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Astronomic Zoom

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An Establishing Shot that includes a wild planet-scale or even galaxy-scale zoom — for example, showing Earth from space and then zooming in through the atmosphere to a single room/street, or zooming through galaxies to Earth.

Often used to convey a message like this: "The universe is big, and on this Insignificant Little Blue Planet, there is a totally unremarkable spot where..."

Steven Johnson called this "The Long Zoom" in a pre-release article on Spore, referring to it as the "defining view" of our era.

It is extremely common in documentaries about space, often zooming from the scale of entire galaxies being pixels big, until reach the scale of measly people. In a historical context — in films before the mid 2000's, when Google Earth became available, seeing this sort of zoom was a real novelty.


Subtrope of Epic Tracking Shot. Contrast Flyaway Shot and "Pan Up to the Sky" Ending.


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  • A Guinness commercial in which the transition from cosmic back to everyday scale is achieved by a galaxy turning into a swirl of froth on a glass of Guinness.
  • The first half of a 1980s British Telecom commercial was a zoom out, from a man telephoning from an office in central London to the entire western hemisphere. The second half was a zoom back in, to the call's recipient in central Manhattan.
  • This Super Mario Bros. 3 commercial starts with crowds of kids in solid-color outfits, then zooms out from them to reveal Mario's face covering much of North America.

    Anime and Manga 
  • The opening of Ninja Nonsense.
  • The Tenchi Muyo!: Ryo Oh Ki OVA series uses a stepped zoom out from Earth in the opening titles.
  • A variety of this trope occurs in Kamichu!. After Yurie invokes her first spell, the "camera" zooms out from the roof she's standing on until we see almost all of Japan. Then there is a zoom-in way further to the south, where Yurie appears to have caused a gust of wind which turns into a full-blown hurricane later on. Not bad for a beginning god who thought that nothing was happening at first.
  • A variant of this is often used in Starship Operators when panning from one ship to another - appropriate, as most space battles take place beyond visual range.
  • Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann starts the Action Prologue with a zoom-out that extends to entire galaxies.
    • To be more precise, it starts with a single galaxy, then zooms out until a hundred galaxies are but a single pinprick in a screen filled with them. And then it blows them all up.
    • It also inverts the trope for its final episode: Zooming out past astronomical levels in order to fit the final robot on screen
  • The Haruhi-chan shorts combine this with Camera Abuse to hilarious effect: the camera in orbit over Earth zooms down through the atmosphere and straight into Haruhi's unsuspecting face, knocking her out and breaking the lens.
  • A less extreme version occurs in the first episode of Scrapped Princess: after the opening credits, the viewer sees an upside-down physical map of east Asia, then zooms in on Korea.
  • In the intro to Tamagotchi: Happiest Story in the Universe!, the shot cuts from an outer space view Tamagotchi Planet to Tamagotchi School and the camera moves backwards as the narrator introduces a bunch of Tamagotchis before zooming out, back to an outer space view of the planet.

    Comic Books 
  • Not quite cosmic, but in a similar vein to the aforementioned Guinness commercial: In the First Comics adaptation of Michael Moorcock's Elric: The Sailor on the Seas of Fate there is a scene in which Elric and the captain of the ship that sails the eponymous seas are having a discussion in his cabin. On a nearby table is a glass globe containing a model ship, on which the viewpoint zooms in and through a porthole to reveal Elric and the captain still engaged in their discussion.

    Fan Works 
  • Using his mindsight, Ringo mentally zooms out from himself at the end of the first chapter of The Keys Stand Alone: The Soft World, farther and farther, until he's looking at the entire planet—which is when he realizes the four have been brought back to C'hou, since he recognizes the shape of the continents.

