Follow TV Tropes


Offscreen Reality Warp

Go To

When the camera is looking at a certain scene, cuts (or pans) to another scene, but then cuts back to the original scene to show that things have inexplicably changed in the short amount of time that has passed, faster than would be possible.

Sometimes may manifest even if the camera does not move; instead, some object will obscure part of the scene, and when it moves, the scene will have been changed.

To give a hypothetical example: A character is dressed in certain clothing. The camera cuts away for a second then comes back to the character, showing them in completely different clothes, despite the fact that it would've been impossible for the character to have actually changed their clothes in such a short amount of time (sometimes this impossibility might be enhanced by showing the character in the same position). Cue shock/disbelief from other characters.

This trope isn't about production goofs or continuity errors; rather, this is done intentionally. When played for laughs, the changes are often absurd or improbable. Occasionally is played straight to imply that something supernatural has happened, or a literal reality warp.

A related trope is Offscreen Teleportation, where a character can change position far too quickly while offscreen. Compare Instant Costume Change. See also Creepy Changing Painting. Related to Stealth Hi/Bye, where a character appears or disappears in the short time it takes the camera to swing away and back again. All these are made possible by Behind the Black and the Rule of Perception. This tends to be used by an Impossible Thief.

See also Gaslighting, when characters do this to each other while the other is sleeping.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • Inverted in an episode of YuruYuri. Decoy Protagonist Akari and her friends are walking home in a rainstorm and get splashed by a passing car. Akari's friends gets soaked, but Akari's lack of presence finally pays off as she takes advantage of being Behind the Black to remain impossibly dry.

    Comic Books 
  • An Off-Panel Reality Warp: Alan Moore once wrote a one-shot strip called "Dr. Dibworthy's Disappointing Day" for 2000 AD. In order to test whether a device designed to send small objects back in time really does just that, Dr. Dibworthy decides to send an object back to a point in time where its presence would actually change history and, by virtue, the present as well. He decides to send a flat-iron back to brain an obscure Turkish diplomat in the 11th century. The next panel reflects Godwin's Law of Time Travel while the Doc notes, "Nothing happened." Then, he decides to drop an anvil on King John just before the signing of the Magna Carta. Again, the next panel reflects striking changes to the present while the Doc notes, "Nothing happened." Finally, he decides to test his device by stopping the Primal Atom from exploding (i.e., preventing the Big Bang from happening). Nothing happened.
  • Lampshaded in a Garfield comic where Jon demonstrates that he can't even leave Garfield and Odie alone for a second. After he is outside for exactly one second, he returns to find his house completely trashed.
  • A minor but regular version in Twisted Toyfare Theatre - whenever Captain Kirk shows up, he regularly switches between various states of dress/undress from panel to panel. This is mostly to demonstrate just how much sexual mischief he's getting into.
  • One of Mortadelo's best skills is the ability to do this. He uses it many times to steal things from people without them noticing or to free himself when someone grabs him.

    Films — Animation 
  • In Zootopia, Judy somehow manages to boot Nick's stroller in less than a second while the camera is focused on his face.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • One rather scary example in Poltergeist: When Diane and Carol Anne were in the kitchen, the chairs were around the dining room table as usual. The camera looks away for a moment, and when it returns, the chairs are all stacked up on the table — put there by the ghosts.
  • There is a scene in The Sixth Sense where Cole's mom turns to perform some brief task, and returns to find every single cabinet door open around Cole. Cole himself has not moved, but is visibly freaked out by the event. The cabinet doors and cupboard doors were opened by the ghosts, not Cole. In both cases, the scene is done as a single Long Take, to make it extra freaky to the viewers as well.
  • In Scary Movie 3, a police officer's hat increases in size between shots. It's probably the best part of the movie.
  • A Running Gag through The Great Race is that Maggie Dubois never wears the same outfit twice. Occasionally they take this to ridiculous extents as she'll have on an entirely new elaborate wardrobe about 5 seconds after we last saw her, in a scene which clearly has no time jumps.
  • At the end of Dogma, God looks over the carnage that Bartleby and Loki caused, then smiles, and (after a quick cut to a Reaction Shot from the others), everything is back to normal.
  • This is the modus operandi of the aliens in 2001: A Space Odyssey, particularly at the end of the movie. Happens again with the same character in 2010: The Year We Make Contact.
  • Played for humour in Snatch.: Frankie Four Fingers is on the phone to Cousin Avi while being fitted by a tailor. The film cross-cuts between the two and Frankie is wearing a completely different outfit each time.
  • Played for Laughs in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, where characters will comment that Scott's hair is getting long and, during the cut back to him, he will put on a hat.
  • Toward the turning point of Mulholland Dr., the camera passes Betty, standing next to her bed, as it follows Rita taking a hatbox out of the nearby closet. It then follows her back as she puts the box down on the bed, with Betty having vanished in the intervening seconds.
  • Like everything in Kung Pow! Enter the Fist, played for laughs. Master Betty is a great magician!.

