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.

If you were expecting a trope about shots focussing on womens' racks, see Male Gaze.


Examples:

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    Anime and Manga 
  • Hanayamata: Imitated in anime adaptation episode 1. Schoolgirl heroine Naru is trying to sheepishly peek around a corner, her best friend Yaya is on screen, mere few steps behind her and watching. Until she calls out to Naru, Yaya is strongly blurred along with background scenery. When she does, camera moves to bring her closer to the center of the frame as all blur is lifted, rather than being reapplied to "foreground."

    Films — Animation 
  • 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.
  • Legend Of The Guardians The Owls Of Ga Hoole: A flying owl in the background and one of its feathers in the fore, as seen in the trailer.
  • Toy Story 3: 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.
  • Used to dramatic effect in Big Hero 6 when Hiro rips out Baymax's healthcare chip and throws it onto the floor. The chip rolls to the foreground, where the camera focuses on it to show that Hiro has essentially tossed away his morals.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In the beginning of Avatar, 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 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 
  • In El Goonish Shive, this effect is simulated to shift focus between Ellen and Abraham's axe in this strip and the former page image.

    Western Animation 
  • In "Lesson Zero" of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, there is an 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.
  • Used near the beginning of the Tom and Jerry short "Tall in the Trap", with a Wanted Poster with Jerry's face on it in the front, and a shop where Jerry is stealing cheese from in the back.

    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.


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