August 13, 2014

The Dolly Zoom Timelapse Will Blow Your Mind! Here's How to Pull off This Crazy Technique

The internet is practically overflowing with timelapse videos. Some of them are good, some are not, and some of them are truly mind-blowing. As we know, modern motorized camera movement equipment has really paved the way for all sorts of inventive movement to be included in the timelapse format. In general, if a camera move has been done in a live-action environment, someone has probably done it in a timelapse. Although I could very well be wrong, until today I had never seen someone perform a dolly zoom during a timelapse. Eric Stemen recently put together a video not only showing how the technique looks (mind-blowing), but also how he pulled it off using traditional hyperlapse techniques and a little ingenuity.

Honestly this technique is an incredibly simple one to pull off, especially considering how unique and eye-catching the dolly zoom timelapse effect is. There are a few things that will greatly help with making the zoom aspect of the shots work as smoothly as possible, however. First and foremost, it is always ideal to have a zoom that has a constant aperture throughout its zoom range, especially if you need to shoot wide open. The longer the throw distance on the lens zooming mechanism, the better. Of course, cinema zoom lenses that have long throws and detailed distance information on the barrel will work best, but they're also incredibly expensive, so any decent photo zoom will get the job done.

Additionally, although a follow focus isn't absolutely essential for performing the zoom, it is essential that you make sure that you zoom the lens in small (minuscule even), but equal intervals with every shot that you take. In order to accomplish this, you'll need some kind of basic measuring system on your lens or follow focus. Besides those two technical aspects, the thing that will sell the effect the most is having a single object in the frame that remains stationary, which Stemen achieves using the frame guides that are built into most digital cameras these days.

Once you've shot the dolly zoom timelapse, the technique for post processing is almost identical to how you would process any other timelapse footage. The only caveat to that is that the footage absolutely needs to be stabilized in order to achieve the smoothness that Eric had in his shots. Of course, Adobe's "Warp Stabilizer" is probably the best choice, but FCPX also has built-in stabilization that will do the trick.

Link: Eric Stemen -- Vimeo

Your Comment

58 Comments

Ugh, that background music ruins the narration.

August 13, 2014 at 3:53PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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scott

Not if you're paying attention to the content.

August 13, 2014 at 5:01PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Didn't even notice it, was too busy paying attention to the awesome fellow speaking. Some mofos have to bitch about everything.

August 13, 2014 at 6:17PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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PayDro

Same here. I was too interested in what he was saying...

August 13, 2014 at 6:21PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Thanks everyone, I have a pretty limited royalty free music library at the moment. I thought the song in the background wouldn't be too offensive.

August 13, 2014 at 10:09PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Luckily Eric the internet is here to rip apart your work from the basements of their mother's houses. Great technique though, totally blew my mind.

August 13, 2014 at 10:27PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Haters gotta hate man, thanks for sharing this awesome tut with us :)

August 13, 2014 at 10:34PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Thanks for sharing this! WHO CARES about the background music. Wonderful content and extremely helpful!

August 14, 2014 at 3:58PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Agreed. Great tutorial, Eric. Can't wait to try it out.
Scott, it appears you've gotten lost. If you need help getting back to TrollTube, it's: www.youtube.com. Good luck.

August 14, 2014 at 5:16PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Ed Hecht

The music is fine A really great tutorial. Nice flow.
You spent a nice amount of time breaking down the steps and things to watch out for.
I appreciate the work.

Thanks for sharing

August 14, 2014 at 5:50PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Stanislaw Rober...

No problem here either, background music was....in the background (surprise) while I payed attention to the content. Neat trick and so simple! Thanks for sharing

August 19, 2014 at 8:07PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Yeah man the background music totally invalidates everything he's saying... /s

August 14, 2014 at 9:41AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Austin Mace

LOL =)

August 14, 2014 at 9:08PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Hey, this guy did a really popular timelapse video of my city (Louisville, KY) that made the social media rounds here. When I saw the dolly timelapse headline, I thought of that video, since it's the only time i've ever really seen the effect. Cool to see it's the same guy! Good tutorial!

August 13, 2014 at 3:59PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Thanks Jordan! Looks like you are doing some cool stuff as well. I noticed you work at Facility One, my brother used to work there as a software engineer.

August 13, 2014 at 10:12PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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I'm going to give this a shot soon! Since my camera doesn't have that crosshair thing, I think a grease pencil on the LCD will work just as well. That's what I usually use to line stuff up, anyway.

August 13, 2014 at 5:28PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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LOL, the music isn't that bad.

I saw that Hurlbut is putting on some lighting seminars. Could be cool. http://illumination.mzed.com/

August 13, 2014 at 5:54PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Prism

Can't wait to try this out!

