Epic Tracking Shot
An Epic Tracking Shot is the use of camera movement that defies typical expectations, with unusual complexity, length or "impossible" movement. For example the camera could go from a city skyline into an apartment, and then through a keyhole into the bathroom. What usually makes this so "epic" is that the complexity of the shot is such that it would be impossible to do without the use of some sort of visual effect. This doesn't mean that there has to be loads of Conspicuous CG, it's just that it would be quite difficult and very expensive to do certain shots like that any other way. Sometimes the effect is "cheated" through the use of a Match Cut or a Whip Pan. Many directors use this as a Signature Style, and is also quite popular to use as the opening or ending shot. It is also one of the big signs that a television episode has received a Big Budget Beef-Up. There are multiple variations, including:
- Phasing through objects like windows, walls and floors.
- Shifting between wide tracking shots and close up handheld.
- Passing through metaphysical items like a tv screen or electrical wiring.
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Film - Animated
- A particularly impressive shot was used for Treasure Planet. You see a half-moon in the sky and when the characters talk of going to the spaceport the camera then zooms towards the moon and as it gets bigger you see more details and eventually notice that it isn't a moon, but the spaceport itself shaped like a half moon.
- The closing shot of Fantasia, a languid shot through a Gothic-looking forest at dawn. It was so hard to pull off that it wasn't finished until hours before the world premiere.
- The Rescuers Down Under opens with the camera flying for miles at high speed from a ladybug on a blade of grass to Cody's bedroom.
- Pinocchio has a shot of the village waking up in the morning, starting with the church bell and going down the streets to Geppetto's door. All the more impressive considering it was done in 1940.
- The Thief and the Cobbler has several. One which defies perspective has a zoom which goes through another character's eye; another zooms out from a character's mouth to a "God's eye view" of the areas around the huge city he's in.
- In the 2007 TMNT movie, this occurs during the scene where Raphael, Donatello, Michelangelo, April, Casey, and Splinter fight their way through Kariai and her Foot ninjas to break into Winters' building to save Leonardo.
- In The Adventures of Tintin, there is the the chase scene in Bagghar, from the point where Snowy jumps into the car, to the point where Tintin catches the falcon by the dock, all done as a single shot, over two and a half minutes long. And it's an action scene following multiple characters across an entire city.
- A not overly epic but still nice-looking one occurs in BIONICLE: Mask of Light, as the cam starts out at a waterfall, flies up to and across the Kini-Nui temple, then over the bridge to the Amaja-Nui sandpit where Gali's meditating. Perhaps to make it seem more grandiose, the temple has been re-imagined as resting atop a smaller mountain peak, and the surrounding elevated jungle replaced with mountains, a river deep down, and the waterfall.
- Twice Upon a Time opens with a helicopter shot through the Murkworks. It starts above the factories spewing smoke and steam, underneath a bridge with a train passing by, then finally into Synonamess Botch's castle with Botch's vultures flying around through the entire shot. This was all done using stop-motion paper cutouts.
Film - Live Action
- The silent film Sunrise, and its director F.W. Murnau, were largely responsible for introducing this trope to Hollywood. Murnau had already been doing this earlier in the 20s, back in Germany. The Last Laugh opens with an Epic Tracking Shot out an elevator, through a hotel lobby, and out a door, accomplished by putting a camera in a wheelchair.
- Used to dizzying effect in the 1964 Communist propaganda film I Am Cuba. Tracking shots zoom all around a number of set-pieces, including a decadent pool party (dipping beneath the water at one point) and among rooftop rebel bases. The shots span such a distance that they required the camera to be handed from operator to operator to navigate the terrain.
- Boogie Nights has a very impressive tracking shot that pans through a party scene and eventually winds up underwater, referencing a similar scene in I Am Cuba.
- The Avengers: it starts with Black Widow on the back of a Chitauri on a flying sled, controlling him. Iron Man flies by her and he blasts a couple of aliens on the ground. He lands next to and fights alongside Captain America, then flies up the side of a building where Hawkeye is on the roof fighting off aliens. Hawkeye shoots an arrow and the camera follows it as it hits a Chitauri sled. It falls and a leviathan passes by where the Hulk and Thor are on it fighting aliens. The Hulk stabs the leviathan with a big piece of debris, and Thor hammers it in. This brings the leviathan crashing into Grand Central Station. Then Mood Whiplash sets in when The Hulk punches Thor off the Leviathan's corpse.
