Can you teach new dogs, old tricks? It seems these days if you want to show something out of the ordinary in your film or video project, the default option is to composite, green screen, photoshop, or fix and create images in post, on a computer, in a digital realm. But before the days of instant-gratification cameras and super fast, powerful and affordable computers, a lot of special effects had to be created “in-camera”, meaning they were accomplished with lighting, optics and physics, which are the key elements in creating forced perspective images. In this article I’ll go over some history of the technique and show you how I used it recently.
Forced perspective is the effect of making images look smaller, larger, closer or farther away in comparision to another object in the frame. The most recognizable example of this is a photo of someone who appears to be holding up the Leaning Tower of Pisa. A more cinematic example of forced perspective would be making a full sized actor look much smaller, ie, like a Hobbit in Lord of The Rings. Steven Spielberg even employed the technique in Close Encounters.
So why bother if we can just do it in post? There are arguably many reasons for and against, but the most overwhelming reason to create forced perspective shots in-camera is simply that they look better. Case in point: Peter Jackson had a sizable budget and the digital magicians from WETA at his disposal and still chose to employ forced perspective shots in LOTR to make hobbits and dwarves look smaller than their human companions. From a producers’ standpoint, forced perspective may end up saving production money in the long run by cutting down on production and post-production time and teams of compositing artists. Image how much the shot of the ship in Close Encounters would have cost if it were a real ship transported to the desert, or something composited in post, as opposed to just placing a small model in front of the camera. Continue reading “Forced Perspective”