Five for Fridays: Top 5 Favorite Cinematographic Film Effects

1. Slow-Motion. Yes, yes, I know it’s hot stuff right now with the ease of the slo-mo camera setting on the iPhone and other devices (and it does look amazing) but it really is quite beautiful and adds to the story, if used properly. I also love the history and technique behind it. This effect was invented by Austrian priest and physicist August Musger in the early 20th century. In the good ‘ol days of film and handcranked cameras, the camera operator would overcrank at a rate faster than what would be projected (24 frames per second). You can also get the same effect by slowing the playback of normally captured film. This approach is not near as dramatic in my opinion and tends to have a staccato and harsh effect. Slowmotion or more commonly, “Slowmo” is captured beautifully in a many outstanding films including “Seven Samauri”, “2001” “Drive” and of course was expanded upon in “The Matrix” with the coined “bullet time” effect.  It’s theorized that the idea of slow motion may have existed before film. The Japanese traditional theatrical performance of Noh uses very slow movements. Used best in action and drug use scenes. (see 2012’s “Dredd” for a stunning use of slow motion)

2. Dolly Zoom. Oh Alfred Hitchcock. I’ll never get tired of you. The Dolly Zoom (or zido or Hitchcock zoom), although patented by Romanian Cinematographer, Sergiu Huzum, was first used and possibly simultaneously invented by Irma Roberts, an uncredited 2nd Director of Photography for Hitchcock’s “Vertigo”. It has been used both effectively and parodied any many films over the years. In my opinion it was most effective in it’s pioneering film and in a fantastic thriller/suspense film, “JAWS”, by then little known director, Stephen Spielberg. It is fantastic and alarming effect that tricks your depth perception while also psychologically identifying with the subject in the shot. Most effective in thrillers.

3. Rear Projection. Live action is shot in front of a transparent backdrop that has a previously captured projection. The pre-cursor to modern day “green screen”, this technique was very effective in black and white classics (and thusly used fairly extensively) Post-Golden Era movies like “Natural Born Killers” and “Pulp Fiction” used this technique more for “affect” than “effect”. That is, it’s almost parodied or homaged rather than used to create a realistic effect. Most commonly used in driving scenes.

4. Focus Pulling. Rack focus or pulled focus, is seemingly simple, but requires the steadiest of hands and exquisite timing from the focus puller or 1st assistant camera. It involves changing focus from a subject in the background to a subject in the foreground or vice versa. I haven’t seen this much these days in movies (apparently it’s too risky to use because it can’t be fixed in post production). Used in many genres.

5. Back lighting. Oh so simple, but oh so effective. The main subject is harshly lit from behind, the light aiming at the camera separating the main subject from the background and creating a darkened and often completely silhouetted figure. Psychologically it creates tension and suspense. I haven’t seen this recently any modern day films, but it is used perfectly in Hitchcock’s “Psycho” during the famous shower scene. Back lighting has been around for centuries in art and still photography related to chiaroscuro for similar effect. Used extensively in film noir and thrillers.

below: “Who Used My Luffa?!”
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