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Forced Perspective
Think that ship is big? Think again.

An intentional exploitation of the camera's 2-D vision. Place an object closer to the camera, and so long as it's in focus, it looks bigger. Or, place something in the distance, and it looks smaller. This is one of the oldest Camera Tricks, and dates back to early still photography.

In the pre-CGI days, this was one of the most commonly-used techniques to make sets appear larger than they actually were. This can be augmented by placing children or "little people" into the miniature background so that they look like they're full-size adults, although this only works if they are seen from a distance.

Compare Depth Deception (when this happens in-story for comedic effect), Perspective Magic, Vertigo Effect.


Examples

    open/close all folders 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The original King Kong used multi-layered Forced Perspective shots to integrate actors, painted scenery, and pre-filmed clips of stop-motion creatures.
  • There are no special effects in the above shot from Close Encounters of the Third Kind. It's simply a forced-perspective trick achieved by placing a model ship next to the camera.
  • Star Wars
    • The famous opening scene from A New Hope uses this. The Rebel Blockade Runner model is bigger than the Star Destroyer. Though it's not quite the same thing — the models were filmed separately and composited using Blue Screen.
    • In Episode III Lucas used Forced Perspective to make Darth Vader seem much taller than Palpatine.
  • Referenced in Galaxy Quest. When "Captain Taggart" tries to explain that they're actors, he holds his fingers about two inches apart and says, "The ship is that big."
  • The Lord of the Rings
    • Used to great effect in the movies to help the average-height actors playing hobbits and dwarves seem to-scale with their man and elf co-stars — as noted in entry #6 of this Cracked article.
    • Also used in reverse in one shot from The Fellowship of the Ring: While climbing Caradhras, Frodo falls and drops the Ring. There is a shot of the Ring lying in the snow in the foreground—the filmmakers used a much larger model of the Ring in this shot to make it seem closer, while still in-focus.
    • The Rings movies also pioneered moving forced perspective. Normally, FP only works if the camera doesn't move. By having parts of the set and either the "big" or "small" actors on tracks, moving in synch with the camera, the creators were able to eliminate this limitation.
    • The filmmakers also lucked out by casting the quite tall John Rhys-Davies as Gimli, as his height compared to the Hobbit actors was the same as what the difference between dwarves and hobbits should be, so that they could be filmed together and require fewer composite shots.
  • Used to terrible effect in the B-Movie Future War. By holding dinosaur puppets right next to the camera, it looks just the like the protagonists are fighting giant dinosaur puppets.
  • Back to the Future
    • In Part II, the scenes set at the 1955 construction site of Lyon Estates were filmed on a soundstage with the background scenery laid out in forced perspective. The filmmakers did not want to return to the remote location they had used in the first film.
    • In the same film, the tunnel is much shorter than it appears to be. The filmmakers made it look longer by placing the lights further from the camera closer together.
  • Darby O'Gill and the Little People
  • Used on the Harry Potter movies for Hagrid.
  • For the airport scenes in Casablanca, scaled down airplanes and midget extras were used to make the airport set look larger than it was.
  • Something similar to the Casablanca example occurs in Twenty Million Miles to Earth, which had effects by Ray Harryhausen. To set up a confrontation between the alien Ymir and an elephant Harryhausen needed establishing shots of a real elephant with a zookeeper. A small actor in a zookeepers' uniform was used to make the live-action elephant look bigger than it really was, so that it matched the scale of the animated elephant used in the fight scene.
  • Star Trek movies:
    • For the Engineering set first used in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, the giant coil thing was built in forced perspective. In one shot, you can see a man standing at the end of the coil - it's actually a child.
    • Almost exactly the same trick was used in a deleted scene set inside a Klingon prison from the 2009 Star Trek movie. A hallway was made to look bigger by (you guessed it) casting children as the guards. Also, Kirk was played by a child on a scaled-down set in the shot where he runs into the ice cave on Delta Vega.
    • The turbolift shaft from Star Trek V: The Final Frontier is done with forced perspective. Unfortunately, the illusion is destroyed if you do what they did in this movie: they took the camera straight towards and very close to the background so that the difference in angles was noticeable.
  • An unusual use of Forced Perspective happens in the 1987 film The Gate, where a zombie menacing the kid leads falls to the floor and breaks up into little demons. The demons are full-sized humans in suits, filmed in forced perspective bunched up in a roughly humanoid shape (animation is used to transition between the fall and the breakup). You can see the scene at 1:15 in the trailer.
  • The Terminator used forced perspective a lot. The scene where an automated hunter-killer is rolling over human skulls, the skulls are actually about the size of golf balls and the HK is merely a model. The ship that flies overhead is actually built from several model planes sold in hobby stores.
  • The famous Space Jockey-set from the first Alien movie was too much smaller than it appears, with the Jockey actually the size of a normal human. The gigantism was achieved through clever use of perspectives and child actors.
  • In Spellbound the climax is a POV shot of the villain aiming a gun at Dr. Peterson then shooting himself after she convinces him that he can't get away with it. Because the optics of the day couldn't allow both the gun and Dr. Peterson to be in focus, the gun was a large prop attached to the camera, making it a sort of inversion of the usual forced perspective shot.
    • Hitchcock also did this in The Lady Vanishes, making a pair of poisoned drinks look more threatening by using enlarged prop glasses in the foreground.
  • Lampshaded in Monty Python and the Holy Grail when King Arthur and his men made it to Camelot.
    "Camelot!"
    "Camelot!"
    "It's only a model..."
    "Shh!"
    • Also lampshaded in the trailer, where Camelot is a small cardboard cutout on the horizon that falls over partway through.
  • Used on the 1993 remake of Attack of the 50-Foot Woman. A vast improvement over the original, which had to make do with a papier mache hand and double-exposure.
  • Hellboy II used such shots frequently. The alleys int he underground market were designed with the diminishing height trick to make them look longer, and the shot of the intricate "egg" opening in the elven prince's hand is actually a mechanical puppet the size of a trash can in a set of model fingertips, with the actor acting about ten feet further in the background.
  • Equinox was Dennis Muren making an homage to the classic monster movies. It was shot when he was fairly unknown with a tiny budget as a student project. They used these tricks very effectively to create fights with giant monsters and ordinary humans. The giant is just a normal man seen in forced perspective with his victims - off in the distance - nailing the timing of their choreography.
  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory had oversized furniture and props built for some scenes to reduce Deep Roy, already only four feet high, down to Oompa-Loompa size. Other scenes with Oompa-Loompas used animatronics or CGI.
  • Used in Little Shop Of Horrors 1986 to show the "growth" of the small Audrey II prop.
  • The iconic opening shot of future Los Angeles in Blade Runner was a highly detailed trapezoidal model fifteen feet deep using forced perspective and a lot of smoke to give the illusion of an entire city.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Mystery Science Theater 3000 Used this a few times.
    • In the episode where they watch the aforementioned Future War, Mike is inspired by the film to run to the back of the theater and start "threatening" the bots with forced-perspective shadow puppets.
    • The end of the Screaming Skull episode sees Observer shrink Bobo—this is achieved by having Bobo stand at the back of the room, while Observer sticks his hand in front, pretending to hold Bobo. The makers of the show were well aware of the hypocrisy of using this "special" effect after having made fun of it so many times.
  • Beakmans World used the perspective to good effect in one of its segments on Optical Illusions. The trick is, of course, to fool a viewer into thinking the assistant is in the rat's hand.
  • A minor example in Supernatural usually used to make Dean, played by the relatively short Jensen Ackles seem taller compared to his brother.
  • In the "Making of" episode of Walking with Dinosaurs, paleontologist Kent Stevens first appears to be gazing at a life-size Diplodocus statue, which is revealed to be a miniature model as he walks closer to the camera.
  • Done in-universe in an episode of Northern Exposure where they're putting on a production of Bus Stop and the stage is quite shallow, so the back wall of the diner swet has very low doors to make it look like it's further away than it is. Chris has to duck his head in order to get through.
  • Frequently used in Doctor Who to make model spaceships or bases look full-size during location filming. A particularly awful example of a shot of this type is when the Brigadier summons a model kit tank to fight the K-1 Robot in "Robot", represented by pushing it into frame with the robot in the far distance - unfortunately, it just lets us get a good look at the plasticy fake tank and the grass on the ground gives a really clear idea that the robot is further away than we're supposed to think it is.