  • The house in House of Leaves likes to do this in subtle and not so subtle ways: a new door here, growing slightly Bigger on the Inside there, naturally driving the inhabitants crazy when they start noticing it. Since the manuscript about the house in the book describes the contents of a documentary film, this also fictionally happens in an actual film (which is true within the fiction within a fiction that may not really be fiction in the first-level fiction), making it even closer to the way the trope is usually played, although at this stage of Mind Screw one might not be certain what the heck we're talking about any more.
  • Sherlock Holmes was adept at doing this when donning and removing disguises. Often poor Watson would be talking to what he thought was a complete stranger, turn away briefly for a moment, and turn back only to find that the stranger had turned back into Holmes in the space of a few seconds. Most memorably done when Watson is talking to an old bookseller a few years after Holmes's "death" . However, this is implied to be more a matter of Holmes reverting to his usual posture, expression and accent. While he did use makeup and different clothes, the real trick was changing his behavior. It highlights the nature of human perception: we tend to see what we expect to see. Using this, he could switch from looking like "Holmes in makeup", to looking nothing like Holmes, in a second.
  • In Discworld, Death does this while working at a restaurant. Sham Harga, the proprietor, becomes suspicious when the new cook he hired seems to be able to provide any food ordered in an instant. He decides to put this to the test by calling for an "Alligator sandwich, and make it sna-", and is interrupted by the sandwich sliding out the slot from the kitchen. He lifts the bun and can't be sure of what he's seeing, but decides not to press the matter further.

    Live-Action TV 
  • A Saturday Night Live bit was an infomercial for a microwave oven that, for some reason, uses tachyons to cook food. As one host puts a turkey into the oven, the other host wonders about the consequences of faster-than-light travel. The camera then cuts to an infographic while the announcer warns that the oven may cause time travel, and that if time travel occurs, not to change the past. The camera then cuts back to the hosts, who are now in different clothes and with different hairstyles. The bit continues along in this vein, and the reality warping gets worse (read: hilarious) each time.
  • There is a sketch from The Benny Hill Show that is built around this. They are filming a movie with Benny as the romantic lead. Continuity errors abound, including changing scenery, costumes and even actors (such as Benny being replaced for one Over the Shoulder shot by a greasy lothario type).
  • There is an episode of Samantha Who? where Sam gets a (badly-behaved) dog. She leaves the animal and her flatmate sitting on the sofa while she goes out. Realizing she has forgotten something, she steps back through the door a second later and finds the pair sitting in exactly the same positions, only the sofa cushions have been torn to pieces and the apartment is covered in stuffing.
  • The Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "Selfless" has a flashback to a (previously-unseen) scene during the Musical Episode, with Anya singing a song about getting married to Xander. Near the end of the song, she steps through a doorway and comes out on the other side wearing a wedding dress.
  • Lampshaded in an episode of A.N.T. Farm where Chyna notices a Lady Gaga parody changing her outfit to an equally ridiculous one every time she goes off and comes back on screen.
  • In Brain Games, a psychology/neurology documentary, numerous quirks of human brain function are demonstrated, including tests of "change blindness" (see Real Life, below).
  • This happens several times to Worf in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Parallels". It's eventually revealed he's jumping between several quantum realities.
  • Done in an episode of Scrubs, where Doctors Kelso and Cox want to prove to Dr. Molly Clock that humans are "bastard coated bastards with bastard filling" by preventing her from going on a trip. When it seems they succeeded, she breaks down crying, and the two admit it isn't fun anymore and approach her, allowing her to go. She reveals that she knew this would happen all along, merely wanted to prove that deep down Kelso and Cox aren't so bad, and always intended to go. Between cuts she suddenly has a large sunhat on her head and departs.
    Dr. Cox: Was she always wearing that big hat?

    Puppet Shows 
  • Princess Diana was depicted as a ridiculous clothes horse on Spitting Image, and her outfits would often change multiple times per scene, with every new camera angle.