    Films — Animation 
  • The "Rite of Spring" sequence in Fantasia opens with an Astronomic Zoom from distant space to a primordial Earth. It's easily the most well-animated example on this list.
  • Averted in The Land Before Time, which instead starts out underwater and panning up to the surface revealing a prehistoric landscape. In fact, the film was originally going to have its opening credits be shown in outer space (a concept that later resurfaced in Rock-A-Doodle, mentioned below), slowly moving toward a newly-formed Earth, and centering on its surface as it gradually changes from a volcanic landscape of the Precambrian era, to an endless ocean of the Paleozoic era, and finally a prehistoric swamp of the Mesozoic era, but this was changed to the final version as mentioned earlier because the writers thought it looked too much like the first part of the Rite of Spring segment from Fantasia, again mentioned above.
  • The Mind's Eye does this in its first segment, starting with what is implied to the the Big Bang, panning through a set of galaxies until locking onto the Milky Way in the center, then zooming all the way to Earth, rounding past the Moon as the music builds up. The film also inverts this trope at the end.
  • Pixar's WALL•E starts with multiple cuts of outer space before eventually focusing in on a highly polluted Earth, thus establishing not only setting but story.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Most famously employed, more for an instructional effect than a dramatic one, in the classic educational films Cosmic Zoom (1968), Powers of Ten (1977) and the IMAX Cosmic Voyage (1996). xkcd parodied the film (and indirectly, the trope) here.
  • The 'Burbs uses a zoom into the Universal Pictures globe as a Logo Joke.
  • Done in the opening and closing of Burn After Reading, giving the sense of an omniscient viewer, in this case, the CIA....which is funny when you think about it, as by the end of the movie they really had no idea what the hell just happened.
  • The opening of Contact, combined with an aural equivalent. As the camera went further back, the sound of TV and radio transmissions play in the soundtrack, becoming older, fewer and fainter, until there was total silence. It eventually pulls out to the protagonist's pupil.
  • The intro of Damnatus has one.
  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy did an astronomic zoom out, shortly before the Earth-Shattering Kaboom. It does this with camera jumps with every "beat" of the music. All fifty-five.
  • Noah has one. During the climactic battle scene, when the last of the Watchers dies, the camera follows his flight from the planet, showing us Earth, covered in clouds, as it looks from space during the storm.
  • Men in Black ends with a Zoom Out, revealing that our entire galaxy is contained in a marble played by really, really humongous creatures.
  • William Shatner actually wanted to do this at the beginning of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, but because Industrial Light and Magic weren't available to do the film's special effects and they had to settle for a smaller (and not as good) company, they weren't able to put it into the film.
  • Superman Returns started with the destruction of Krypton and took the viewer on a trip through space all the way to Earth. Then we cut to a scene on Earth just in time to witness Superman's ship re-entering the atmosphere.
  • Crank combined this with the Google Maps logo in the bottom corner.
  • The last episode of Walking With Beasts ended by zooming out from a museum in London into outer space.
  • Used in the opening of the remake of The Thomas Crown Affair (1999), zooming in on New York, then Central Park and finally the museum.
  • Disturbed's Rockumentary Decade of Disturbed starts like this, interwoven with the band's hits fading in and out.
  • Resident Evil: Afterlife features a zoom out from Tokyo and a rolling Big Blackout as the T-virus envelops the world, followed by a zoom Tokyo, but after the Zombie Apocalypse.
  • Stranger Than Fiction opens with one of these, starting from space and zooming into a close-up of Harold's wristwatch.
  • John Carter opens with space, followed by a zoom-in to Mars (or Barsoom, as the characters call it) to set up the main plot. Andrew Stanton seems to love this trope (see Films- Animated above).
  • A Matter of Life and Death opens with space, followed by a zoom-in to a battered WW2 bomber.
  • Inverted in the closing shot of The War Of The Worlds, with a Microscopic Zoom into a raindrop, then a protozoan's nucleus.
  • Enemy of the State has zoom outs to the surveillance satellites in orbit.
  • Opening sequence of Phone Booth.
  • The Time Machine (2002) has one that in function is also a Progressive Era Montage. The camera zooms out (starting from the place where the time machine, transversing the 20th and 21st century, is standing), and first we see skyscrapers being erected in fast forward. Then a series of progressively sophisticated airplanes are flying across the picture, then satellites and the ISS, and finally there is a futuristic space shuttle and a colony on the moon.
  • The opening shot of The Great Wall is a zoom in on the Great Wall of China... from outer space.
  • Star Trek: Nemesis starts in space before zooming in on Romulus and going into the Senate building.
  • The Creative Closing Credits of Ant-Man features such a zoom (although we only see bright red 3D outlines) starting from low Earth orbit, zooming toward San Francisco, reaching the ground, going to various microscopic levels, and finally ending sub-atomic.

