Dolly zoom

From Academic Kids

Missing image
A dolly zoom of a sculpture and its surroundings
The dolly zoom, is an unsettling in-camera special effect that appears to undermine normal visual perception in a way that is difficult to describe. The effect was invented by Irmin Roberts, a Paramount second-unit cameraman, and was famously used by Alfred Hitchcock in his film Vertigo, although it appeared earlier at the climax to his film Spellbound.

A dolly zoom is also variously known as:

  • The "Hitchcock zoom" or the "Vertigo effect"
  • "Sam Raimi cam" or a "Jaws shot"
  • A "zido"
  • A "contra-zoom" or "trombone shot"
  • And more technically as forward zoom, reverse tracking or zoom in/dolly out.

In the dolly zoom, the setting of a zoom lens is used to adjust the field of view at the same time as the camera dollies (or moves) towards or away from the subject in such a way as to keep the subject the same size in the frame throughout. In its classic form, the camera is pulled away from a subject whilst the lens zooms in, or vice-versa.

Thus, during the zoom, there is a continuous perspective distortion, the most directly noticeable feature of which is that the background "changes size" relative to the subject. As the human visual system uses both size and perspective cues to judge the relative sizes of objects, seeing a perspective change without a size change is a highly unsettling effect, and the emotional impact of this effect is much greater than the description above can suggest. The visual appearance for the viewer is that either the background suddenly grows in size and detail overwhelming the foreground, or, the foreground becomes immense and dominates its previous setting. Which of these two apparent effects predominates depends on which way the dolly/zoom occurs.

The dolly zoom is commonly used by film-makers to represent the sensation of vertigo, a "falling away from oneself feeling", feeling of unreality, or to suggest that the character is undergoing a realization that causes them to reassess everything they had previously believed. A notable use of this effect is in Goodfellas, where director Martin Scorsese uses the dolly zoom in a scene during the climax of the film: Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) and Jimmy Conway (Robert De Niro) are sitting in a restaurant, talking. Henry realizes that Jimmy is setting him up and betraying their lifelong friendship; as this happens, the perspective in the background changes in a slow, gradual manner. Another notable dolly zoom appears in Steven Spielberg's Jaws, as Police Chief Brody (Roy Scheider) becomes increasingly paranoid whilst guarding a beach. Director Sam Raimi uses the dolly zoom in scenes in a number of his movies, most notably in The Quick and the Dead during the faceoff in the final quickdraw competition (sections of which can be seen in the trailer ( Further examples appear in Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings movies: in the Wooded Road scene in The Fellowship of the Ring and the Shelob's Lair scene in The Return of the King the effect is used to suggest the presence of terrifying evil forces.

The dolly zoom can be combined with computer graphics. One example of this is the Neo flight scene in The Matrix Reloaded.

The effect has also been simulated in animation in The Simpsons, and in The Lion King, by altering the relative sizes of the foreground characters and background art.


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