Using Metaphors & Symbols

Movies themselves are metaphors for how humans experience life on a deeper level. Creating a unique language of metaphors and symbols for your film is a big part of being a visual storyteller. Symbolic images help us to understand abstract concepts that cannot always be translated into words.

Metaphor = Action/Sound. Visual or auditory representation of a separate action, experience, or idea. A character blows out (action) a candle in a bedroom to show death of a loved one.

Symbol = Object/Sound. Visual or auditory representation of another object. The candle (object) is in the shape of a ballerina to show grace and beauty.

Motifs = Collections. Collections of related metaphors or symbols used to represent a related concept. Lights or flames going on and off to show life or death states throughout a film.

Leit Motifs = Repetition. The repetition of identical metaphors or symbols to represent greater concept. The color of the candle is gold (valuable color), along with other gold symbolic objects and activities in each scene to show the overall concept of what is valuable in character's life.


Possible Metaphoric/Symbolic Meaning


Chivalry, spiritual carrier,surpremacy, generosity, courage


Queen of flowers, love, devotion, beauty, sweetness, creative powers


Chaos, destruction, welled-up emotions overflowing, retribution


Fertility, wine, pleasure, harvest,


Source, life-giving, medicinal, spiritual refreshment


Death, rejuvenation, bloody, violent

Tattoo of sweetheart

"Lover" character trait, committed

Getting a tattoo

Transformation, rebel, outsider, change

The number "8"

Renewal, traveling between higher and lower worlds (spiders), resonance

Crops dying in field

Loss of life force

Heat waves on road

Angry emotions boiling over


Past experiences, hidden things, family patterns/secrets

Learn more about using metaphors and symbols in the book "Developing Digital Short Films" featuring over 20 metaphor charts!



Combining Metaphors And Symbols

According to Norse mythology, horses could understand the will of the gods. Odin rode an eight-legged stallion called Sleipnir. The eight from our number chart (in book) symbolizes the ability to go between worlds (like spiders with eight legs). This combination of number and symbol works well for this myth. How could you combine established metaphors to create original ones? How could you use your digital tools to create new visual metaphors? It would be interesting to see an eight-legged 2D or 3D animated horse.

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