August 13, 2014 at 6:10PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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100 photos / 23.976 fps = 4.17 seconds of footage this is very doable I wonder how long it takes to pull off though.

August 13, 2014 at 7:09PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Caleb

I think it took between 30 and 45 minutes after the test shots.

August 13, 2014 at 10:13PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Only question (and it's probably a stupid one) is since you'll be zooming out constantly, do you begin the shot completely zoomed in and gradually come out?

August 13, 2014 at 7:24PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Joe

I started all the way zoomed in and then zoomed out as I walked closer to the building. I've done it the opposite way as well though. Start close to an object and be zoomed out all the way, then as you walk back zoom in. It kind of makes it look like the building is growing that way.

August 13, 2014 at 10:15PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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I'll have to try both, then. Thanks, Eric.

August 14, 2014 at 12:30AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Joe

I just wish he would take a sip of water before talking that long

August 13, 2014 at 7:32PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Tyler

That's just how I usually sound in normal situations. The voice over was actually recorded on two separate days after I realized I left a lot out on the first set of takes.
I'll try some water next time.

August 13, 2014 at 10:18PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Simple but very effective. Thanks for this !!!

August 13, 2014 at 9:48PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Great work man and thanks for sharing. AWESOME

August 14, 2014 at 12:28AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Great technique and thank you for sharing. I will be using this in my next documentary.

August 14, 2014 at 2:56AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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waaaaw .. awesome :)

Good work and good idea my friend :)

August 14, 2014 at 4:37AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Hey Eric, is this the video highlighted? "Louisville In Motion 4K. A timelapse tour of Louisville Kentucky."

Most NFS posters know this by now but my government blocked Vimeo so I can't see the video or the tutorial. I found your page "Eric Stemen" on youtube but I couldn't find the tutorial. Any chance you YT it? Thanks from Jakarta!!

August 14, 2014 at 5:13AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Jakartaguy

Sorry about that, check youtube again on Saturday or Sunday. I'm on a shoot out of town right now...I'll upload it over there when I get back.

August 14, 2014 at 9:11PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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How are people ripping on the music, lol! I saw this and immediately thought "AWESOME! Can't wait to find a way to use this, thanks for sharing".

August 14, 2014 at 10:31AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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ongbak

This is some Inception shit right there. Daddy impress.

August 14, 2014 at 3:57PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Natt

Awesome work! Will absolutely be trying this stuff out soon - might even combine it with some more dramatic hyperlapsing etc. This got me excited!

August 14, 2014 at 4:00PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Awesome technique and the results are fantastic. I really appreciate that you decided to share this. Also, it's nice to see the GH2 still getting some use!

August 14, 2014 at 5:07PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Myke

I am definitely going to try this out. How cool!

August 14, 2014 at 9:59PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Great video. Can't wait to try this out.

August 14, 2014 at 11:15PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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James

Great video... just wondering, why not shoot with a fixed wide focal length and effect the zoom in aftereffects?

You couldn't say, create a pre-comp at source resolution in order to make the most of the warp, and then place that within a 1080 or 4k comp and effect the zoom using scale?

I know for one I would make a mess of the manual lens increments, and optical zoom doesn't actually alter perspective.. your perspective is purely a function of the subject to camera distance... that is a lens at 50mm and a lens at 100mm from the same positions will have the same perspecitve but differing angles of view.

I'm very impressed with what has been achieved, just I think it is over-complicating things. A hyperlapse with ae zooming should suffice, in theory.

August 15, 2014 at 9:37AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Paul Russell

If you shoot it at a fixed focal length, you lose all of that "growing" effect since the field of view doesn't change.

August 15, 2014 at 1:01PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Brian

Yes. Quite. Thats why i propose putting the angle of view change back in using what was once called a digital zoom.

You have a 12mp, 16mp 18mp 36mp camera. Thats a lot of wasted resolution for a 1080 or 2k or even a 4k timelapse.

So shoot with a wide lens and effect a scale zoom in Ae. No loss in output resolution. And you can control the start point, end point, ramping, speed... rather than turning a follow focus ziptie in time with the length of your sneaker...

I mean no disrepsect. I just want to make life easier. If you are animating stills. Shoot high res. Do the zoom later. The zolly depends on perspective shift. That is still happening with the basic hyper lapse.

August 15, 2014 at 9:52PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Paul Russell

P.S. I'm going to try this to be sure and will share my results, I take nothing away from the OP at all. Excellent work.

August 15, 2014 at 9:38AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Paul Russell

I think you are missing the concept of "dolly zoom", you will never achieve this in post as the effect is created by the nature of the optics, but good luck trying!