- There's also the scene in the Helicarrier where the camera circles the Avengers arguing before moving on to Loki's scepter and then flipping upside down to have the scepter in the foreground and the Avengers inverted in the background.
- Birdman: The entire film is shot and edited to look like a single, uninterrupted take (it isn't, however).
- In the first Mission: Impossible movie, there's an epic helicopter shot that pulls up to the Chunnel Train, then through a window into a compartment. There's a similar shot in The Birdcage, starting actoss the ocean, up to Miami Beach, then uninterrupted into Robin William's club.
- A classic example is seen at the start of The Lord of the Rings The Two Towers.
- Star Trek: First Contact began almost inside Captain Picards eye, then progressively pulled back to show how massive the Borg complex was. A later moment in the movie begins with a view of the Enterprise, then travels underneath the saucer section to focus on a couple of people emerging in space suits to walk across the hull. It gives a real sense of size to the ship.
- David Fincher loves doing this, like the garbage can in Fight Club or running the camera through the entire house (including going through walls and through the handle of a coffee pot) in Panic Room.
- Michael Bay is fond of doing a "showdown" tracking shot where two enemies are hiding behind barriers, both ready to jump out at each other, and the camera starts behind one of them and does a high speed move while rotating 180 degrees. Sometimes going through walls.
- Transformers and following the Allspark to Earth.
- The end of Resident Evil has a particularly good one involving Alice pulling out a shotgun from a police car and cocking it determinedly, and then pulling slowly out revealing a completely devastated Raccoon City.
- Men In Black ends with an epic tracking shot by starting with an overhead of J and L, then pulling away to see the Earth, continuing on past the solar system and the galaxy to show that our galaxy is simply a marble in a giant alien's hand, much like the MacGuffin of the film.
- Forrest Gump starts with a Object Tracking Shot of a feather in the middle of the sky. The camera follows it as it passes through a park, lands on a man's shoulder, goes above a car and under a second one then finally the feather falls right on the main character's shoes. He then picks it up and puts it in a book.
- In the end the feather starts from between Gump's shoes, flies into the sky (while still showing the main character for a while) and the feather starts dancing in the air before it turns and hit the camera.
- Harry Potter films:
- Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban had a couple of shots that went through the numerous, moving, Death Trap-esque clock gears, through the closed window and into the courtyard.
- The second film has a shot which starts with a distant shot of Hogwarts and zooms in through the roof of the greenhouse, revealing Professor Sprout starting the Herbology class.
- Also The Oner, action movie Tom Yum Goong /The Protector/ Warrior King features a four-minute one-shot elaborate fight sequence that reportedly took eight days to get right in which Tony Jaa fights his way up a building.
- One scene in the original Total Recall (1990) has several villains walking around inside an abandoned alien base. At the end the camera pulls back (via special effects) to reveal the incredible size of the base.
- Several in Watchmen.
- Used very memorably in Children of Men during the climactic action sequence, though the shot in question was revealed to have been digitally stitched together.
- Orson Welles
- A hallmark of Martin Scorsese's career.
- In GoodFellas, Henry and his girlfriend entering the back of the Copabana Club. Watch it here
- Hugo starts out with an Epic Tracking Shot leading from a 1931 Paris cityscape, into and through the crowded train station, and finally into the overhead clock where the boy lead is revealed.
- Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore has an impressive tracking shot which starts out with Alice and Flo in the diner, leads them through some twisty passageways out of the diner, then follows them into an outdoor toilet.
- In Robert Altman's The Player, the opening tracking shot, which even has two film execs giving a Shout Out to Touch of Evil.
- The Argentine film El secreto de sus ojos (The Secret in their Eyes) has a tracking shot that starts with an above view of a football (soccer) stadium during a match, then dives into the crowd to focus first on the policemen trying to spot a murder suspect among the fans, then on the suspect as he is seen by the police, and finally on a dizzying chase scene through the stairs and toilets of the stadium.