    Theme Parks 
  • Disney Theme Parks use this trick liberally. All of the parks have a Main Street leading to the central castle. The castles all look bigger than they really are because the buildings in Main Street are built on a progressively diminishing scale both horizontally and (as is the castle itself) vertically.

    Video Games 
  • Donkey Kong Country 2 shows what appears to be Donkey Kong Island from the first game way in the background of K. Rool Keep. However, it turns out to be Klubba's Kiosk, which you can easily access right there.
  • The paintings for Tiny-Huge Island in Super Mario 64 also make use of this. The one in front is of normal size, but the other two on the side appear to be, too... until you approach them.
  • Star Wars: Rogue Leader plays this when inside the Death Star's reactor. The entire room is rigged to look far, far larger than it actually is through use of high-res textures, forced perspective, and slowing you down considerably. It looks amazing at first, but if you fly down toward the floor the whole illusion falls through and you can see clearly that you're just moving slowly through an average-sized area.

    Web Animation 
  • Used frequently in Red vs. Blue for the character Junior, a baby alien. Since the game engine does not allow the player to resize their characters, the makers used a regular sized Elite, but just stood him in the background.

    Western Animation 
  • Referenced on Adventure Time when Finn and Jake are making a movie. Finn equips a frog with a miniature chariot and instructs Princess Bubblegum to stand back so that she appears to be riding the chariot.

    Real Life 
  • Researchers have observed male bower birds seemingly using forced perspective to make themselves look larger to potential mates.


Fish Eye LensUsefulNotes/Graphical PerspectiveHitler Cam
Fly-at-the-Camera EndingCamera TricksFramed Subject
The MothershipImageSource/Live-Action FilmsCloverfield

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