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 has been largely discredited thanks to the fact that it's not always believable, to make it work requires significant coordination between the cast, camera crew and other special effects. Just having a Jitter Cam is not enough. 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, but also ramping up the possibility of injury. 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).
- An earthquake
- The starship you're on is suddenly accelerating
- The starship you're on is being attacked
- Someone activated the Self-Destruct Mechanism or defeated the Load-Bearing Boss and you have five minutes to escape the building (despite the fact that nothing has exploded yet)
- You finally got to The Very Definitely Final Dungeon and the Big Bad has just hit the Big Red Button to put his master plan into action
- You hit a switch and something bigger than you has shifted in the other room
- A huge animal or something is walking around and shaking the ground with each footstep
- An especially huge animal is roaring at you
- A boss monster is fading in or out of existence right before your eyes
- An explosion goes off nearby
- Somebody is beating you up offscreen.
- The Assassination Classroom anime simulates this effect in several scenes, particularly when Koro-sensei is showing off his power. In the scene when he makes the tornado, the camera seems to move around as if being buffeted by wind.
- 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.
- FLCL was absolutlely rife with this, along with Deranged Animation.
- Happens in Episode 9 of Pokémon Generations when Gabby runs towards the camera to pick up a flash drive on the ground. Everything shakes as if the ground was.
- In Act 1 of Sailor Moon Crystal, this is Played for Laughs, as the scene of Usagi's mother Ikuko at the table shudders during Usagi's Off Screen Crash, after a protracted Pratfall/Staircase Tumble.
- 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.
- Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf: The screen shakes quite a bit when Wolffy yells through a megaphone in episode 5 of Pleasant Goat Fun Class: Sports are Fun.
- Matthew Vaughn is fond of this trope when it comes to editing his movies. Often applied to emphasize impacts or when a gun is fired near the camera.
- 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 this trope, so he had an entire suburban neighborhood built in segments atop a series of motion-control platforms to fling the actors around for real.
- 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.
- 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.
- Used in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone 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...
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 concern he might have broken his hip in the fall.
- Star Wars:
- A New Hope: When the first X-Wing group's proton torpedo hit the surface of the Death Star, there's a quick shot of stormtroopers bouncing off the walls.
- 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!
- The Millennium Falcon, trapped in the space slug.
C-3PO: Sir, it's possible this asteroid is not entirely stable.
Han Solo: Not entirely stable?! Well, I'm glad you're here to tell us these things.
- Mister Roberts shakes the camera pretty hard when Ensign Pulver inadvertantly denotates his amateur chemistry lab elsewhere on the ship. William Holden (Doc) sells it pretty well, though, by sloshing the drink out of his glass as he lurches.
- Shows up in nearly every episode of all four Irwin Allen series: Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Lost in Space, The Time Tunnel, and Land of the Giants. Reportedly, Allen himself would come on set and whack a metal bucket to alert the cast on when to move.
- The Addams Family used this for a gag when Morticia 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.
Lurch: YOU RANG?
- Screen Shakes were actually a regular part of the show.
- Bill Nye the Science Guy's earthquake episode used this quite a bit, lampshaded when the frame cut over and showed one of the cameramen very boredly jiggling his camera.
- Blake's 7 did this a great deal, though sometimes by shaking the image instead of the set.
- 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.
- Used unconventionally in Crusade: "The Well of Forever" has the crew doing a distinctively rhythmic version of the Screen Shake... to illustrate that their ship was being humped by a giant alien jellyfish. You even get to see The Captain's horrified expression when it dawns on him what is happening. See it here.
- Doctor Who:
- In the New Series, the TARDIS is somewhat more... rickety than previous, and so requires its passengers to give a little Screen Shake more often. Until the Doctor whacks the console with a mallet, of course...
- "Blink": To create the effect of the Angels rocking the TARDIS, Carey Mulligan and Finlay Robertson threw themselves around the set while the camera operator shook the camera in the opposite direction.
- "Midnight": The passengers of the shuttle bus are thrown around a bit when the cockpit is ripped off by the entity.
- "The Name of the Doctor": When the TARDIS crash-lands on Trenzalore the Doctor and Clara are sent flying across the console room. Before shooting Matt Smith and Jenna Coleman were specifically told not to swing on the railing surrounding the console. Matt Smith decided to ignore that instruction and on the first take threw himself at the railing and swung on it.
- Firefly: In Joss Whedon's commentary track for Serenity, 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.
Commentary Joss: Wheeeee! Star Trek Moment! Everybody falls down! Nothing's actually moving!
- 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 Screen 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 the crew.
- 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.
