October 6, 2016
Tutorial

How to Create the 'Vertigo Effect' Dolly Zoom—Without a Zoom Lens

The "Vertigo effect" gets the post-production treatment.

We've talked extensively about the dolly zoom over the years—everything from its evolution to mastering the dolly zoom timelapse. A visual storytelling technique in which the camera dollies toward or away from the characters while the zoom on the lens is pulled in the opposite direction, subjects framed by a dolly zoom will remain the same size while either the background grows in detail or the foreground becomes dominate, depending on the way the camera moves.

The effect was first seen in Hitchcock's Vertigo, but many have used it since—most notably, Steven Spielberg in JawsMartin Scorsese in Goodfellas, and Sam Mendes in Road to Perdition. You'll even see it in the upcoming film Arrival from Denis Villeneuve

But what if you want to create the effect as an afterthought? Or you just don't have the proper lens while shooting?

Learn how to create this effect without the use of a zoom lens with UglyMcGregor, who breaks it down in the video below:

The setup

You're going to need a high-resolution camera that shoots at least 3K. 1080p media won't work, as you will be using the scaling method later in post to produce the effect. As McGregor points out, dolly zooms work best with the subject in center frame, so be sure you do so while tracking either toward or away from the subject. 

In post 

A program like After Effects, Premiere, Vegas, Final Cut, or Avid that has the ability to scale the size of the image will work for this technique. After placing the footage in the timeline, find the start and end points of the shot. From the starting point, if you moved the camera forward, you will descale the image using keyframes to control scale and speed. As you descale the image, your subject will move from middle frame, so it's preferable to use a thirds grid to help keep the character centered. 

If you dollied backwards, you will increase the image size using the same technique as above. Keep in mind that while you will lose frame height and width using this technique, you can produce realistic results if you're in a pinch.

What do you think: Can you see yourself trying this out? Let us know in the comments below.        

Your Comment

9 Comments

That's actually pretty fantastic.

October 6, 2016 at 11:13AM

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Benja Lockridge
News Manager/Director/Cinemtographer/Screenwriter
152

I agree. works better than I expected..

October 6, 2016 at 12:44PM

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FabioACSantos
Director
88

Thanks for the feature *Muscle Arm Emoji*.

October 6, 2016 at 12:13PM, Edited October 6, 12:13PM

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Lewis McGregor
Content Creator
110

This isn't talked about much but you can see the Vertigo effect in Melville's Les Enfants Terrible 8 years before Hitchcock's use.

October 6, 2016 at 1:27PM

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This is very interesting. I've never heard this. I did a lot of research on this particular technique and never heard anyone say it was used somewhere else first. Someone claimed that it was used in "Metropolis" back in the day but I found the shot they were talking about and it wasn't so. But if you're right then my hat is off to you! I haven't seen the movie but I'll be sure to check it out.

Thanks!

October 7, 2016 at 12:12PM, Edited October 7, 12:13PM

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Gotta admit, I feel a bit dumb for never thinking of this. So simple.

October 6, 2016 at 2:53PM

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Daniel King
Videographer, Editor
303

I've been doing this for years. It's WAAAAAY simpler in Sony Vegas. I really don't understand why other NLEs don't have similarly simple pan/crop functionality.

October 7, 2016 at 3:47AM

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David West
Filmmaker
1254

Interested to know what effect in Sony Vegas is more simple then adding 2 keyframes into position and scale of the clip. This same effect can also be achieved with motion tracking having the scale as one of the parameters to track - but this seems a bit overkill if the subject is sitting still in the dead center.

October 7, 2016 at 8:10AM

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Joonas Nieminen
Cinematographer and editor
276

Well then, grab a demo copy of Vegas Pro and try the Pan/Crop. :) It's not even an effect, it's merely an extremely powerful and easy to use built-in functionality.

November 22, 2017 at 3:55PM

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Cosmin Gurau
Director
304