Is something big happening in the plot of your movie, TV show, or video game? Need a low-cost special effect to emphasize its importance? How about the All-Purpose Screen Shake? It's simple, cheap, conveys the meaning well, works with nearly any situation, and everybody's doing it!
It's so easy: All you need to do is shake the screen! It doesn't matter which way you do it - up and down, left and right, or all over the place - it all looks great! Oh, and it might help if you play some sort of a "rumble" sound effect in the background at the same time - otherwise, it just looks really weird.
If you're doing it for Live-Action TV don't forget to get the actors to start flinging themselves around. In fact they are half the job. Subtlety and dignity are best ignored. Supposedly, the casts of the various Star Trek series are very competitive concerning which cast is the best at the "Star Trek Shake". The cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation are allegedly the current champions.
Shaking the screen in live-action media is almost discredited thanks to the fact that it's ugly and not believable. Nowadays, live action sets can be put on a platform that shakes the entire thing, giving a renewed sense of realism to falling on your arse. However, this technique remains popular in animation and video games. If the controller supports vibration-feedback, expect it to shake too.
There is a version where the shaking is only used for exaggerated emphasis for something intensive happening that does not have the power to physically make anything shake within the fictional world; it really is just the "screen" (viewpoint) shaking. This is related to Painting the Medium.
Here are a few examples of situations where (apparently) it's appropriate to apply the Screen Shake (Read: blasphemous if you don't).
Satoshi Kon enjoyed using a briefer effect in anime, accentuating an action with an impact shudder that leaves the impression of a handheld camera being jostled. This can be seen in late episodes of Paranoia Agent and in Paprika.
Common when a named character is about to die from the effects of the titular Death Note. Even when the cause of death isn't a heart attack.
The scenes shot for the Show Within a Show of Galaxy Quest used the classic "Star Trek shake" as a homage to the original series. The set for the 'actual' Protector, by contrast, used an actual gimbal, which injured a few cast members during shooting.
The first aversion of the trope in the Star Trek franchise, using gimbal sets instead, was on the bridge sets of Enterprise and Excelsior for Star Trek VI. Shatner's memoirs of making the films have an amusing anecdote of the gimbal knocking him off his feet during a take. The Shat saved himself from injury with a shoulder-roll, but his attempt at using the aftermath to flirt with an attractive female assistant who came to see if he was okay was spoiled when she expressed genuine concerne he might have broken his hip in the fall.
Done very subtly (and more believably) in the original Alien as the Nostromo gets turbulence descending through the atmosphere of the planetoid.
That would be because aside from the screen shaking, the chairs the actors were sitting in were also hooked up to a paint mixer, so they were really shaking.
"Sir, it's possible this asteroid is not entirely stable."
Also in The Empire Strikes Back, the crew of a Star Destroyer go off balance and throw themselves against the wall when all we hear is a sound effect as two Star Destroyer come close to colliding. Must be one stable camera on that bridge!
Averted in The Mummy Returns - the actors shook a little on set at the start of the movie when the digsite starts to collapse, but the actual camera as-filmed didn't shake at all; the shakes were done in post-production.
Mentioned in one of the making-of featurettes for 2012 regarding the early stages of the Biggest Goddamn Earthquake Ever. Emmerich specifically wanted to avoid the Star Trek Shake, so he had an entire suburban neighborhood built in segments atop a series of motion-control platforms to fling the actors around for real.
Spaceballs: when the Winnebago runs out of gas, the heroes in the same cockpit are affected by different kind of shakes. Barf bounces rapidly up and down, while Lone Starr swings slowly from side to side.
Pearl Harbor simulated the shock of a bomb impact by simply having the camera operator shake the camera. Watching the behind-the-scenes footage of the scenes with no visible explosions even lets you see the cameraman doing it.
Used in the first Harry Potter movie when the Hogwarts letters flood into the Dursleys' living room.
This is used to simulate the shockwave of an explosion during Mom And Dad Save The World. A making-of featurette included this remark from the director during the filming of the scene (paraphrased):
Director: [To camera filming him] Behold, our cutting-edge special-effects! [to cameraman filming the scene, as the latter shakes the dickens out of the camera] Annnnd shakeshakeshakeshakeshakeshakeshakeshakeshakeshakeshakeshakeshakeshakeshakeshake...