- The opening shot of Contact.
- The opening battle of Revenge of the Sith.
- The final shot of Minority Report, starts with a simple pull back from two of the precogs sitting in a room in a house, back through the house, out through the (closed) window, and away from the house and up.
- The ending of Time Bandits has the camera pulling away from Kevin's house, up out into space, ending with a shot of the time hole map.
- The Trope Maker \ Trope Codifier for Astronomic Zoom, Powers of Ten by Charles and Ray Eames (1977). It starts with a picnic blanket in a park and pulls out, marking every time the distance has increased to a power of ten, until our entire galaxy is just a dot in space. Then, we zoom all the way in again and keep going until we get down to the structure of an atom.
- Godard was a big fan of the long tracking shot. It's evident in his early work. In Contempt, there's an early shot of the characters walking outside the studio space talking with the American producer that lasts for some 6 minutes - but most famously in his late 1960's film Weekend which opens with a stunning tracking shot of the protagonists driving around traffic which lasts for more than 10 minutes.
- The opening shot of Psycho was meant to be one with the camera panning through the city until it entered the hotel room Marion was having her affair in, but it was impossible to do with the technology of the time. Gus Van Sant's shot-for-shot remake actually does it.
- The film Atonement has an extensive one depicting the Dunkirk evacuation.
- The remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003), after the hitchhiker commits suicide: the camera starts on everyone's shocked reaction, then pulls back through the bullet wound, out the back of her head and the shattered rear windshield.
- Kill Bill Vol. 1 has a spectacular example of this which can be viewed here.
- Alfred Hitchcock's Young and Innocent reveals that the real murderer has an eye twitch, then does a slow, dramatic tracking shot from the lobby ceiling of the hotel, through the dancer-filled ballroom, and up to a close-up of the eyes of the blackface orchestra drummer. No points guessing what his eye does.
- The film Russian Ark, which is all one single tracking shot. The whole film.
- The title sequence of Superman Returns is one long tracking shot from Krypton to Earth. And it is gorgeous.
- The introduction to the crew in Serenity takes the form of a huge Oner that follows Mal through the ship, past each crew member in turn. There's another later in the film, when preparing to Hold the Line against the Reavers in Mr. Universe's complex. According to the commentary, both shots were intended to give a sense of the space the action was shortly to take place in.
- Technically not a Oner though. It actually had to be done in two shots. Note the swish pan.
- One of the tracking shots in Das Boot required special effects to produce. It pans across a submarine factory/pen, passing by at least three subs. However, only one model sub was actually built for this scene.
- The Green Hornet takes this concept Up to Eleven by having the villain send out his henchman to pass along his orders to kill the titular hero to all the hoodlums under his thumb. Rather than track each person who receives the call, the camera divides into more cameras to follow every single hoodlum as they are mobilized, up until all the views end in the deaths of a dozen criminals mistaken for the Green Hornet.
- 1932 film Rain includes several tracking shots that were highly unusual for the early talkie era. The scene where Sgt. O'Hara suggests that Sadie go to Australia and wait for him there runs seven minutes without a cut, following Sadie and O'Hara as they walk around the patio of the boarding house. The camera even spins to find Sadie back in her room after she runs inside in a panic.
- Shaun of the Dead has Shaun walking from home to the convenience store down the street, interacting with half a dozen people along with way.
- The Time Machine (2002) had one. First, while Alexander Hartdegen is travelling forward, there's a brief section where the camera slowly tracks back from him, out through the conservatory window, makes a slow arc around the conservatory, then back in. This is while the machine is in motion, and we see the seasons change, ivy creeping up the outside of the glass, then freezing under snow, and then continuing to creep. The second part, after he loses his locket with his girlfriend's photo in it, the camera again, starting from his face, tracks backwards, up through the conservatory, into the sky. It continues up through the atmosphere, out into space, and finally the camera settles behind the moon. Meanwhile, we see tower blocks being built, followed by skyscrapers, a biplane flying by, then an early jet, then a modern airliner, then a satellite, a bigger sattelite, the International Space Station, and finally a futuristic shuttle flying to the first lunar colony.
