January 26, 2014

How to Pull off the Forced Perspective Effect Used in 'The Lord of the Rings'

Forced PerspectiveSpecial and visual effects are great, but unless you're a skilled SFX artist or post magician, they tend to be pretty spendy. If you're gearing up to work on a film that calls for characters of varying sizes (or just really into The Lord of the Rings and hobbits), there is an inexpensive alternative to CGI. This tutorial by Ben Lucas of Tuts+ will show you one method the TLOTR filmmakers used to make the towering wizard Gandalf look so much bigger than his little hobbit friend Frodo -- a practical effect that uses forced perspective to sell the illusion.

According to Lucas, TLOTR used four different methods to create the "Hobbit-sized illusion": compositing using green screens, big rigs, stunt doubles, and finally, forced perspective. If you're unfamiliar with this technique, it's essentially an optical illusion that makes things appear closer, farther, bigger, or smaller than they actually are -- like all of the pictures tourists take of their buddies pushing over the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

One great thing about Lucas' video, is that it 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 mathematical equation that helps with staging your characters correctly. Lucas explains this further:

The mechanics of this video are geared toward getting the 1:1.3 ratio that is specific to hobbits. However, if you are looking to create any smaller mythical people, figure out how small specifically you are trying to make them, and you can calculate the new camera to subject distances required. Half height? Multiply the human distance by .5 or the hobbit distance by 1.5.

Check out the video below:

It takes a lot of skill to pull off forced perspective, so simply plopping your characters down on either end of a table isn't going to cut it. The split rig helps to sell the effect, but like the video illustrates, you have to pay close attention to eyeline, as well as your depth of field. It'd also be wise to be aware of lighting -- making sure that it falls naturally on your scene, instead of giving away the illusion. Of course, there's more than one way to achieve this effect, but anything that can save both time and money is a definite boon to your production -- not to mention the awesome feeling of pulling off practical effects!

Have you ever tried using forced perspective on your films? What kinds of problems did you run into? What are some tips you could share? Let us know in the comments.

Link: How to Create a Hobbit-Sized Illusion -- Tuts+

[via Filmmaker IQ]

Your Comment

26 Comments

I'm a fan of forced perspective but I don't think their example works very well at all. I think they would have needed to split the table vertically instead of horizontally so the man can sit closer to the edge. Now it's really obvious that he's not sitting across from the woman.

January 26, 2014 at 10:06AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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ponysmasher

+1

January 26, 2014 at 2:02PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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MIke

They look nothing like two people sitting across from each other!

January 26, 2014 at 10:38AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Rob

Completely agree. Horrible example. And to think they spent a lot of time making this video.

January 26, 2014 at 2:03PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Alex

this is so stupid, the illusion doesn`t work

January 26, 2014 at 10:54AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Nelson

Appreciate the effort as the tutorial is for free, but the location probably forced them to cut corners and the end result suffered.

January 26, 2014 at 11:05AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Archie

I read somewhere that they used green screen with two motion controlled rigs that are in sync filming the two separate actors acting out the scene at the same time in different locations? I think it was an article on No Film School.

January 26, 2014 at 12:40PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Trza

That was for The Hobbit were forced perspective tricks wouldn't work since it was filmed in 3D.

January 26, 2014 at 1:08PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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ponysmasher

Ahh thanks

January 27, 2014 at 10:10AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Trza

Perhaps they should've spent more time on actually getting the illusion to work than wardrobe. Pretty poor attempt.

January 26, 2014 at 1:04PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Travis

+1 horrible example.

January 26, 2014 at 2:04PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Tom

Even the tiny thumbnail on the main page looks totally unconvincing!

I'd probably remove this story from the site and pretend it never happened.

January 26, 2014 at 1:14PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Fresno Bob

+1

January 26, 2014 at 4:43PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Ruben

All of you guys need to stop hating, make a better tutorial to replace this if you are really so offended. Its' the ideas that are important, in fact, it makes it better they did a poor job that way you can use the ideas to make a more convincing effect.

January 26, 2014 at 2:00PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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yep

Why is so much recycled content posted here? Don't get me wrong, I appreciate most of what is posted here...hell I've learnt so much from this site but this one has been going around every "filmmaking" website for a while now. And in this case it is also a very bad example of this trick.

January 26, 2014 at 2:52PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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da gooner

Its sad to see this make the cut, I submitted my film shot on the BMCC to NFS and didn't even get a response. Disappointed!

January 30, 2014 at 1:06PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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"there is an inexpensive alternative to CGI and other complicated and costly."
Perhaps it would be wise to hire an editor.

January 26, 2014 at 8:06PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Pualubo

I think the reason why the illusion doesn't work is because we can tell that the wizard character is clearly not sitting at the end of the table like the Hobbit character. I think a slight shift in positions with the two characters (and probably the camera) could have fixed the issue.

January 27, 2014 at 12:12PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Will

Another case of someone attempting to create a tutorial that really shouldn't be teaching tutorials. This is bad. Before trying to teach others please master the technique yourself. This is not a good post.

January 27, 2014 at 1:44PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Dk

+1

January 28, 2014 at 10:42AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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AimenKasem

Completely NOT convincing. Wow. Just so painful to watch.

January 28, 2014 at 4:52PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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The Rising

1913?????

January 31, 2014 at 2:23AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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MARK

I think the reason that the illusion doesn't work as well as it should is that they both still look like they're sitting at a table appropriate to their size. The hobbit should maybe have a shorter chair to sit in or the wizard be towering over the table a bit more. Y'know?

May 26, 2014 at 1:03AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Shawn

No. You actually don't have to make a better one to realize this one is bad.

June 20, 2014 at 4:29PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Lau

Agreed that the illusion doesn't work here, but it's great to help illustrate the complexity of perspective illusions. If you focus on the table, you see that they achieved that specific illusion perfectly, while learning pretty fast how that wasn't nearly as important as designing the effect around the orientation of the actors. Sometimes a mistake is more helpful to learn from than a perfect example. I noticed that even in LOTR there were a couple of moments with Gandalf and one of the Hobbits (can't remember if it was Frodo or Bilbo, sorry) where the cross-table lineup still looked like one actor was merely sitting closer to us than the other, despite the fancy moving rig that kept the table aligned. Possibly, the table crowded with dishes (maybe to hide the table split?) worked against the LOTR makers in that example due to the lack of cues to connect the small table to the big table. If, in the example posted here, the raised table were split vertically from the lower table as ponysmasher suggested while a visually cue aligned the actors horizontally, it would work. I think making sure their elbows were aligned straight across would sell the whole thing.

December 21, 2015 at 11:42AM

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I'm late to the party here, but the thing that struck me was the lighting. Because they appear to use a strong light to the left of the scene, we'd expect the hobbit's shadow to fall on the wizard, but it doesn't. Point is, I think lighting is another part of selling this effect.

May 1, 2016 at 9:17AM, Edited May 1, 9:17AM

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Nick Sabadosh
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