August 15, 2014 at 1:27PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Raul

Hi Raul

The concept of Dolly Zoom, zolly, the trumbone shot whatever, is to keep the subject the same size in the frame as the subject distance and focal length change. Got that. About 20 years ago. But thanks.

It's a primarily a trick of perspective. The only thing physically moving is the camera.

In my method the camera is still moving and so the subject camera distance is still changing.
Hey presto. A trick of perspective.

You want to keep the subject the same size then you use that abundant resolution of your camera instead. If you are outputting at 2k / 1080 then you have plenty of resolution to effect your crop zoom without any loss of resolution in your final movie.

The benefit of my proposed method is that you don't have to synch rough camera movements with rough lens movements. One parameter is done in post and so is keyframable, rampable, smoother...

When you zoom a lens you are not changing anything other than the angle of view.

A lot of folk don't get this. Zooming a lens does not affect perspective.

Read that again. Think. About. It.

The optical zoom during the hyperlapse is one more thing to get right / or get wrong in an already complex movement. What if your zoom start end points aren't in synch with your desired movement start stop points?

A dolly zoom in a live camera movement is far easier to set up, you do your rig, do a run through. Swap gearing if need be, try again. You waste 1 minute each attempt. Setting it up for timelapse could be very very frustrating. In the city. With an expensive camera. After dark etc etc etc.

I'll give my method (altering camera subject perspective and mimicking the optical movement in Ae with the redundant resolution.

I understand the zolly full and well and cannot see why my slightly different mehtod wouldn't work (keep the movement, keep the 'anchor')

I'm not knocking anybody. Just trying to make life simpler.

August 15, 2014 at 5:46PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Paul Russell

Yes this would totally work if you had enough redundant resolution. Probably best done with a quality lens on a full frame camera since you will be cropping in a whole lot. Furthermore you could post stabilise the footage at the same time as digital zooming and get the zoom increments really smooth. Great tutorial btw

August 16, 2014 at 5:03AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Paul, did you get around to testing your theory? Curious about the results!

August 28, 2014 at 10:01AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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What camera did you use? Do Canon cameras have that cross hair feature?

August 15, 2014 at 10:02AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Greg

MIght be able to ML them. It's a timelapse. Use the grid view in live view, or use the ovf and mark your anchor using a focus point.

August 15, 2014 at 5:47PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Paul Russell

Do you know how to access this feature on a Canon T4i?

September 28, 2014 at 11:42PM, Edited September 28, 11:42PM

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Shivani Jhaveri
Producer
220

Hey Eric,
Was it the same technic that you use for the crane shot (zooming out from the top of that building) at 0:01 to 0:03 in the video posted here? Or did you use different technic and equipment? Or the first bit was just using Telephoto/ > 200mm lens?

Thanks

August 15, 2014 at 10:58AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Awesome job!

August 15, 2014 at 11:01AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Thanks!

August 16, 2014 at 2:50PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Dalmasy

Wow! I'll try that one in a music video. Awesome! I appreciate your time.

August 25, 2014 at 9:45PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Rodrigo Molinsky

I would really love to try this but I can't seem to find a guide frame feature on my canon t4i can anyone help me out?

August 28, 2014 at 11:35PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Jeff Santone

Awesome 'how-to', thanks!

Tried it out yesterday using my kit 18-55mm and got to 45/100 'feet' before I used up my zoom, d'oh!

Gonna try it again using smaller zoom movements and hopefully achieve the correct effect.

As far as the 'timelapse' aspect, I'm assuming that just comes from taking 30-45 minutes to shoot the sequence? So for maximum effect do this at dawn / dusk. Love it.

September 3, 2014 at 1:12PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Travis Bronson

Wow this technique is great, thanks for sharing. i have only just got into timelapse but the effect you get from doing this is crazy. i live in the Uk so we don't have lots of subjects that are really great for this effect unless you go to London.
the time and skill required for this is going to take so time to master but i can see it opens up so many more possibilities with this medium.
Keep up the good work and thanks for walking us through your workflow.
the music was nice and at least you took the time to edit this properly.
forget about the idiot who has to put people down in order to keep more of a man. ; ))

September 28, 2014 at 5:01AM

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Sacha Hayward
Photographer/Videographer
81

awesome

September 28, 2014 at 10:12PM

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¡Impressive!

September 29, 2014 at 4:42AM

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Ragüel Cremades
Film producer and director
7566

Hold on. Can you warp stabilize multiple clips at once in After Effects? Because you cant do that in prpro

December 16, 2014 at 10:09PM, Edited December 16, 10:09PM

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