You'd think all the Star Trek examples (as it is prevalent enough for Trek to be the former Trope Namer) would go without saying, but one deserves special mention: the beginning of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country goes the distance. When the Planar Shockwave hits the Excelsior, people all through it are seen being flung about, from the bridge to engineering to sleeping crew members being dumped out of their beds all at once.
Also notable in Star Trek: The Motion Picture during the Wormhole Effect sequence. The old TOS actors wobble relatively sedately, while Persis Khambatta bounces in her seat like a five-year old who just ate an entire bag of candy.
Bizarrely, in an early episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation featured the ship going through one of those Timey Wimey Ball events, complete with the ship shaking violently and sending the crew into the traditional shake. However, a random cut down to the main shuttle bay shows Chief O'Brien completely unaffected by the shaking ship. The infamous Nitpicker's Guide lists this as 'space legs.'
The Nitpicker's Guide also notes how extras and guest stars tend to stick out during the Star Trek Shake because the regular cast have learned to do it in a restrained manner, but the extras and guest stars often do a Narm-ishly exaggerated shake.
In one TNG episode, the camera forgets to shake, but the actors remember to shake. Hilarity Ensues.
Also, look out for the moment the Enterprise enters the Mutara Nebula in Star Trek II. Everyone on the bridge lurches forward, but William Shatner seemingly forgot to. Or Kirk's just that Bad Ass.
Actually, in most TOS material, Shatner does little more than swing his chair from side to side while the rest of the crew does back flips.
In the TOS episode Balance of Terror, Nichelle Nichols is flung a different direction than everyone else on the bridge fell/flew/was thrown during a big kaboom. Ooopsie.
One of the funnier things about TOS was that the idea of bolting or otherwise securing the Bridge chairs to the floor seems to have eluded them. Seat belts would have been handy, given how just about everything can get people thrown around, from battle damage to monsters like the Planet Killer.
It should be noted that this shot is not without its risks. In one classic Trek blooper, a woman is heard cursing loudly after a shake-shot. The actress did a bad job of throwing herself at the furniture and broke her arm.
Word Of God is that many instances in TOS were Executive Meddling. The production team recognized that it would have been much better for the ship being hit by enemy fire in a battle, for instance, to be indicated by the lights flickering briefly and an officer reporting the effect on the ship. The network/studio wanted the more visually interesting shaking.
Parodied in an early Saturday Night Live sketch, where the camera moves a little, the crew sway a little, and Captain Kirk, played by John Belushi says in a bored deadpan, "Yes, terrifying."
The creators of LOST have admitted that all of the jolts and shakes during the crash of Flight 815 were in fact completely done with the Star Trek Shake, and in fact referenced Trek in the DVD release of the series.
You might say that the time hopping sequences in season 5 were a variation of this trope. None of the actors could see the blaring light, as that effect was added later, so the actor just had to moan and roll on the ground. The DVD shows how funny this must have looked to crew.
One of the outtakes tapes shows the crew stationary while the camera moves around. Half the crew start waving their arms and trying to belatedly shake, in opposing directions. The other half takes longer to catch on, and look sheepishly at the camera while Craig Charles says apologetically, "We weren't ready!"
In a sixth-season episode the special effects team, tired of simply shaking the camera, created a real shockwave with real debris, via a huge pressure tank firing a cloud of pulverized cork through the set. The blast knocked Robert Llewellyn out of his chair, embedded cork shrapnel in the back of his mask, and also managed to bruise Danny John-Jules' face.
Lost in Space: In one of the third-season episodes, the entire crew of the Jupiter 2 undergoes the Shake. Except for Dr. Smith, who doesn't seem to be bothered.
Serenity: In Joss Whedon's commentary track, he points out that during the tv show, they had to do this. But in the movie, they could actually shake the set. Unfortunately, they had a steady-cam and the camera wouldn't shake.
Mystery Science Theater 3000 also has this on several occasions during the host segments, all acted mostly for humor and performed similarly to the classic Trek shake.
Sesame Street's "Spaceship Surprise" shorts (an obvious Star Trek parody) used this whenever the titular craft landed on a planet.
Parodied in The Colbert Report: before doing a "Better Know a District" segment on California, the set it suddenly struck by an earthquake... which Stephen explains it affecting the camera and nothing else (even holding a water bottle for reference), before the thing settles off in a couple seconds.