  • An early draft of the novel version of 2001: A Space Odyssey had one of the characters narrating a film which was very like Powers of Ten. The chapter can be found in the book The Lost Worlds of 2001.
  • In Ape And Essence, the fictional movie script describes a shot that zooms in on After the End Los Angeles, beginning "from fifty miles up in the stratosphere."
  • The Divine Comedy: Paradiso IX briefly follows the Sun throughout its life-giving orbit to remind the reader of how fundamental and important it is to human life despite being so distant. Then the narrator says "I was there," and the canto moves to the very surface of the Sun and stays there.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Battlestar Galactica in the Season 3 finale was another variation, the shot zooming out from a battle to show the entire Galaxy before zooming back in at a nearby area to show how close the fleet were to Earth, though given the sizes involved they could be right next to it and never have found it without help.
  • The Big Bang Theory did a zoom-out to accompany Sheldon's literal Shout-Out to The Khan. Also done in the season 5 finale, when the guys have Howard's wedding on the roof of their building so that it gets photographed by the Google Earth satellite.
  • The last episode of Cosmos, "Unafraid of the Dark", zooms out from Earth during Sagan's Pale Blue Dot speech until it reaches the place where the photograph was taken from, the edge of the solar system.
  • One episode of the physics-documentary series Curiosity took this to the absolute limit, zooming in on a cup of coffee right down to the subatomic level, and then zooming out again until the entire universe was revealed.
  • The first season of Dead Like Me has this as visual Bookends. The first thing you see is the Earth from orbit level which then zooms in. The final (non-credits) shot is essentially the same in reverse.
  • Doctor Who:
  • Drive would often start a scene high enough to show the entire USA (complete with superimposed map labels), then close in on our current location. It would also sometimes back up into the sky a bit and refocus on another team's location hundreds of kilometers away, to establish the distance.
  • The How I Met Your Mother episode "Three Days of Snow" has a zoom out from Ted and Barney to a view of a huge nor'easter bearing down on the east coast.
  • Veteran football show Match of the Day does this to introduce a game, zooming in from "geostationary orbit over Britain" to "Goodyear Blimp cruising over the stadium in question" in a second or so.
  • Stargate Atlantis uses this in the opening episode of season 5. The Atlantis team have infiltrated the Michael facility where the kidnapped Teyla will soon be taken to deliver her baby, but a booby trap triggers and it collapses on top of them. We zoom out from the wreckage all the way into space past planets, stars, and nebulas, until we arrive at Michael's cruiser hovering in orbit over a planet several systems away.
  • Star Trek: Picard: In "Broken Pieces", there's a CGI sequence where the "camera" flies past the eight stars which comprise the octonary solar system before it focuses on Aia, the Grief World, and it continues to zoom in through the planet's atmosphere until we see the top of the heads of the Zhat Vash initiates who form a circle while standing around the Admonition.
  • The first season of Suburgatory is bookended this way. The pilot began with a zoom away from Lower Manhattan then back down to somewhere in Westchester or southeastern Connecticut, and the last shot of the season finale reversed from that latter scene out to the satellite view.
  • The establishing shot in the first episode of Terra Nova tracks past the Apollo footprints on the Moon to reveal an Earth That Used to Be Better covered in yellow smog, then zooms down to a rusty Chicago skyline and in through an apartment building window where we meet our breathing-mask-clad hero.
  • Walking with Beasts: The series ends on an aerial zoom-out shot from the Oxford Museum of Natural History, then panning around the Earth.

    Video Games 
  • The 4X Real-Time Strategy game Sins of a Solar Empire take this to a rather awe-inspiring level. You can zoom in to a single fighter frigate or zoom out to see entire solar systems. There comes a certain point when the scout ships you've sent out has explored the entire game map and you zoom out to witness your own empire and those of your enemies locked in conflict. And at some point you'll realize that you're playing a "Small Random Map" and that the "Huge Random Map" is seven times bigger. And playing that "small" map will take hours. The Gamespot review of the game makes a point to warn the reader of playing for hours on end.
  • Heart of Darkness begins this way with a cosmic zoom to Earth and a narrator giving a speech about the universe. This ends abruptly right as it zooms into a building to see Andy being scared awake by his Evil Teacher and the narration was actually his astronomy lecture in his class.
  • Happens at the end of Command & Conquer 3: Kane's Wrath. Once LEGION interfaces with the Tacitus, the view zooms out of Earth and out of the solar system rapidly while Scrin writing flashes on the screen. This sequence is the reverse of the Scrin intro in Tiberium Wars which, you guessed it, zooms in from the edge of the solar system onto Earth after they detect the liquid Tiberium detonation.
  • The seven worlds of Super Mario Galaxy 2 are actually all based on this trope. The first world in the game takes place in Earth orbit, the second near the inner Solar System, the third inside a nebula, the fourth outside the Milky Way, the fifth between several galaxies, the sixth near a black hole, and the seventh in orbit around a bizarre planet with star-shaped continents. Inside what appears to be in an alternate universe.
  • In Obsidian, once you enter the titular structure, a transition begins with a scene of thousands of robots constructing tiles, then your POV slowly pulls outward to show just how small they actually are, while also revealing that what they're building is a simulation of a dream. Appropriately, the point you zoom out from is a globe of Earth supported by a statue of Atlas.
  • Several minigames in the Rhythm Heaven series use this as a way of obscuring the visuals and forcing the player to rely on sound. A notable example would be the climax of Flockstep, where the camera zooms out to show the earth in space, and then zooms out again to show that the earth was inside one of the birds' eyes. Don't ask.
  • Star Ruler: Behold.
  • The ending of StarTropics has one of these, though being the NES, it's only a screen-by-screen sequence.
  • Universe Sandbox and Universe Sandbox2 allows you to do this to varying levels depending on how good your CPU and/or GPU is. If you're playing the game in VR then you can perform a stretching or crushing gesture with your controllers while holding both grip buttons to scale the universe relative to you. You really have to see the effect for yourself when you can go from a (simplified) Sol system the size of a baseball all the way down to floating next to a 1:1 scale Earth.

