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Rack Focus

Changing the point of focus from one character or object in frame, to another character or object that is closer to or more distant from the camera, typically with little or no movement from the camera itself. Used to subtly direct the viewers' attention to a specific part of the screen.

Alternatively called "Roll Focus" or, in film, "Pull Focus". Requires deft manipulation of the Depth Of Field.

In motion picture and film-based television production, this is often done by a separate person (the "focus puller" or "first camera assistant") rather than by the primary camera operator. In video production, the cameras usually aren't large enough for this to be necessary, and on consumer-level gear, it might not even be possible because of the way autofocus is usually implemented. note 

Sometimes used in two-dimensional animation, which involves filming the foreground and background separately and then combining them.

In theory Rack Focus should be made redundant in new 3D films because the viewer would be able to change focus at will. Of course because it is a simulation of 3D this isn't quite true and the technique remains. This sometimes causes frustration as the viewer wants to change focus but cannot.

Not to be confused with Male Gaze, a camera shot designed to focus on a woman's rack.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Films — Animation 
  • A rather famous animated example comes from the opening song of The Lion King, when the focus shifts from a line of leaf-cutter ants on a branch in the foreground to a herd of zebra thundering by below.
  • In Up, when Carl Fredricksen looks up to his house where the picture of his wife is hanging.
  • Used beautifully in Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole with a flying owl in the background and one of its feathers in the fore, as seen in the trailer.
  • Toy Story 3 uses it to rather clever effect: As Woody is trying to escape out the window of the daycare restroom, the camera pans to the mirror opposite as the janitor looks right at Woody's reflection and comments "What the heck?" Then the focus shifts to show he was actually looking at a patch of scum on the mirror that's just big enough to obscure Woody.
    • Toy Story 2 has a scene where Woody looks at Jesse sitting depressed on a windowsill.
  • Used in An Extremely Goofy Movie after Max leaves for college, when Goofy is in his empty room and sees in the mirror reflection that he left his old stuffed bear behind n his bed.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Executed well at the beginning of Avatar when the focus shifts from Jake's face to the floating drops of water(?) to introduce the fact that it's 3D AND RIGHT IN MY BLOODY FACE!!. However the technique can be annoying later on as explained above.
  • In the film of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, as Harry walks past a Quidditch store, the view, from inside the store, shifts from his face to a closeup of the Nimbus 2000 lettering on the broom in the window.
  • Master and Commander, while the crew is on shore leave in the Galapagos, this is used to transition from Dr. Maturin holding a beetle to the Acheron sailing in the inlet right before his eyes.
  • In The Master Detective and Rasmus, Kalle and Anders need to catch up with a car, a seemingly insurmountable task according to Anders. In response, Kalle looks into the background of the scene, where a Rack Focus reveals a motorcycle with a passenger's seat.
  • In Who Framed Roger Rabbit, when Eddie has his Eureka Moment, with Eddie in the foreground and the newsreel footage in the background.
  • The first film in the The Hobbit film series used this in a conversation between Gandalf and Galadriel, since it was taking place telepathically. The focus faded forward and back several times within one shot to indicate who was "talking".

    Live-Action TV 
  • In an episode of Glee, Santana, placed in the immediate foreground, makes a rude crack about all-boys schools being an endless source of gay jokes; the camera then pulls a dramatic rack focus to the other end of the room to capture Kurt's irritated reaction.

    Music 
  • Lindsey Stirling's music videos often feature this technique. For example, the Game of Thrones cover done by Stirling and Peter Hollens used this when the latter finds a chess piece; it moves the focus from his face near the ground to the small brown chess knight.

    Web Comics 

    Western Animation 
  • In "Lesson Zero" of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, there is a particularly well done instance of this at the end of the episode, where we focus on a worried Spike to Celestia lecturing Twilight in the library after the latter had caused a ruckus just to find a lesson to learn.
    • "Putting Your Hoof Down" has an even better example, switching focus between Fluttershy and a boarded-up door.

    Real Life 
  • The Lytro camera takes pictures in such a way as the focus can be adjusted in post-production, theoretically making rack focus effects on a still image possible (i.e. in a GIF animation or something similar). However, the ability to do this goes away once you've exported the picture to JPEG from the native format.


Puzzle PanCamera TricksRamping Shot
Color-Coded ElementsImageSource/MusicStryper

alternative title(s): Fade Forward
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