Applying Perspective Photography to Cinematography

Simply put, perspective photography is all about making things look bigger or smaller than they actually are. It can be used to skew perceptions, and it makes many different sized objects placed at different distances appear proportionate to each other. This technique is applied to still photographs as well as to Hollywood movies and architectural instances.

A lot of popular cinematographic examples like "Jaws," "Vertigo" and "The Lord of the Rings" have used this technique. The following article discusses the application of forced perspective to cinematography.

Problem with Traditional Forced Perspective and Cinematography

Traditionally, forced perspective photography took something like two people of the same heights and made one look smaller by placing him farther back in the background.

This, however, is not possible with a moving camera that captures cinematography because the moment the camera actually moves, it gives away that the shot is being faked by skewing perspectives. The technique is firmly based on the fact that the camera is static.

How to Get Past Problems

The technique has, however, been applied to movies successful movies, as listed above. "The Lord of the Rings" is a particularly good example because a lot of shots with characters (Frodo and Gandalf) that were not supposed to be the same size were carried out using perspective photography (or forced perspective).

The way this is done with a moving camera is by inducing a synchronized motion control between the camera and the actor that needs to be shown at an unnatural size. The actor is placed on a moving dolly that is electronically synched with the dolly of the camera, and this produces a counter movement of the actor and the props to keep the perspective intact as the camera moves. When you are actually viewing it, the camera is basically doing a split in the scenes and moving relative to the target’s motion.

This causes the camera to move against an artificial and non-existent perspective that it sees, all the while moving and preserving the fake perspective. Thus, all movements are relative to the already setup perspective and the camera always sees the perspective that was initially setup.

Study Examples

A good example to study is the shot from "The Lord of the Rings" where Frodo pours tea for Gandalf at the table. The shot is actually divided into two halves, with Gandalf placed much closer to the camera and Frodo sitting much farther. Also, the props they share and the very table are split into two halves that are separated by a large distance in the three dimensional space. Unknown to the viewer, Frodo and his half of the split is placed on a motion controlled dolly that moves relative to the primary camera movement, thus, providing a complex illusion that Frodo and Gandalf (similar sized actors) are indeed having tea together and appear to be vastly differing in sizes.

Perspective cinematography is complex and arduous, but when done right, it can produce beautiful results.