January 21, 2014

Everything You Need to Know About the Dolly Zoom

The dolly zoom, also referred to as the Vertigo effect or a Zolly shot, is a technique wherein the camera is dollied either forward or backward while the zoom on the lens is pulled in the opposite direction. When timed correctly, the effect of this technique is one in which the characters in the frame remain the same size while the foreground and background become compressed or de-compressed, depending on which direction the camera is traveling. It's a technique that has been part of the cinematic language for almost 60 years, and as such, it has evolved over time. Our friend Vashi Nedomansky over at Vashi Visuals has put together a comprehensive look at the evolution of the dolly zoom, and it's a fantastic watch, to say the least.

So, without any further ado, here's Vashi's montage of some of the greatest dolly zooms of all time (with a special surprise at the very end):

In film school, I was told on multiple occasions that dolly zooms should be avoided at all costs when trying to photograph serious work. While there is certainly a case to be made for the effect being a cheesy one, especially when used in an overly dramatic fashion, I think that there's an even stronger case that the technique, when used with a strong purpose and a lot of technical precision, can be a highly effective cinematic tool in dramatic filmmaking.

In Vashi's video, there are a few instances in which the technique is used to stunning effect. The one which is most often talked about -- and is often considered the greatest instance of all time -- is from the diner scene in Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas, in which DeNiro and Liotta remain static in the frame while the exterior of the diner slowly creeps in behind the pair. Another instance that is absolutely fantastic is from Road to Perdition, which was stunningly photographed by Conrad Hall.

In his article, Vashi points out the key element of making a dolly zoom work, "The Dolly Zoom is only effective (and curiously invisible) when it visually amplifies the internal emotional mindset of a character’s critical story moment."

Once you have an understanding of why the dolly zoom is an effective cinematic tool in certain situations, you're ready to put it into practice. In this lesson from Filmmaker IQ, John Hess talks not only about the physics of why a dolly zoom works, but how to start incorporating them into your work.

Be sure to head on over to Vashi Visuals and Filmmaker IQ to read the rest of their respective dolly zoom articles.

What do you guys think about the dolly zoom? Is it a worthwhile technique that should be practiced by younger filmmakers, or is it cheesy and overused? Are there any awesome dolly zoom shots that weren't included in the Vashi video? If so, link to them down in the comments!

Links:

Your Comment

32 Comments

ach, this is so boring

January 21, 2014 at 6:14PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

6
Reply
Nelson

+1

January 21, 2014 at 7:09PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

6
Reply
Alex

Yeah, and pointless.

January 21, 2014 at 7:30PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

0
Reply
Bill

Nelson, Heaven forbid that you should learn something! Would love to see your contribution to the film world.
Please send us a link.

January 22, 2014 at 10:03AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

6
Reply
steve chase

Steve, these are unrelated points: One's perception of educational value / entertainment value, and one's contribution to the film world.

January 22, 2014 at 4:02PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

0
Reply
Stephen

+1

January 22, 2014 at 5:55PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

3
Reply
MIke

Then don't look at it or read it...

I don't understand why there are so many trolls on here. If it is of no use to you, move on!

January 22, 2014 at 8:46PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

0
Reply
Nick

So is your response, loser.

January 23, 2014 at 3:49PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

2
Reply
Muh

I love this kind of video montage. It makes me want to see all these movies again.

January 21, 2014 at 6:43PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

0
Reply

Cool article. One dolly zoom that I was surprised was left out of the montage was the last shot from Panic Room

January 21, 2014 at 7:00PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

11
Reply
bob

+2

January 21, 2014 at 7:10PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

0
Reply
MIke

The Road to Perdition is a cinematography school in and of itself.

January 21, 2014 at 9:30PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

0
Reply
DLD

Agreed. It's my handbook.

January 21, 2014 at 10:48PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

5
Reply
Matt

Brilliant montage. Vashi puts out a ton of useful and interesting original content.

Love the use of the dolly zoom in La Haine.

January 21, 2014 at 10:08PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

6
Reply
Shawn

Here's a piece from soviet 1988 movie The Black Monk where this effect is used with some camera angle change
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l59bq4SYIFE

January 22, 2014 at 1:29AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

13
Reply
shakespit

Very interesting, thx.

January 22, 2014 at 2:43AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

0
Reply
Frank

It'd be interesting to do this with a fish eye or a tilted lens ... against some non-symmetrical stripe pattern.

