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Circular Drive

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Alien Invasion. Natural Disaster. Kaiju attack. Big catastrophes naturally require a big response, and what better way to depict a big response than to show them mobilizing an entire army? There's only one problem: you can only afford twenty extras, two jeeps and three trucks... and one of those won't start.

Thus was born one of the classic techniques of cinema: The circular drive. Need to depict an entire armored division with only three tanks? Simply drive them in a big circle that passes the camera and hope that nobody notices the markings don't change. You can turn a Suspiciously Small Army of twenty extras into an entire battalion if you frame your shot right. Note that this is not restricted to vehicles - pretty much any object will do, provided it can be steered appropriately. Takes advantage of the time-worn technique of having vehicles turn in front of the camera to add action to a scene, but the same three or four vehicles passing in the same repetitive sequence is going to be a dead giveaway. Alternatively, the same vehicle (or vehicles) may be noticeably present in multiple scenes for no apparent reason, which is particularly egregious when the scenes are supposed to be separated by time or distance.

Pretty much a Dead Horse Trope these days unless deliberately Played for Laughs. The modern equivalent is repeating the same airplane, boat or whatever multiple times using CGI. For a similar technique used in animation, see Wraparound Background.


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    Eastern Animation 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Airplane!: Played for laughs, of course: The circle is obvious, the film is sped up, and as it goes on more and more incongruous vehicles (including a beer truck, a wiener mobile and a farm tractor) get added in.
  • Gojira, particularly noticeable with the firetruck scene: There's only one truck! Also common in later Godzilla films when miniatures aren't being used.
  • Top Secret! played for laughs when the camera cranes back to display the entire circle.
    • There is also a running feet example similar to the Hogan's Heroes example below... only to have the feet break into a time step on the third pass.
  • Flyboys: The same generic, red CGI Fokker Dr.1 triplane appears multiple times, often within the same scene.
  • The famous long dolly shot that opens Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon was filmed by having the actor walk a figure eight path that crossed the dolly tracks twice. Clever framing makes it look like the camera is following the woodcutter through the forest but he's actually walking around it.
  • Lampshaded in The Truman Show, when Truman realizes this is happening with the vehicles that are passing by.
  • Gettysburg uses this technique to allow an admittedly large number of extras to represent two huge armies. Particularly noticeable with the cavalry. The actors can change their uniforms but their horses can't change their coats.
  • In-movie variation in Help! - in the Bahamas, the police chief welcomes the Scotland Yard detective and presents a squad of policemen for inspection - the squad consists of only four men, the last in the row ducking and heading to the front of the row as the other two pass by.
  • An old Roger Corman trick of course, but he'd also paint the cars a different color on each side.
  • In Cannibal! The Musical, this is an Overly-Long Gag. Townsfolk spill forth from the local tavern, and the same 30-something people are seen about a dozen times.
  • A variation shows up in Monty Python's Life of Brian with the Roman Soldiers repeatedly trooping into and out of the hideout of the Peoples' Front of Judea. If you look closely you'll notice that the number of soldiers going in is different from the number coming out.
  • In Monty Python's The Meaning of Life, just after the "every sperm is sacred" song, the children are seen slowly walking out of the house; and the same children appear more than once.

  • In the Sword of Truth, Jagang did this to make it look like the army went one way, forced a confrontation with Kahlan as she went scouting, and pretended to believe that his ruse had fooled her. His army attacked that night.
  • Parodied in the Discworld novel Moving Pictures.
    'Why not ride the camel past the picture box, and then get the handleman to stop the demons, and lead it back and put a different rider on it, then start up the box again and ride it past again?' said Victor. 'Would that work?'
    Dibbler looked at him open-mouthed.
    'What did I tell you?' he said, to the sky in general. 'The lad is a genius! That way we can get a hundred camels for the price of one, right?'
    'It means the desert bandits ride in single file, though,' said the youth. 'It's not like, you know, a massed attack.'
    'Sure, sure,' said Dibbler dismissively. 'Makes sense. We just put a card up where the leader says, he says—' He thought for a second. 'He says, "Follow me in single file, bwanas, to fool the hated enemy," OK?'
  • In the Geoffrey Trease novel "Cue for Treason" this is accomplished by Mr. Desmond's Shakespearean era theatre troupe using a couple of halberdiers on top of a small rise and the rest of the troupe out of sight sounding like a passing column, making lots of noises while actually marching in circles.
  • The superintelligent rats pull this off in Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. When the main colony is about to be bulldozed by scientists looking for their escaped rats, they have enough advance notice to evacuate most of the population, but they know a suddenly-empty nest will seem suspicious. Seven or eight volunteers remain, and when the nest is opened, they run a circle route in varying patterns to present the illusion of a steady stream of escaping rats.
  • In his first novel, The Stainless Steel Rat has apparently escaped a police dragnet and is hiding in a freighting company warehouse, when he suddenly realises that a truck he just saw entering the warehouse is the same one he saw exiting a short time before. This can only mean the police have the warehouse sealed off and are redirecting the trucks back inside keep up the illusion that business is going on as usual.

