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Old April 23rd, 2003, 07:07 PM   #1
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Background pulling effect

Hi forum,
After seeing a couple of films lately with what I call a 'background pulling effect', I am curious as to how this is pulled off. Let me describe the effect a little more in detail.

Say for example you have your main character standing on a sidewalk on Broadway talking in his cell phone. The shot is a Medium Close Up where the character is in focus and the background is blurred out of focus. Suddenly, he realizes something from the phone conversation, and the background suddenly also comes in focus and is 'pulled towards the character'. It looks awesome, and I am curious as to how one pulls it off.
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Old April 23rd, 2003, 07:33 PM   #2
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They dolly in while zooming out doing a rack focus at the same time. A very tricky move to pull off.
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Old April 23rd, 2003, 11:12 PM   #3
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Exactly. It takes a true dolly setup and very skilled hands on the zoom and focus. (You may also notice that the visual relationship between the subject and background also seems to shift.) It's one of those very tricky and time-consuming shots that (a) can be overdone by using it more than once in a feature, and (b) may be hard to justify in time and takes since it's just cinematography gymnastics and often serves little, if any, dramatic purpose. My philosophy: it may be fun, but just tell the darn story.
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Old April 23rd, 2003, 11:34 PM   #4
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That shot is know as the 'Hitchcock Dolly' or sometimes the "Zolly" (zoom + dolly), it was used to great effect in Vertigo, which i believe also pioneered the move.

Unless, today you really are after some kind of Bruckheimer type drivle the move is almost useless for you. I have never seen it used effectively, other than Vertigo and one french movie called "Le Samurai" where the director had purposely stopped the zoom for a second and kept dollying, then started the zoom again, it was so disorientating, and one of the most dificult things i have ever seen done, but worked great for the emotion reponse of that scene.

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Old April 24th, 2003, 12:04 AM   #5
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I've pulled it off with my Canon ZR20. You don't even need a dolly, unless you want it very smooth. Just zoom in on the subject, physically move towards it while zooming out. I guess you could do it the opposite way as well for a slightly different effect.
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Old April 24th, 2003, 12:47 AM   #6
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It's one of those great moves that gets picked up on by everyone and overused.
It should only be used to convey absolute disorientation or severe shock. I think one of the best modern uses I remember it from was Natural Born Killers, a very disorienting movie.
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Old April 24th, 2003, 01:15 AM   #7
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Don't forget it was used in Steven Spielberg master piece - JAWS. on the beach when Brody for the first time seeing the shark attack the little boy. Really like this effect. Hitchcock really started something ingenious :)
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Old April 24th, 2003, 02:00 AM   #8
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The move

I remember this effect working very well in Michael Jackson's "Thriller" video when the female character is suddenly shocked at what he has transformed into. Another dramatic and sudden, out of the blue, use of this move was in "AntiTrust" with Ryan Phillippe and Tim Robins. I mean you sense the tension building as he is in a no way out situation and all of the sudden, BAM! They must have had five grips stopping that rig to keep it from hitting Phillippe. It was that fast.
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Old April 24th, 2003, 02:50 AM   #9
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I always steel myself when this type of shot comes up, because I know it requires a lot of takes to get it right, and it is tedious. One night on "Scrubs" we did three of them in a row, each on different characters. It was a long night!

What makes it hard is that applying a constant zoom speed does not mean that the field of view changes in a linear fashion. It is actually exponential, and increases as you get wider on the lens. This means that the if the dolly moves at a fixed speed (or as close as you can get without motion control), the zoom must be tapered off as you get to the wide end of the lens to keep the effect linear in appearance.

I've even done them on Steadicam, which is even more of a challenge. It's really important to keep the center of the frame constant so that the effect isn't diluted by peripheral movement, which is trickier on Steadicam.
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Old April 24th, 2003, 02:51 AM   #10
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Another good example of this type of shot can be seen in 'Sex Lies and Videotape', with Laura San Giacomo on the bed.

Some people call this type of shot a 'counterpoint zoom'...same thing as described above...a classic move where the background appears to 'breathe', achieved by zooming in while dollying out or vice versa.
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Old April 24th, 2003, 06:24 AM   #11
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It's overused, but I think it's valid film language at this point , and certain scenes seem almost naked without it.
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Old April 24th, 2003, 10:33 AM   #12
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A nice one is in Lord of the rings (first one). It realy fits in there...
I don't know how they do it today, but the original invention used a dolly somehow connected with the zoom! So you would push the dolly and that would automaticaly zoom the camera!
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Old April 24th, 2003, 01:33 PM   #13
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That makes sense, I was always impressed with Hitchcock's precision doing that effect in "Vertigo" (which I understand was shot using a forced-perspective miniature on its side).

I've only done it "manually", with myself or the camera assistant working the zoom while the dolly grip pushes in/pulls out, but I have heard of more sophisticated version being done with an encoder on the dolly wheel that is electronically linked to a motor on the zoom (here's a device that does that, see halfway down the page under "vertigo effect").
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Old April 24th, 2003, 02:45 PM   #14
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That show is great, "Scrubs." They/You (C. Papert) do some excellent tricky shooting and editing. It looks very ensemble. If it isn't I don't want to know... HAR HAR.

I've never tried that shot, however, I might involve myself and experiment.

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Old April 24th, 2003, 05:43 PM   #15
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I posted some time ago requesting if anyone knew of a program run from a laptop to control the zoom via LANC

What i had in mind is that once a smooth dolly shot had been practised and agreed upon, waypoint LANC settings could be established on a timeline to set the zoom factor for each, that way some sophisticated dolly perspectives could be reached either in a linear or curved fashion.


FWIW 'Goodfellows' is the slowest and most exacting ive seen in the DeNiro restaurant scene
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