August 22, 2013

A Look into Making Low-Cost VFX Using Forced Perspective

Vashi Forced Perspective HumveeOne 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.

Close Encounters Forced Perspective

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.

Link: Visual Effects - Low Budget Filmmaking Miniatures and Forced Perspective -- Vashi Visuals

Your Comment


Another great DIY Filmschool article, guys. Forced perspective doesn't work in a lot of situations, but if you plan it well, it's fantastic.

August 22, 2013 at 9:50AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM


Love this!

August 22, 2013 at 10:12AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM


The humvee could have been a bit higher quality as far as the model goes, it looked too clean and plasticky, but then again I already KNEW that it was a plastic model, I guess if I were watching it without knowing I would have not noticed.

August 22, 2013 at 10:17AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM


Apparently he's thought of that. From a comment on the original blog post: "The shot is not finalized yet…I will be adding grunge texture to the static Humvee and also burning oil wells in the wide shot and the POV shots of the scene to really sell the Gulf War."

August 22, 2013 at 12:39PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM


I added some grunge texture to the Humvee and a quick pass of FilmConvert Pro 2 that was updated today. It blends together a little better now. Thanks for comments!

August 23, 2013 at 7:32PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM


Thank you of posting this.

August 22, 2013 at 11:38AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM


Fascinating. It seems if you're careful enough AND you have enough depth of field, you can do so many things with this technique. Another example I love is "You The Living." On the DVD, there's a video which shows each scene then moves to reveal that chunks of the set are forced perspective elements. Amazing.

By the way, I agree that the Humvee would be improved with some grunge added--but if I hadn't known it was a toy, I really don't think I ever would have noticed.

August 22, 2013 at 12:55PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM


Oh, here's another cool example: a scene from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. What's on the left is actually a bird bath!

August 22, 2013 at 12:58PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM


Karel Zeman was a master of this technique:
see for example 8:44 and 11:45

August 22, 2013 at 4:17PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM


Demon Magic!!!!!!!

August 22, 2013 at 4:30PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM



August 22, 2013 at 4:49PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM


Cool shot ! But the Humvee looks just a bit too small. Still: I showed the shot to a few friends and they were fooled.

August 22, 2013 at 5:23PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM


I think you're right, the humvee now looks like a normal car, but actually a humvee like that is HUGE, so it should be a little bigger.

August 23, 2013 at 5:58PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM


Love this article! Simple trickery is just plain cool!

August 22, 2013 at 9:37PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM


fantastic !!!!!!

August 23, 2013 at 7:56AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

nigel Thompson


August 23, 2013 at 10:25AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM


Great, huge like.. :)

August 23, 2013 at 3:16PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM


Well Done Vashi !

August 23, 2013 at 3:24PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM


It hurts my brain to look at that shot. It's incredible!

August 23, 2013 at 4:04PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM


I was like "no, that's not going to work, how could it ever look like it was standing close to the actors"
Then I watched the shot, then the guy walked through the shot, then my brain re-booted (division through zero error, I guess) ;)

August 23, 2013 at 5:49PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM


It was 112 degrees the day I shot it...I too was hoping it was going to work! Glad it rebooted your coconut...Mission accomplished!

August 23, 2013 at 7:51PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM


Wouldn't this technically be a special effect, since it's all done in-camera?

August 23, 2013 at 8:22PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

Will Richardson

I think the correct technical term is Visually Special Effects.

August 24, 2013 at 3:07PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

V Renée
Nights & Weekends Editor

Optical effect?

August 26, 2013 at 5:31PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM


Awesomeness!!!!! Learnt somtin nice :) Vashi is a really good guy lol

September 5, 2013 at 9:08PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

Young Pizzy

The desert scenes for "Return of the Jedi" were filmed in Yuma, Az.

September 26, 2013 at 6:25PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM


nice post! thanks to axel comment. the videos of karel is amazing.
Axel on 08.22.13 @ 4:17PM
Karel Zeman was a master of this technique:
see for example 8:44 and 11:45

January 4, 2014 at 8:17PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM


Great example of how false perspective can be so realistic. It's 'in-camera' so first-generation, there's no dodgy CGi and no matte artifacts. You only have to watch the quite epic Humvee across the bridge scenes in 'Dante's Peak' where the flood water hits the bridge to see how jaw-dropping practical and false perspective can be. I'm also using a 1:18th scale car for filming a book 'teaser-trailer'. Just got to work out how to film with water as got to depict car going into a lake.

March 2, 2014 at 11:50AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM


Just like to point out though that since the vehicle is 1:18th scale, it also means everything around it and under the wheels should be to same scale so real sand would ironically look too granular at that scale. Probably doesn't matter on these shots as it looks great.

March 2, 2014 at 11:53AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM