What is forced perspective photography in film? (Definition and examples)

There’s something so cool about forced perspective photography.

One of the funniest camera tricks is forced perspective in film and television. You can make characters taller, shorter, and even change the physics of the world you’ve built. This type of camera angle allows you to change the way an audience feels and reacts. You can add to a performance and reality, and wow people watching. But how to photograph in forced perspective? And what are the camera tricks used in movies like The Lord of the Rings what can you do at home?

Today we’ll go over the definition of forced perspective, look at some examples, and see how these optical illusions are created. We’ll even look at some things you can do to make sure your forced perspective photography looks as good as the pros. We will get to the bottom of this optical illusion.

Ready? Let’s dive into it.

Forced perspective photography in action Credit: NFI

What is forced perspective photography in film? (Definition and examples)

What is forced perspective? Well, many great (and not so great) filmmakers have used this technique to create the illusion. B movies of the 50s and 60s often used it, as it was a cheap alternative to building huge models and sets.

Some well-known movies, like The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, used this technique to make the characters look taller and shorter (the Hobbits and Hagrid, respectively.) LOTR used forced perspective with a moving camera. So how do we define forced perspective?

Definition of forced perspective

The forced perspective is a photographic or cinematic technique that uses the space between subjects to manipulate the viewer’s perception of space and distance between two objects, creating an optical illusion. This illusion makes the subject of the shot appear further, closer, larger, or smaller than it actually is.

The definition of forced perspective photography is the same as above, just done using a camera instead of a camera.

Forced perspective in cinema

One of the most common ways to see forced perspective in movies is through thumbnails. In fact, for Dating of the Third Kind, Steven Spielberg used a model boat in California’s Mojave Desert to double for Mongolia’s Gobi Desert. He placed the model close to the camera and used a wide lens with deep focus. It gave the appearance of a real tanker in today’s desert.

forced perspective
Dating of the Third Kind Credit: Paramount Pictures

Examples of Forced Perspective

Another one of my favorite forced perspective shots in film is to the aviator. Obviously, it would be incredibly expensive to shoot with a ton of real planes. So they used miniatures to make it look like real planes were flying. In this photo of the Spruce Goose flight, Martin Scorsese wanted it to feel real. So they used miniature and forced perspective to give us the illusion of a real plane hovering when it was actually a scale model.

forced perspective
The aviator behind the scenes Credit: Warner Brothers

LOTR camera stuff

Of course, the movies that made a name for themselves on forced perspective were The Lord of the Rings franchise. The special and visual effects are great, but unless you’re a skilled SFX artist or post-production wizard, they tend to be quite expensive. If you’re preparing to work on a movie that uses characters of different sizes (or if you’re just really in The Lord of the Rings and Hobbits), there is an inexpensive alternative to CGI.

This tutorial by Ben Lucas from Tuts+ will show you a method LOTR The filmmakers used to make the hulking wizard Gandalf look so much taller than his Hobbit boyfriend Frodo – a practical effect that uses forced perspective to sell the illusion.

According to Lucas, LOTR used four different methods to create the “Hobbit-size illusion” – compositing using green screens, large platforms, double stunts and finally forced perspective. If you’re not familiar with this technique, it’s basically an optical illusion that makes things appear closer, farther, larger, or smaller than they actually are, like all photos tourists take of their pals pushing on the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

A great thing about Lucas’ video is that he not only shows you how to set up one of the most important parts of the forced perspective illusion, a split rig (two sets with different sized objects ), but it also breaks down the math equation that helps properly stage your characters. Lucas explains this further:

“The mechanics in this video are aimed at getting the hobbit-specific 1:1.3 ratio. However, if you’re looking to make mythical characters smaller, figure out how small you’re specifically trying to make them, and you can calculate the new camera about required distances. Half height? Multiply human distance by 0.5 or hobbit distance by 1.5.”

Watch the video below.

