo that you have definitely seen on the back of a dirty pickup truck while sitting in traffic. Watterson is a very thoughtful writer and illustrator, and I believe there is a little bit of Calvin within everyone.


Establishing shots are critical for setting up the time and place of a clip. With the Matter video department’s wheelhouse being the 2-3 minute web video, there’s only several seconds to get the viewer up to speed as to where the story takes place.  Wide exterior shots, static footage of company signs, and slow pans of open spaces are crucial for a video’s introduction.

The full page Sunday edition of Calvin and Hobbes is the most evident example of the establishing shot.  The first frame is often a detailed picture of the world as Calvin sees it. The majority of the strips that folIow are more focused on dialogue, so there tends to be less detail in the artwork. If the reader doesn’t immediately identify with Calvin and his point of view, then the whole point of the strip is lost.


When shooting videos for clients, we often spend a great deal of time capturing B-roll on location to help the viewer get a sense of the presenter’s mentality. Whether it’s a LoJack law enforcement liaison talking with police officers to portray a sense of brotherhood, or a client’s artwork in a health care CEO’s office to show off their compassion for one another, an emotional connection that answers the question “so what?” needs to be addressed. If this doesn’t happen, nobody is going to care about your cause.

I’ll spare you the obvious correlation between Calvin’s imagination and Hobbes’ personality. That would be way too easy.

Calvin (like any child) is an advocate of later bedtimes, fewer chores, and more freedom. Throughout the course of the collections of comics, Watterson created interactions between Calvin and his father to discuss his dad’s “approval ratings”, as if he were a politician of some kind. Calvin loves to create graphs and points of reference as to how his parents could be doing a better job of raising him.


Another way Calvin’s inner thoughts are portrayed is through his snowman art. He often creates elaborate scenes of snowmen in his front yard to display his philosophical side (which is very deep for a six year old), or sometimes just to mess with his parents.


In an October 2013 interview with Mental Floss magazine, Bill Watterson claims that, “Repetition is the death of magic”. As soon as somebody recognizes an obvious pattern or structure, chances are they will become less interested in the creative material. The hard part for the artist is staying one step ahead of the viewer, and creating change before they get used to seeing a particular effect, transition, or shot sequence.

I find that a lot of times while working on a project, I will try to add something in that I’ve never tried before.

Watterson uses a dynamic panel structure in many of his strips, distancing himself from mundane square and rectangle frames. A lot of times he uses bright circles, skewed polygons, frames within frames, or at times no frame at all to contain his characters.


If you want to explore more Calvin and Hobbes comics, check out http://calvinhobbesdaily.tumblr.com

There is also a documentary that is currently in the festival circuit called “Dear Mr. Watterson”.