- Working Girl begins with a 360-degree pan around the head of the Statue of Liberty, followed by a slow zoom in on the Staten Island ferry. It ends with a shot looking into the window of Tess's new office, then slowly pulls out to reveal the Manhattan skyline (though there's one obvious discontinuity in the shot).
- You Only Live Twice has one during the scene where James Bond is attacked at the Kobe dock.
- The Cranes Are Flying: When the scene starts, we are on a bus filming the female lead with a hand-held camera. Suddenly the bus stops and we follow the girl off the bus into a large crowd, and as we follow her as she makes her way though the crowd, frantically trying to get through, the camera follows her right to the edge of a parade of tanks, and as she tries to get across, the camera suddenly, totally expectingly, rises, as if on a crane, and shoots the parade as it approaches towards us below, and the girl runs off through the tanks to the horizon.
- There's a literary example in John Sladek's novel Roderick, where the title character (a robot boy) lets his newly-repaired eye do a long pan over a street scene, revealing all of the muggers, petty thieves, drug dealers, whores and other vices that his human 'mother' fails to notice.
- The Light Fantastic ends with such a shot, or at least it says it does.
- Various of the "Next Generation" Star Trek series would often end with a shot of someone looking out a window to have the shot pan out to show the rest of the ship or station they were on. In Star Trek: The Next Generation they would visually "cheat" the image by pulling out only part way, then cut to the approximate area of the ship. In later series as CG became more cost effective, they would do it uninterrupted.
The best example of this would be the series finale of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, where the camera pans away from Kira and Jake looking out a window all the way out until the station is out of sight before the credits roll.
- Smallville uses these on occasion. One shows Clark leaving Smallville by Super Speed, then the camera pulls back to see the entire Earth, and then zooms in to South America where Clark is arriving.
- The opening credits of the old 60s show Hawaii Five-O feature an epic zoom-in from the city of Honolulu to Jack Lord, standing on the roof of a building.
- Firefly uses the "sink through the ceiling or ground" variation in the episode "Objects in Space" for both River listening in underneath the rest of the crew and Jubal Early listening in on top of their ship.
- Warehouse 13 uses the eye catcher variation using a handful of stock footage bits of moving quickly around the warehouse only to merge the stock footage with original footage as it goes into a specific area.
- Battlestar Galactica, the final shot of season 3 has the camera move back from the Fleet, until we see its location in the galaxy, and then moves back to where the Cylons are. Pretty impressive stuff, that.
- The opening shot of the Doctor Who story The Trial of a Time Lord as the camera swoops around the Time Lords' space station. It's really incredible for the budget of a mid-'80s British TV show, and the model is remarkably believable given how close the camera gets.
The opening shot of the 2005 reboot tracked in from Earth orbit down into current-day London, and into Rose's bedroom.
- One of the intros to Babylon 5 shows a person in a spacesuit welding in space. The camera then pulls back to show the enormous titular station next to which the person is just a dot.
- Red Dwarf uses an opening similar to Babylon 5's.
- The opening of the 50's documentary TV show, The Twentieth Century, included a pan shot from the ground up to about 60 miles where you could see the curvature of the earth. No camera tricks, however. The camera was mounted on a captured V2 rocket when it was launched in 1946.
- In the season five opener of Stargate Atlantis, the camera zooms out from the team's location and pulls back through the solar system until it turns around, zooms through another solar system, and finally stops as we see an enemy ship orbiting another planet.
- Kamen Rider Fourze pulls this out occasionally. Whenever Gentaro starts his Catch Phrase, it'll soon zoom out to a view of Earth along with the sun, moon and other planets then zooms in back on Gentaro finishing it.
- It also grows and evolves each time, until it eventually zooms out on the entire universe.
- There are three from the first episode ("A Study in Pink") of Sherlock that stand out enough to be discussed during the commentary.