It takes a lot of skill to get forced perspective, so simply laying your characters on either end of a table isn’t going to cut it. The split rig helps sell the effect, but as the video illustrates, you have to be very careful with the eye line, as well as your depth of field. It would also be wise to be aware of the lighting, making sure it falls naturally on your scene, instead of giving the illusion. Of course, there’s more than one way to achieve this effect, but anything that can save time and money is a boon for your production, not to mention the incredible feeling of achieving practical effects!

Forced perspective in Elf

Everyone has a favorite vacation destination. For many, apparently it’s now die hard. Here is a whole infographic to prove that this is indeed a Christmas movie. But for others, the 2003 holiday comedy Elf (2003) with Will Ferrell and Zooey Deschanel is a Christmas staple.

Although the film has aged surprisingly well for its time (2003 isn’t often considered the pinnacle of comedy cinema), it also gets a fair boost each year for its sing-along scenes and the amusing man-child antics of Will Ferrel.

However, as seen on Reddit and several other places, an appreciation for its practical effects also suddenly arose.

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BTS elf with forced perspectiveCredit: New line cinema

The forced perspective used in Elf

As you can see in the images above, forced perspective was a go-to movie trick for Jon Favreau and his team to create many shots early in the film where the oversized pal struggles to fit in with the community. Santa’s elves. For those who have studied film, the use of forced perspective for shots like this shouldn’t come as much of a surprise as we’ve seen plenty of examples of it over the years in movies like The Lord of the Rings.

However, as simple as it sounds, it’s still impressive to see it in action. It’s hard to say for sure, but the top image above appears to be from this behind-the-scenes series on the making of Elf. You can watch part 1 here, but the elf community scenes are shown (briefly) in this part 2 video below as first assistant director Jim Brebner explains his role and some of the plans they’re trying. to get.

How to Create a Forced Perspective Photograph

One of the big headaches of making movies on a tight budget is having to sacrifice parts of your story in order to avoid the project costing you an arm and a leg. Sometimes it’s just the nature of the beast and completely unavoidable, but other times with a little help from some nifty visual effects techniques we can save some cash and keep what we want in our movies.

Vashi Nedomansky of Vashi Visuals reminds us that, in essence, cinema is a medium of illusion. Setting up a miniature Humvee in the California sand dunes, he was able to use forced perspective to film a flashback scene with a realistic-looking vehicle set in the Iraqi desert in this forced perspective shot. Keep reading to find out how he did it.

Credit: Vashi visuals

Vashi mentioned that the project he was working on didn’t have the budget to shoot real Humvees in the desert. He said: “In this example, we were shooting a Panasonic HVX-170 with a 1/3″ sensor at the widest lens setting, so depth of field was not an issue. I was at f/11 and everything from one foot to infinity was in focus. The Humvee was about 2 feet from the camera and the actors were 40 feet away.

Forced Perspective Ideas

Forced perspective is an optical illusion that makes things appear closer, further, larger, or smaller than they actually are. We’ve all seen pictures of people pushing the Leaning Tower of Pisa or smashing objects in the distance with our fingers – it’s a forced perspective.

In order to easily find forced perspective photography opportunities, consider what you have on hand. Are there toys or places that can be juxtaposed to give a new perspective? Something nearby that you can use and a large backdrop if you position the camera correctly? Experiment with your ideas and see what works!

If you’re looking for more film inspiration or other cool hands-on effects to try out for yourself, also check out some of these articles from No Film School.

Summarize Forced Perspective in Film and How to Create Forced Perspective Photography at Home

After reading all of this, I hope you have some forced perspective photo ideas and have a good idea of ​​how to take forced perspective photos at home. As you can see, filmmakers with varying budgets use this technique to make sure their world feels real and unique.

If you are looking for cameras, check out our comparison between the BMPCC6K and the BMPCC4K!

Check out our guide to types of film lights, film lighting techniques, and of course composition for beginners! If you’re looking for some master advice, look no further than Steven Spielberg’s 10 tips for making movies, or these 6 quotes from the Coen brothers to inspire your journey!

Now shoot!

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