    Video Games 
  • This is pretty much the entire premise of Antichamber.
  • Happens in Undertale. In the Last Corridor, when the scene pans to the right, a pillar in the foreground moves over a specific spot, and when it passes, Sans is already there. He can use teleportation.

    Web Animation 
  • In the Happy Tree Friends episode "By the Seat of Your Pants", Lumpy is participating in a swim race and Flippy is in the audience. When the Mole fires the starting pistol, Lumpy dives in as soon as Flippy goes into flipped-out mode. By the time Lumpy has surfaced in less than 5 seconds, Flippy is in the exact same position he had been in before Lumpy dived, and he has already killed all the other swimmers and audience members, alongside some other innocent bystanders.
  • In "Bill Cipher Orders a Pizza", when Bill orders pizza from himself:
    Bill #1: Hello, is this pizza?
    Bill #2: [from pizza place] No, this is a telephone.
    Bill #1: [his phone is now a pizza box] Well, I beg to differ!

    Bill #1: [after opening the box and finding that it contains a time vortex] What kind of place are you guys running over there? You sent me a time vortex!
    Bill #2: I beg to differ!
    [Bill #1 finds that the time vortex is, indeed, now a pizza]

  • In Girl Genius, Violetta is a Smoke Knight skilled in stealth and trickery (ie, the setting's equivalent to a Ninja). Her specialty is grabbing objects her opponents are holding and replacing them with dummies without them noticing, often within the space of single panel. Here are some examples.
    • Another instance involving Violetta:
      DuPree: Yeah— Hold on— [to an empty chair] That's really amazing— But whatever it is you're doing, knock it off.
      Violetta: [suddenly visible next to DuPree] Whoa. You could see me?
      DuPree: No. And it was giving me a headache.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • On one episode of Duck Dodgers, Dr. I.Q. High leaves Dodgers in charge of his home. The doctor is about to go to a waiting taxi when he realizes he forgot his keys, so when he turns back to get them, he finds his home burnt to the ground. Dodgers then tells him a seemingly preposterous story that would have taken far more time than it took Dr. High to go to the taxi and back. Turns out that Dodgers was telling the truth when the monster he created appears after the story.
    Monster: [to I.Q High] You must be a slow walker.
  • The Simpsons:
    • Lampshaded in the episode "Bart's Inner Child" where the family gets a free trampoline. After realizing the dangers of the trampoline, Homer tries to get rid of it but is unsuccessful. Bart simply chains the trampoline to a pole with a bike lock and tells Homer to turn around and count to three. They both do so, then glance back and see Snake already using a bolt cutter on the chain. Bart quickly turns back around with Homer and says, "Better make it five..."
    • In "Bart Gets an Elephant", Marge makes everybody clean the house before going out. A sparkling clean kitchen is seen through a swinging door, which swings closed and then open again... to reveal a ridiculously over-the-top mess of a kitchen.
    • When Marge is in jail, Lisa says they can keep the house tidy if they all do their part. Homer and Bart are unenthusiastic. Cut to "Five minutes later", and the kitchen is absurdly messy, falling apart and occupied by alligators.
  • SpongeBob SquarePants:
    • The episode "Jellyfish Hunter" has Mr. Krabs send SpongeBob out to catch jellyfish. "And make it..." (SpongeBob has already returned with jellyfish) "...quick."
    • In the episode "My Pretty Seahorse", when SpongeBob tries to get Mystery to eat his flower bookmark it cuts between the two of them repeatedly. The third time it cuts to SpongeBob, he now has a mustache.
  • Phineas and Ferb, all the time. Obviously, the title characters and Dr. Doofensmirtz do it with creating their inventions, and sometimes Perry The Platypus does it in his battles with Doof, but everyone else (especially Candace) can pull off absurdly quick feats if it advances the story or is funny.
  • In The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy episode "Modern Primitives", Billy, after unearthing and thawing out Fred Flintstone whom was encased in permafrost, goes into his kitchen and asks Fred not to destroy the house while he's gone. He sticks his head out to ask Fred if he likes chili on his cereal, after which it is shown that Fred trashed the living room and is still in the exact same position he was when Billy left.
  • In the MAD skit "The Adventures of Tauntaun", Luke Skywalker recalls his father having protected a wealthy queen. Cut to Anakin protecting Padmé from Jango Fett telling him she blows all her money on clothes, then her confirming this by changing her outfit offscreen twice.
  • Lampshaded in the episode "Edelweiss" from Space Ghost Coast to Coast, when Space Ghost learns that Zorak destroyed his hand-painted Presidents of the United States ceramic figurines collection:
    Space Ghost: ...You know I'm going to have to do something about this, don't you?