  • An Irregular Webcomic! strip zooms in from an asteroid threatening to strike Earth, to the Oval Office of the White House, where the President of the USA (an Allosaurus, natch) deals with the crisis.
  • One The Adventures of John and Dave strip shows us that our galaxy is on a wrestler's codpiece. A more distant and even more confusing variant has the camera zoom into John's moustache until it arrives in Mordor.
  • Shows several times in MS Paint Adventures: First in the epilogue to Problem Sleuth, then in Homestuck as part of an Overly Long Fighting Animation, the first shot of the one-year anniversary update, and later as a shot from the perspective of a meteor. The Troll arc ends by zooming out of Alternia's galaxy and then zooming into Earth.
  • One of the bonus features in Unicorn Jelly is a powers of ten map that zooms out from a closeup of a couple of characters to an overview of the entire multiverse.
  • Parodied by xkcd with an image of Powers of One.note 

    Web Original 
  • The many YouTube videos involving zoom out to display comparative planetary and stellar body sizes. They form an unusual case because they often have to use side pans in conjunction with a pan out in order to fit things in.
  • Sam & Mickey: "Playtime", a video about Chelsea telling rather scandalous stories with her dolls, has a Please Subscribe to Our Channel sequence that begins with a closeup of tiny Sam & Mickey look-alike dolls, then zooms out to show Barbie-sized dolls of the duo holding them, followed by the real Sam & Mickey holding them.

    Western Animation 
  • Happens in the Adventure Time episode "The Real You". When Finn puts on a pair of mind-enhancing glasses, the camera zooms in on his cells, then to molecules, and atoms, and it transitions from there to galaxies, then the solar system, zooming past the sun to Ooo, and zooming back in on Finn, as a way to establish just how much the glasses let him understand everything. When the glasses are removed later in the episode, the zoom is reversed. Oh, and the shot of the planet from space is interesting.
  • Parodied on Family Guy, where it's revealed that all of existence (or at least the Family Guy universe, anyway) is just a speck on a lamp in Adam West's bedroom.
  • Futurama liked to use this, sometimes to indicate the distance between Earth and some other planet/nebula/God/whatever, and once to show the universe being sucked into a featureless void.
  • Invader Zim has a zoom-in on Earth in the first episode, as well as a few in later episodes (such as "Zim Eats Waffles").
  • Looney Tunes short The Mouse-merized Cat starts with a view of Planet Earth and slowly zooms in on a mousehole in a cheese shop, where a mouse greets the audience with "I thought you'd never get here."
  • The entire intro shot of Mr. Bug Goes to Town uses this majestically, zooming out from a God's eye view of Earth, into the skylines of New York City, all the way down to the measly inches high houses of the bugs.
  • Rock-A-Doodle has possibly the most ludicrous example, going from orbit to the main character's uvula in a rather short period of time.
  • Two Couch Gags in The Simpsons did variants of this. One was a zoom out until galaxies turned into atoms, and then it zoomed out further from-sub atomic back to Homer on the couch. The other was an evolution gag where proto-Homer the bacteria evolved into Homer on the couch (All the while zooming out a little), and even shows Moe going backwards since he was walking the other way. The first one was actually based on the educational film Powers of Ten. Lampshaded by Homer's impressed "woooow" after the first one


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Google Earth Zoom


The Destruction of Earth

The camera zooms out to show the entire Earth right before the Vogons destroy it.

How well does it match the trope?

4 (4 votes)

Example of:

Main / AstronomicZoom

Media sources:

Main / AstronomicZoom