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Rack Focus

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You know what would fix this? Bifocals.

"Whoa. My eyes really rack focused there!"

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 (the span of distance along the shot axis in which objects will be in focus).

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 such as smartphones and point-and-shoot cameras, 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 only 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 focusing on women's racks, see Male Gaze.


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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."
  • Used for dramatic effect in episode 4 of Code Geass. Lelouch, making his debut as the masked rebel Zero, tries in vain to get Suzaku to join him, as Suzaku walks away, presumably to a guilty verdict for a murder he didn't commit, and his execution. Zero, in focus, shouts to Suzaku in the foreground, "Don't be an idiot!". At that moment, the focus shifts to Suzaku, who replies, "An old friend always used to tell me that," - meaning Lelouch. In the end of the season, when he sees that Lelouch is Zero, he reacts with sadness, not shock, and says, "I didn't want it to be you,". It's incredibly likely that he realized the truth at that moment back in episode 4, and was in denial over it for the rest of the season (his specialty). That would also explain why at so many times in conversations between them, when they get close to something that might be incriminating for Lelouch, it's Suzaku that changes the subject or doesn't press.

    Films — Animation 
  • Used in All Dogs Go to Heaven when Charlie and Itchy are discussing what to do about Anne-Marie after Carface has destroyed their casino. The background slowly comes into focus to reveal Anne-Marie listening in as Charlie says they'll just dump her in an orphanage.
  • In Barbie in the 12 Dancing Princesses, a close-up of Twyla watching the princesses sing their birthday song for the triplets shifts its focus to Brutus spying on them from the door behind her.
  • 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.
  • In My Little Pony: Equestria Girls – Rainbow Rocks during the "Awesome as I Wanna Be" number, we get a close-up of Rainbow rocking out and having a good time which shifts its focus to a disgruntled Fluttershy behind her.
  • The opening song of The Lion King (1994), 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 2 has a scene where Woody looks at Jesse sitting depressed on a windowsill.
  • 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.
  • In Turning Red, there is a subtle one when Ming is introduced. First the focus is on the tapestry of Sun Yee then on Ming's face as she turns around.
  • In Up, when Carl Fredricksen looks up to his house where the picture of his wife is hanging.

    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. However the technique can be annoying later on as explained above.
  • At the beginning of Hannah Montana The Movie, we get a close-up of a poster of Hannah which shifts its focus to a close-up of Miley putting on her mascara in the foreground.
  • 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.
  • Who Framed Roger Rabbit,:
    • When Eddie has his "Eureka!" Moment, with Eddie in the foreground and the newsreel footage in the background.
    • Also done when Jessica is standing outside Maroon Studios after knocking out Roger and putting him in the trunk of her car, the focus shifting from her in the foreground to the lit window of Maroon's office in the background, where Eddie is confronting him.
  • 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".
  • In Titanic (1997), as Ismay gets into a life boat, he's in focus; the focus then shifts to Murdoch as he notices Ismay; as the boat is lowered down, the focus returns to Ismay. Watch it here.
  • Used in Marriage Story during the courtroom scene, so that both Charlie's and Nicole's faces are in frame, but the focus shifts between them; writer-director Noah Baumbach discusses why he used it here.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Glee:
    • In an episode, 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.
    • As Will threatens Finn with prison after "finding" marijuana in his locker in the pilot episode, the camera refocuses on a pamphlet/flyer pinned on the corkboard right next to him reading "Priority #1: Help the Kids". The same shot is duplicated in season four when Will finally admits what he did.
  • Legion: In "Chapter 27", at the beginning of the reconciliation scene between Charles Xavier and his wife Gabrielle, the point of focus is initially on her because she's next to the camera, whereas he's a blur standing at a distance. However, it gradually shifts as he walks closer to where she's seated until his features become clear while hers become fuzzy.
  • Star Trek: Picard: In "Nepenthe", the camera remains still while the point of focus switches from Elnor's face to the Fenris Rangers SOS tag that's dangling beneath a desk. After a few seconds, the process is reversed, and the token becomes blurry once more while the details of Elnor's visage gradually become sharp again just as he grabs the device. The focus returns to the beacon when there's an Extreme Close-Up of Elnor's left eye and part of his nose while he's holding it. After he activates the distress signal, his features are then made clear at the expense of the object's.
  • In the Supernatural episode "All Hells Breaks Loose, Part Two" (S02, E22), the focus starts on Jake's face and switches to the barrel of the gun, which shakes in Jake's hand. The focus is then on Jake pulling back the hammer of the gun and finally back on Jake's face as he lowers the gun.

  • 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.

    Video Games 
  • When you bring up the motion tracker in Alien: Isolation, you can't focus on it and the background at the same time; looking at one blurs the other. However, you can switch between which one is in focus with a button press.
  • In the introduction movie of Xenogears, the captain of the Eldridge sets a Self-Destruct Mechanism in motion and quietly sits in place to await his fate; the camera changes focus from him to the pendant showing his wife and daughter that he had set aside, before cutting away to the exploding ship.

  • Cucumber Quest: Used in the first two panels of this page. As the Nightmare Knight turns to leave and Parfait turns to look at him, the "camera" appears to change focus from Parfait in the foreground to the Nightmare Knight in the background.
  • 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.
  • Used in Homestuck, in a single animated panel, here. Hussie brandishes a gun, and the focus shifts from him in the background to the gun in the foreground.
  • In the Team Fortress Comics #5, "Old Wounds", rack focus is emulated in one panel here. The focus shifts from the background to a character in the foreground.

    Western Animation 
  • Dexter's Laboratory used this effect in several episodes...
    • "Topped Off" - After Mom and Dad drink their coffee and magically get dressed and leave the kitchen, the focus shifts from a cup of coffee in the foreground to Dee Dee and Dexter in the background staring at the cup telling each other to drink it.
    • "Quiet Riot" - The scene focuses on a fly that lands on Dexter's nose while Dexter is sleeping. Dee dee rises in the background while the scene focuses on her...
  • 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.
  • Used in The Teaser the Arthur episode "Don't Ask Muffy", when Buster is talking to a psychiatrist for advice.
  • The Simpsons: Used in "Heartbreak Hotel" during an extended parody of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?.
  • BoJack Horseman: Used in "Brand New Couch" for the episode's opening shot, which is a flashback to Bojack's childhood. The focus shifts from a smoking ashtray in the foreground to young Bojack watching TV in the background.

    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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