    Zorak: Go ahead, I'll just regenerate. (gets blasted by Space Ghost) See? Fried now, (cut to Space Ghost, still aiming) cut away, (cut back to the regenerated Zorak) back to normal! (Evil Laugh)
  • In Scooby-Doo! Legend of the Phantosaur, when Shaggy and Scooby eat at an all you can eat buffet, they take giant piles of food and the waitress tells them to leave because she believes they have taken more than they can eat. She turns her head for a second, then turns back to see that they have already eaten the food.
  • American Dad!:
    • Lampshaded in the episode "Spring Break-Up", when Roger turns the living room into a beach for his Spring Break party.
      Stan: You did this in the time it took me to walk Francine to the car?
      Roger: Get to know me, Stan. I'm amazing.
    • It later comes out that Roger has Super-Speed. He's fast enough to replace himself, in full view of everyone, with a dummy after taking the time to mix up fake blood a split-second before being hit by a bus. He can also steal Steve's underwear off his body and sell it to someone in the seconds it takes to explain that.
    • In the episode "Stan-Dan Deliver" after Steve gets Roger fired from his teaching job by setting him up to look like an alcoholic, one of the students, Ricky, decides to run away. In the two seconds he was gone he somehow managed to join a gang and was killed in a gang fight.
  • In The Fairly OddParents! episode "Home Wrecker", Timmy's parents leave him with Vicky while they're out. When they come back in seconds later, the living room is a total wreck.
  • In the Superjail! episode "Cold-Blooded" Jailbot has brought a serial killer with him instead of Jackknife, the lunch lady turns around to serve the food as the other prisoners wait in line in the lunchroom with the killer, when she turns back he has killed all of the other prisoners, then when she turns around again he has vanished and finds that he has stabbed her in the head with her ladle.
  • In the Total Drama song "Before We Die," the characters are holding hands in a circle, with the camera shifting from right to left as each delivers a line. At one point (around 53 seconds in the above video), Lindsay delivers a verse immediately before and after Leshawna, somehow appearing on both sides of her. Leshawna notices and looks surprised.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic
    • In the episode "The Stare Master", Sweetie Belle manages to take Rarity's golden fabric and sew it into the lining of three separate capes in the five seconds between the time she sees it and the time the camera cuts back to her.
    • There's a Running Gag with Maud's pet rock Boulder implicitly acting like a real animal when offscreen. In his introduction in "Maud Pie", Boulder is seen at a picnic with a plate of food. Upon cutting back, the food is gone. In "Uncommon Bond" we cut back to Boulder as he's sitting by the Mirror Pool from "Too Many Pinkie Pies", and he's sitting in a small puddle of water with a second, identical rock beside him.
  • The Futurama pilot has both of Bender's arms fall off. We zoom in to one arm, moving as if it's already re-attached, picking up and attaching the second arm... whereupon it puts the first arm back in place. Fry, despite having this in plain view, can't tell how the hell that worked.
  • Family Guy: In "Baby Not on Board", Peter is driving his family when he gets distracted by a TV screen in the backseat of the car adjacent to his. As Lois tells Peter to keep his eyes on the road, the scene pulls out to reveal that he somehow got inside the other car (leaving his own to careen into a ditch).

    Real Life 
  • A study in awareness once did this as part of an experiment — subjects spoke with a clerk behind a counter and at some point during the conversation the clerk would duck down behind the counter, ostensibly to retrieve a form. The person who stood back up was in fact a completely different person wearing different clothing, but only a minority of the subjects noticed.
    • Similar experiments involved having someone ask directions, then construction workers rudely walk between the people (and swap out the person needing directions for someone else). Again, only a minority of the subjects noticed.
    • Due to change blindness, this need not even be "off screen." Other experiments show you 12-second videos (you can find them online) in which objects in a picture disappear or change color, and still only a minority of subjects will notice. Even if you know that something is changing, unless you know exactly what to watch for, you will most likely miss it. And yet, you have the impression that you're seeing the whole picture all the time...
    • It makes you wonder what else you're missing.


Video Example(s):


Richard Pranks Policeman

Richard is dared to prank a police officer. This involves him reporting a crime, describing the criminal's clothes and then putting the piece of clothing he just mentioned on every time he goes off screen.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (8 votes)

Example of:

Main / ChangingClothesIsAFreeAction

Media sources: