The Dolly Zoom: More Than A Cheap Trick


The Dolly Zoom is one of the most disorienting and flashy camera techniques of all time And it shows up in some of the most beloved scenes in cinematic history. It’s famous for its bizarre look but the shot also teaches us a lot about filmmaking. It shows the different kind of lenses and how to use them, it enhances the emotion of a scene and It can be used in subtle places you may not have even noticed. Let’s see how. The Dolly Zoom, or sometimes called ‘The Vertigo Effect’, started in Hitchcock’s film Vertigo in 1958. You need a smooth track and steady zoom to pull it off nicely, which is why it wasn’t developed sooner. The Shot is essentially an optical illusion caused by zooming in or out on the camera lens while tracking the camera forwards or backwards. The result is the foreground stays in the same position while the background appears to squeeze or stretch depending on which direction you go. It actually teaches an important principle of filming. Camera lens. If you ever wanted to see the difference between wide-angle and telephoto lenses, a simplified example would be to observe a dolly zoom. Compare how it begins to how it ends, the dolly zoom shot can start like a telephoto lens, where the camera is far away and the focal length is bigger There’s less background in sight Because the lens concentrates on a smaller portion of it. But when you change focal lens by zooming out while also pushing the camera forward, you can observe more of the background while keeping the foreground in the same place. The result is filming the same thing but the camera expands to see more of the background. The change in focal length takes in a wider area so you go from a telephoto shot to A wide-angle shot. You generally use telephoto in close-ups to keep attention on the foreground. When you move the camera around while using a telephoto lens, the background whips quickly behind the foreground because the camera takes in less of the background. It makes for some pretty cool shots. People also tend to look better in telephoto because their faces aren’t stretched by the wider lens wide-angle takes in more of the background, so it’s better for outdoor shots when you want to capture the Landscape. So each lens is a trade-off. The dolly-zoom captures the transition from one kind of lens shot to the other and it leads to different emotional responses for the viewer. Vertigo uses a dolly zoom to give a sense of height. This increase in height perfectly embodies how the telephoto has a more narrow view of the background, so we go from capturing a lot of the background to capturing very little. The result is a dizzying optical illusion. The shot is unsettling, even a little bit nauseating for some, because it’s physically impossible to experience without some kind of lens alteration. In Goodfellas, the diner scene becomes all the more confusing as the landscape shifts around them in impossible ways, just as Henry’s world is crushing and his paranoia grows, the impossible movement of the diner shows just how disoriented he feels. The zoom makes the world literally close in around him as getting caught seems almost inevitable. As I mentioned before, the wide-angle lens makes people look A bit off. With the famous dolly zoom in Jaws, the shot shifts to a wide-angle look, which makes his face look just a bit more stretched and unnatural, and it unconsciously adds to the rest of the freakiness of the shot. Those three examples, Vertigo, Jaws and Goodfellas are the Go-To examples Whenever Anybody Mentions the Dolly Zoom. The problem is that when teaching the shot, the examples usually stop there which is a shame, because it makes the shot seem like a one-off effect for legendary movies. But it’s actually a lot more versatile in common than that. Its out-of-this-world visual look makes it commonly used for the supernatural, or the feeling of a drug trip. I particularly enjoy its use in The Lord of the Rings, because the widening of the holes in the trees gives the visual feeling that the forest is opening up a portal for the enemy to come. It’s almost always used at a movie’s most climactic epic moment. So if your hero fails, it adds to the punchline. Shaun: Sorry, we’re closed! The shot has even found its way into animation. Brad Bird uses it extensively in his films. The food critic flashback gets enhanced with a dolly zoom effect to simulate the transportation from one world to another. Animation, particularly computer-generated, has a distinct opportunity to use the photo in interesting ways because of animation’s complete control of object placement. As Remy relates to Chef Gusto the dolly zoom is no longer used to disorient the viewer, but to show them get physically closer together, indicating a relationship is born. The Incredibles has a seemingly impossible dolly scene as Mrs Incredible gets closer to the temptation. Both instances are non-disruptive, but also draw our attention to certain parts of the shot with its trademark squeezing effect. The dolly zoom is certainly a fantastical shot at the disposal of the filmmaker, but remember it’s more than just a cheap trick. Alfred Hitchcock used it for depth, Scorsese used it to show paranoia, and Brad Bird used it for visual cues. So be on the lookout for it. Thanks for Watching What are you staring at, fucker?

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