January 22, 2014 at 2:53AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

0
Reply
DLD

The movement was imagined by Sergiu Huzum, a romanian Director of Photography and the machine was built by Toma Radulet a romanian engineer. It is also true that he was not the one who made it popular since Romania didn t such a powerful cinema industry like US.

January 22, 2014 at 6:36AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

8
Reply

There is no "machine". this technique doesn't work the same when motorized or motion control. I know, I've experimented with both. The emotion comes from the subtle variances in the human touch. It is very difficult to do. Not sure what "machine" Toma built??

January 22, 2014 at 10:08AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

0
Reply
steve chase

oh, I ve seen this machine (photos of it), It is a dolly which transfers the rotatioin movement of the wheels to the lens. It was very complicated because the lens barrel describes a logaritmic curve while the wheels describe a linear one. His son was my teacher in film school and he showed us some photos with this machine and the shots. Unfortunately we lost track of this machie. It may still exist in an old stage wearehouse, who knows.

January 25, 2014 at 2:52AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

0
Reply

There was really cool dolly zoom in movie enter the void, but i can't find it. There it was made from wideangle to fishaye.

January 22, 2014 at 12:17PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

0
Reply
Arturs

Yeah that's the coolest use of it I've ever seen. I have to believe that was probably a combination of shots, but they made it into one seamless shot.

January 22, 2014 at 1:18PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

11
Reply
avatar
Joe Marine
Camera Department

I was just about to post about "Enter the Void", the whole film looks like it uses these dolly zooms to REALLY good effect. Gets you into the psychedelic experince

January 22, 2014 at 8:50PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

11
Reply
Nick

I liked this effect the first few times I saw it, but it tends to pull me out of the movie rather than into it. Used in a subtle way it can be very effective, but the more extreme way is nauseating...which is great if that's the effect the director is after.

January 22, 2014 at 1:13PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

0
Reply
Dave

I have found that you can do a handheld zolly with the Tokina 11-16mm quite easily.

January 23, 2014 at 1:56AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

0
Reply
Erich

The first time I remember consciously seeing this used was in 'la haine', one of my all-time favorites: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iv41W6iyyGs

January 23, 2014 at 2:46AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

4
Reply
Raul

Lord of the rings has this in the fellowship of the rings.

January 24, 2014 at 10:52AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

3
Reply

I'm curious to see this done in post...the slight imperfections are sort of distracting, but in post you could lock it to a reference point. I've put my wireless follow focus motor on a zoom lens, and you just can't get it that accurate no matter how steady your hand. I guess a motion control rig could do it but even a really good zoom pull is difficult, made more difficult by trying to match a reference point in frame, or a time limit to finish the time in.

Of course you'd need a lot of resolution to do it in post, but there are lots of 4k cameras shooting damned webshows and whatnot, so the resolution to do it is sorta there if you're not doing a really long one.

January 24, 2014 at 10:16PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

3
Reply
Daniel Mimura

um . I scrolled down to see the comments and was blatantly dissapointed by the spirit of some. If you don't like what you see, go elsewhere.
*sighs*
I enjoyed a great deal your article. There was the use of the dolly zoom in the Need For speed movie as well, unsure if it was simulated or genuine, still it was worth mentionning. (it was at a tunnel scene if I recall properly).

I find the approach to the Dolly Zoom for Brick's punch scene, refreshing to say the least. Very different . I like! :)

Thanks for posting such a great article ..

September 28, 2014 at 12:50AM

0
Reply
avatar
Omar B
Video/Photo Editor
69

i like it. looking at this stuff makes me want to just go out and and make videos

September 27, 2015 at 11:13AM

2
Reply

How about Pixar’s effective use of the dolly zoom in, for example, Toy Story 2 and in Ratatouille—particularly for Anton Ego’s epiphany?

(By the way, I like relative adverbs as much as the next bloke but I submit that the “wherein” within “a technique wherein the camera is dollied either forward or backward” ought to be replaced by “whereby”.)

July 27, 2016 at 5:20AM

0
Reply
Informal
composer/writer/director
74

Yes i remember this Dolly zoom from The Return of the Living Dead (1985).

https://youtu.be/wV1FKU9Oihw?t=17

Awesome compilation of Dolly zoom effect.

Greetings.

July 27, 2016 at 10:05AM

0
Reply