- In one, a camera follows Sherlock and John down the steps of 221 Baker Street, rotates around them as they interact with Mrs. Hudson, rotates around them again as they go through the narrow entrance corridor, follows them out the door into the street, then flies up into the air as the pair drive off in a taxi. It was pulled off with a wipe, right as John walks across the field of vision, everyone freezes until the camera is put on a crane and action is resumed.
- Another shot involved the camera mounted on a pole going up the center of a flight of stairs, then through a hole in the floor.
- The third was involved when there was supposed to be two identical buildings side by side, and the shot went from a room in one of them, through a window, then into another room through a window of the second building. Since the film crew were unable to find a pair of suitable buildings, one of them was CGI, which meant the shot was made by going out, turning around, and going back in the same window, then manipulating it later in editing.
- This trope is a signature staple of Las Vegas, with some pretty impressive examples. The series even opens with a rather extensive one.
- The Game of Thrones episode "The Watchers on the Wall" has a very impressive one reminiscent of The Avengers above, going past several of the major figures in the siege on Castle Black.
- The opening cutscene of Primal is a tracking shot starting from a great distance, traveling high above a bridge over a river, past a gargoyle high on a building ledge, continuing forward and down to a back-alley with a junkie lying in it.
- Later in the game there's a long tracking shot underwater through the skeleton of a giant fish.
- The Modern Warfare games like doing this in the cutscenes between missions, going from a satellite view of an entire country and then zooming in progressively to show entire battlefields full of high-tech armies, just to establish the scale. Often the camera zooms in (often from orbit!) to show your squad, and further down to first-person view to begin the mission.
- Fallout: New Vegas starts off with one of these, beginning with a framed photo of the Lucky 38 casino hanging on a wall, moving to the trashed Lucky 38 holding it, then to the New Vegas Strip, and continuing onto an NCR sniper, who fires a bullet into a raider's head (that the camera faithfully follows). It continues further back to see Caesar's Legion soldiers moving out towards the Strip. We finally end in the Goodsprings Graveyard, where Benny shoots the Courier.
- Xenoblade' Action Prologue ends with a tracking shot that zooms out from the battle in Sword Valley, passing through Eryth Sea and Makna Forest (that are in the Bionis' head and back respectively), and finally ends with with a complete shot of both Bionis and Mechonis, the titans who form the game's world.
- The Journeyman Project begins with a zoom-out shot of the airborne city of Caldoria, followed by an explosion effect cutting to the player character's apartment.
- Each episode of Red vs. Blue Reconstruction opened with a tracking shot of some kind. Probably the most noteable was when the camera pans over Standoff and unltimately flies through an open window into a base where the characters are standing and the scene begins with no transition. Granted, due to the game engine's flying camera it's not a hard shot to pull off in the game, but it would be in real life.
- Goldrush, a fan made Team Fortress 2 video.
CosmoDrazi: Apologies to those who may experience motion sickness due to the roller coaster camera.
- Gunnerkrigg Court: The first page of "Sky Watcher and the Angel" starts zoomed in on Sky Watcher's antenna, and zooms out to show the entire city skyline.
- Adventure Time starts its intro with a band tuning up while the camera zooms in over several landscapes of the Land of Ooo, passing nearly every character featured on the show to end in Finn and Jake's treehouse and show their epic fistbump.
- At the beginning of The Lion King 1½, there was a tracking shot that backs very far away from Pride Rock, finally stopping at a field in the middle of nowhere which soon reveals itself as a meerkat colony.
Timon: Please remain seated while the camera's in motion.
- ReBoot. It was actually quite common for an episode to begin with a view of Mainframe, then with a series of twists, turns and dizzying angles it focused in on the spot they needed to be in order to begin the story.
- The episode of Futurama "Bender Should Not Be Allowed On TV" has a shot of the Planet Express Ship taking off from New New York, flying around the Earth and landing in LA. All within the space of a few seconds.
- A Couch Gag from The Simpsons features a Shout-Out to Powers of Ten, where the "camera" pulling back to reveal the planet, then the galaxy, then the universe... only to reveal atoms, then cells, then we realise that the universe was within Homer all along.
- City Hunters opens the first episode with the "camera" in the clouds, then turns downwards, zooming around the skyscrapers until it ends at a window washer.