Sweet Dolly Zooms!

I recently watched Jaws, and one shot, the same shot that strikes me every time I see it struck me again. It happens right before the second attack when Brody is sitting on the beach looking out at the swimmers when someone yells “Shark!” there is an amazing shot where the camera comes up to Roy Scheider’s face and the background seems to melt away…

That is a classic example of a dolly zoom, sometimes called a ‘Vertigo shot’. The effect was popularised by Alfred Hitchcock and has since been used by many other great filmmakers, Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, and Peter Jackson, just to name a few.

It’s a very effective technique because it does such a good job of messing it viewer’s perception; the background is becoming larger in the frame indicating a dolly or zoom in and yet the foreground remains the same, this creates a sense of fear or urgency while simultaneously focusing the viewer’s attention on the only subject in the foreground.

I decided to try my hand at this awesome effect, sorry if the result is a little bumpy and not as fluid as in the movies I will explain the shakiness below…

2017 Update: Sorry this was some old Flash video player, it’s for the best that it is no longer with us.(I don’t know why I didn’t use YouTube).

So how did I do this? Lacking an actor and dolly, I decided to go with a clay model I made a while back. I made the dolly out of Legos® which explains the shakiness (don’t expect to get a steady shot when you place a 4 lbs. camera on two sets of tiny Lego® wheels). Obviously, you can do this with anything that rolls smoothly but for this experiment, I used what I could find quickly.

The technique is really quite simple but it requires a good deal patience to get something that looks half decent. Start the shot as far from the subject as you wish but remain zoomed in. Now dolly in and simultaneously zoom out. As the camera approaches the object you compensate for the change by zooming out this keeps the subject in relatively the same location within the frame but the background is changing position. The hardest part of the effect is making sure that your dollying and zooming line up, you must dolly and zoom at the same speed. If you dolly to slow and zoom to fast the effect won’t work and visa verse. Good luck!

Thanks for reading, if you have any comments or suggestions post em’ below or email me!

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