    Live Action TV 
  • Hogan's Heroes:
    • Used twice in the opening credit sequence with running prisoners and guards falling out for a midnight rollcall. The camera is aimed at their feet to hide the fact that it's the same men both times.
    • Another example occurs in an episode where the prisoners loop into a truck they are being loaded into in order to convince their guard, the loveable but hapless Sergeant Schultz, that he is bringing full numbers home to the camp. Though Schultz does think he has seen some of the prisoners before, he is easily convinced otherwise.
  • M*A*S*H: used in at least one of the "bugout" episodes, with anachronistic vehicles thrown in to boot.
  • An episode of Land of the Giants featured the heroes stealing a bunch of giant spark plugs. There was only one spark plug prop, though clever editing handles the issue quite well as they steal one at time and immediately hide them all.
  • An in-Universe example from Dad's Army where the platoon was on guard at a local Italian POW camp and had to conceal the fact that most of the prisoners had temporarily escaped (they were working for Private Walker and would be back before dawn). They got the remaining ones to jog through their hut over and over again while the authorities did a headcount. The officer in charge of the count gripes that all these Eyties look the same to him.
  • Doctor Who did this with Daleks before the revival came and could finally afford some decent CGI.
  • Arrested Development: The family is paid to build a wall across part of the US\Mexico border but isn't able to deliver. Instead, George and Buster drive around a silo a few times, attempting to pass it off as the wall.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The intelligent raptors in a Wild West Dinosaurs D20 campaign setting are said to do precisely this to show larger numbers than they actually have.

    Video Games 
  • Half-Life 2 features shots where citizens are seen from afar, such as on the monitors in Kleiner's lab: the stream of citizens walking on the security cameras are actually the same low-resolution model that respawns back at the start point as soon as it walks off-screen.

    Western Animation 
  • In the Rocky and Bullwinkle serial "The Metal Munching Moon Mice" Boris Badanov, pretending to be a pied piper, runs the same few moon mice in front of Rocky & Bullwinkle over and over again; at one dollar per mouse, they soon owe him thousands.

    Real Life 
  • During The American Civil War's Siege of Yorktown in 1862, Confederate general John Magruder actually did this to convince Union general George McClellan that Magruder's small force was a big one. It worked, and McClellan settled in for a siege rather than overwhelming the vastly outnumbered Confederate garrison.
  • This was a huge part of the traditional Victory Day military parade in the Soviet Union. Aircraft would fly over Red Square at an altitude that made it very difficult to make out their pennant numbers even with the best-quality photograph that could be obtained from the ground, fly out of the Moscow airspace, and then loop around for another flyover. Furthermore, there was a very large unit of the Soviet military that was theoretically for the defence of the capital but for practical purposes largely performed ceremonial duties: Having them wear different uniforms to imply the Red Army's available pool of manpower was larger than it truly was would not have been difficult. This lead to exaggerated assessments of Soviet strength that weren't corrected until the U2 spyplane entered service, enabling aerial photography of Soviet military assets in an unstaged environment.
  • Circular Drive-style deceptions were popular with the western Allies in WWII, originating with the British in the Western Desert and later embraced wholeheartedly by the U.S. Army and climaxing in an entire false invasion force off of Calais on D-Day. Literal versions of this trope were a popular part of these deceptions, with trucks full of mannequins and fake insignia. Since allied trucks typically had tarps over their cargo beds two soldiers sitting next to the tailgate would often be enough to convince most observers who'd naturally assume that truck was full. Why send a whole truck just to carry two men?
  • The Battle of Detroit in August 1812 famously resulted in an American surrender because of this technique. The American defenders of the fort outnumbered the British and their native allies by 2,500 to 1,300, and had 30 guns compared to the 10 the British had brought. Isaac Brock had his militia units wear discarded uniforms of his regular troops, convincing the Americans there were more regulars than there were and had his troops very visibly march into entrenchments around the fort, only to sneak away out of sight and march back in taking up different positions, repeatedly. During meals, in view of the American garrison, troops would line up to receive a bowl of beans, move back into the camp out of sight, dump the beans in another pot, and rejoin the line. Tecumseh likewise paraded his entire force of roughly 600 warriors multiple times through a gap in the trees where the Americans inside the fort could see them, convincing the defenders they were facing thousands of Native warriors in addition to thousands of British regulars. General Hull, the American commander, and his troops were so thoroughly conned that minutes into a British bombardment, Hull surrendered Detroit. Total casualties of the battle were 7 killed on the American side and 2,493 captured, while the British had 2 wounded.note