Similarly, it's used in Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon, as near the end of episode 16 when lightning and earthquake apparently herald the coming of Queen Metallia. The actors aren't too skilled at it, but it's fun to watch. And not cheesier than anything else in that show.
The Addams Family used this for a gag when Mortia mentions that Uncle Fester is looking for gas leaks with a lighted match. Just then, the screen shakes as the house is rocked by a massive explosion, to which Gomez notes "He found one."
Screen Shakes were actually a regular part of the show.
In Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea: In an interview for the SyFy network David Hedison admitted the director used a frying pan and an old wooden spoon for "the seaview rock and roll". "He would hit it once and we would throw ourselves in one direction, then again and we would throw ourselves the other way. Eventually we got good at the rock-n-roll. The Seaview rock-n-roll."
Close-ups of the drummer in the video for Lordi's "Hard Rock Hallelujah" feature this effect. In particular the drum roll at the end of the bridge goes nuts with it.
Video games (especially 2D) tend to be more subtle with this, as the developers have a "camera" that can be programmed to the desired effect. For example, in Sonic 2, the Mystic Cave zone boss will shake the screen when digging through rock, but it only shakes the span of a few pixels.
Used in World of Warcraft when near most very large mobile monsters or NPCs. The most notable example may be the infamous Fel Reavers, which at the time of their introduction were one of the largest mobs in the game, and aside from shaking the screen also periodically give a loud mechanical scream.
This was, believe it or not, a good thing, mechanically at least: They were also serious Nightmare Fuel (the Reavers were level 70 elite mobs in a level 58-60 zone), and the quaking and scream served as a player's signal to be somewhere else.*
They still have a nasty habit of sneaking up on unsuspecting players.
Also happens when someone's pet walks by, if they're of a certain type. So you're standing next to the mailbox in Ironforge and the screen just starts shaking, with ominous large-monster footstep sounds... oh, nothing to worry about, it's just some giant slavering three-headed dog that someone tamed. One more piece of awesome rendered commonplace and meaningless by sheer frequency.
This became so commonplace that it became annoying to many players, and so the shaking effect (but not the heavy, clanging footsteps that accompanied it) was removed.
The original Warcraft strategy games, notably Warcraft III, used this on occasion. In number three this sometimes led to a Game-Breaking Bug where it wouldn't stop, rendering the game borderline unplayable if you were lucky and completely unplayable (the game thought it was still in a cutscene) if unlucky.
Phantasy Star IV uses this to simulate an earthquake; nobody gets tossed around and nothing breaks (though to be fair, most of the buildings are already damaged) but it does scare the crap out of Gryz.
In the Ace Attorney series, the screen shakes constantly. Usually it just means that someone is shouting.
Very common trope in the Fighting Game genre, though rarely for more than short bursts. Older titles tended to use it sparingly (if at all), such as Street Fighter II mostly leaving it for Zangief's painful-looking throws. Titles since the mid-90s or so have used it more liberally, such as for hard hits and characters slamming into the ground.
In Left 4 Dead, the screen shakes when a Tank is walking near you, which helps players judge its proximity.
Touhou's Marisa Kirisame has her Master Spark, a giant freaking laser that causes the entire screen to shake - to the point that in EoSD, some enemies would fail to spawn while it was active. And when it gets used against you in Imperishable Night...
In Duodecim, the sequel to Dissidia: Final Fantasy, the screen subtly shakes with Feral Chaos's every move. Makes sense, as next to this guy, even the eight-and-a-half-foot-tall characters are practically travel-size.
Final Fantasy employs screen shakes as early as VI.
The starship-centered Nintendo DS RPG Infinite Space displays a view of your ship's bridge on the lower screen during combat. It shakes whenever your ship takes a hit. The screen also shakes for certain planet-side events that involve characters getting slapped or punched.
Campy sci-fi third-person shooter Earth Defense Force 2017 is very prone to shaking the camera when anything nearby is exploding or crumbling, or if a large enemy is moving across the ground. Because it can get bad enough to ruin your aiming, there's an option in the pause menu to disable the camera shaking.
The Looney Tunes "The Old Gray Hare" ends with a decrepit old Bugs Bunny actually burying decrepit old Elmer Fudd alive - then for good measure popping in to hand him a stick of lit dynamite. The "That's All, Folks!" end title card shakes with the explosion.
Used frequently in My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, for everything from high-velocity winged stunt ponies buzzing the camera to Rarity swooning in horror over the idea of being born with garish stripes.