A Look into Making Low-Cost VFX Using Forced Perspective
One big headache of making films on a tight budget is having to sacrifice parts of your story in order to keep the project from costing an arm and a leg. Sometimes that's just the nature of the beast and completely unavoidable, but other times, with a little help from some clever visual effects techniques, we can save money and keep what we want in our films. Vashi Nedomansky of Vashi Visuals reminds us that, at its core, cinema is a medium of illusion. By setting a miniature Humvee in the sand dunes of California, he was able to use forced perspective to shoot a flashback scene with a realistic-looking vehicle set in the Iraqi desert. Continue reading to find out how he did it.
Forced perspective is an optical illusion that makes things appear closer, farther, bigger, or smaller than they actually are. We've all seen photos of people pushing over the Leaning Tower of Pisa or squished things in the distance with our fingers -- that's forced perspective.
Many great (and not so great) filmmakers have used this technique to create the illusion. B-movies from the 50s and 60s used this often, since it was a cheap alternative to constructing huge models and sets. Some well-known films, like The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter used this technique to make characters look bigger and smaller (the hobbits and Hagrid respectively.) LOTR used forced perspective with a moving camera. Check out their incredible process below:
The final scene in Casablanca uses forced perspective -- yeah -- it does. Where? That plane was a painted backdrop and the people walking in the background were dwarfs.
Vashi mentions a great example:
In "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," Steven Spielberg used a model ship in the Mojave Desert of California to double for the Gobi Desert of Mongolia. By placing it close to the camera and using a wide lens with deep-focus -- he sold the size and scale of an impossible scenario that visually awed the audience.
His film The Grind called for a flashback set in the desert during the Gulf War, so Vashi needed a desert and a Humvee. Despite having shot in 65 locations already, shooting in an Iraqi desert wasn't in the cards, and neither was renting out a Humvee. So, Vashi and his crew made do with the Imperial Sand Dunes in Brawley, CA (where part of Return of the Jedi was shot) and a $23 1:18 scale model Humvee.
Vashi prefaces his video for us:
In this example, we were shooting on 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.
What do you think about using forced perspective versus CG or other digital methods? Do you have any tips on creating this illusion effectively? Let us know in the comments.