Trending: The Dizzying Art of the Vertigo Effect, and How To Create It

By David Schonauer   Wednesday July 26, 2017

The dolly zoom is huge now.

Also called the Vertigo effect because the first time it was used in a mainstream movie was Alfred Hitchcock’s 1958 masterpiece, the dolly zoom went on to perplex and delight viewers in Jaws, Raging Bull, Poltergeist, Goodfellas, and other movies. Essentially, the effect makes it seem as if objects in the foreground appear the same size throughout a shot while objects in the background appear to morph in size. When used properly, it’s a powerful way to convey shocked disbelief and to isolate characters in a strange and unstable cinematic world.

As filmmaking technology has become more widely available, more and more would-be auteurs inspired by Hitchcock, Spielberg, and Scorsese have become interested in how to create and use the dolly zoom themselves. Today we review a number of articles looking at the effect and how it can be employed. As you’ll seen, while it was once an in-camera effect, today the dolly zoom can be created with and without zooms, in time lapses, and with drones.

1. How They Pull Off the Dolly Zoom In Movies

We first started noticing the new interest in the dolly zoom a few years ago. In 2014, for instance, Wired  featured a post detailing how Hollywood filmmakers create the Vertigo effect, which is also known as a push-pull, and a reverse-tracking shot. Whatever you call it, the effect is classically created with a wide-angle zoom lens, a steady zoom, and a dolly.

2. Everything You Need to Know About the Dolly Zoom

In essence, noted NoFilmSchool  in 2014, the effect is created by dollying a zoom either forward or backward while the zoom on the lens is pulled in the opposite direction. NFS also featured a video essay exploring the evolution of the dolly zoom and a dolly zoom lesson from Filmmaker IQ.

3. What the Dolly Zoom Can Do For You

Before you use a dolly zoom in your own project, you should understand not only how it work but also how it affects people. NoFilmSchool  featured a video essay from Now You See It  exploring the effect as a marker for psychological disorientation. “[A] dolly zoom, in essence, involves a change from a telephoto lens to a wide angle lens, and these two lenses have radically different psychological effects on the viewer,” notes NFS, which provides examples.

4. A Closer Look at the Dolly Zoom

PetaPixel  also featured the video essay from Now You See It explaining how and why the dolly zoom is used. But there’s something here for still photographers, too: PP also uses the dolly zoom effect to show how different lens focal lengths and camera distances affect how faces look in portraits — or why the camera “adds 10 pounds” to subjects.

5. To Dolly or to Zoom — That Is the Question

This is a little off the subject at hand, but important for filmmakers to understand: NoFilmSchool  featured a video essay from Film Riot  looking at the visual and emotional effect of using dolly shoots versus using zoom shots. Zooming used to be much more pervasive in the 60s and 70s, but soon became regarded as outdated and unfashionable, while the dolly gain traction. But is it time for zooming to come back?

6. Create the Vertigo Effect in Time Lapses

Over the last few years, filmmakers have been coming up with new ways to use the dolly zoom. Back in 2014 Eric Stemen released a tutorial video showing how to create the Vertigo effect in time lapses and hyperlapses. Filmmaking websites were impressed: “Honestly this technique is an incredibly simple one to pull off, especially considering how unique and eye-catching the dolly zoom timelapse effect is,” proclaimed NoFilmSchool. Want more? SRL Lounge  broke down Stemen’s lesson.

7. Create the Dolly Zoom in Post, No Zoom Required

Last year filmmaker Lewis McGregor of YouTube Channel UglyMcGregor  showed that it is possible to “fake” a dolly zoom in After Effects using certain kinds of footage. “You’ll need to have your subject dead center of the frame because you’ll be losing a lot from the margins to create this effect,” noted PetaPixel.

8. Create a Dolly Zoom With a Tripod

Don’t have a dolly? You can still create a dolly zoom, notes YouTuber Alex Cican. But you do need a tripod.

9. This Drone Video Is the First to Use the Vertigo Effect

“You might want to take some anti-nausea meds before you watch this one,” noted PetaPixel  last year, when it featured Balance, a film by Tim Sessler and Brandon Bray that may have been the first drone film to use the Vertigo effect. To create the effect, the filmmakers used a Canon CN-E 15.5-47mm zoom lens, starting at 47mm and zooming out to its widest angle while simultaneously moving the drone towards the subject.

10. How You Can Create a Dolly Zoom With Any Drone

Want to create a drone dolly zoom yourself? A tutorial video from Tom’s Tech Time shows you how to do it with a number of drones and some help from Adobe Premiere Pro. See it at DIY Photography. Meanwhile, PetaPixel  has a six-minute video from YouTuber Captain Cornelius shows how to take a simple tracking back shot and edit it in Final Cut Pro to achieve a simulated version of the dolly zoom.


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