- A staple of works by Irwin Allen. Before it became more strongly associated with Star Trek, this technique was frequently called the "Irwin Allen Rock and Roll".
- 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.
- Power Rangers in Space has a few, especially around Astronema's HeelFace Turn.
- 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.
- Red Dwarf
- 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.
- Sesame Street's "Spaceship Surprise" shorts (an obvious Star Trek parody) used this whenever the titular craft landed on a planet.
- 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 some deserve 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. On the other hand, the Excelsior and Enterprise bridge sets were actually mounted on gimbals for this movie (hence the otherwise random table right in front of Sulu's seat).
- 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 a Screen 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.
- This is actually not the first time that happened. In TOS "The Conscience of the King", after Kirk throws the overloaded phaser out the trash chute and it explodes, he and Spock stumble backwards to the other wall...even though the ship seems to remain stable.
- 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 badass.
- 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.
- David Gerrold's The World of Star Trek had associate producer Bob Justman being asked by a fan why the chairs on the Enterprise bridge didn't have seat belts. His response: "Because if we did, then the actors couldn't fall out of them!"
- 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."
- Also by Jim Carrey's In Living Color! skit where the actors get too old to do this.
Spock: Jim! I've fallen and and I can't get up!
- Supernatural. In "Ghostfacers", the room starts to shake when the angel Castiel turns up. In what's likely a Visual Gag to this trope in Star Trek, the camera focuses briefly on a signed picture of Captain Kirk.
- 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."
- 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.
- In EarthBound, The screen shakes wildly as the heroes approach Giygas in the devil machine. However, the wild shaking doesn't seem to affect the now-robotified heroes.
- In Baldur's Gate II, Critical Hits made the screen shake. Rather annoyingly, this often tended to cause the screen to shift away from the battle.
- Chrono Trigger uses it for certain boss monsters, such as the tyrannosaur.
- 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.note
- 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 on many occasions. Usually it just means that someone is shouting.
- Ditto Socrates Jones: Pro Philosopher, which draws heavy inspiration from Ace Attorney.
- 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...
- Final Fantasy
- The early, 2D games used this a lot. Some examples include the party leaving the Floating Continent and the arrival of a passenger meteorite.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 first two generations of Pokemon games employed this whenever something bad happened to one of your mons (reduced stats, gaining status ailments, taking damage).
- Cave Story once you finish off the Undead Core in the final part of the game, the screen shakes constently, representing the fall of the floating island.
- In Mega Man X2, the screen constantly shakes throughout Wheel Gator's stage, a unique to the Mega Man franchise. This is because the stage is set on a massive dinosaur tank moving through a city, with the stage shaking from the movement. Oddly enough, the screen stops shaking when you reach Wheel Gator's Boss Room, even though it's still seen moving through the city through a window in the background.
- In M.U.G.E.N, there's an entire state controller that's dedicated to making the screen shake. Useful for making strong attacks or to show a character's power.
- The fairly frequent earthquakes in Little King's Story are accompanied by screen shake, as are, to a lesser extent, the footsteps of the Marble Dragon.
- Used during the TGWTG Year One Brawl when Giant Donkey Kong Jesus Riding A Puff Of Smoke arrives. Lampshaded in the Making Of video.
"This is like Star Trek acting!""Full impulse! Shields at maximum! And shake that camera more for dramatic effect!"
- Done during the Action Prologue of The Adventures of Captain Bucky and his Space Marshals, in Outer Space when Bucky's rocketship is being attacked by a giant space slug. After it's driven off, the Red Alert ends and all the actors straighten up, except for the guy playing the Space Cadet who keeps staggering about until Captain Bucky quickly grabs hold of him.
- Discussed by Jeri Ryan and Wil Wheaton on the show Tabletop while playing Star Trek Catan. Go to 21:20.
- 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.
- Clifford the Big Red Dog did this at least Once an Episode, nearly every time Clifford would run, jump, or sit. In addition to the shaking, Clifford's heavy impacts on the ground were usually accompanied by the sounds of cymbals crashing.
- Totally used and abused in Codename: Kids Next Door in many situations. The shaking's usually digitally added.
- 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.
- Taking place in a World of Ham, Johnny Test sometimes uses this whenever somebody yells.
- Most, if not all, Hanna-Barbera cartoons employed this effect, usually when a character falls or is hit on the noggin.
- Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends: Used on occasion to highlight someone yelling or a gigantic friend taking a step. One notable example comes from "World Wide Wabbit", where a shot of the house exterior shakes as Mr. Herriman yells "WHAT IS THE MEANING OF THIS?!"
- The effect was digitally added towards the end of the Dexter's Laboratory episode "Rushmore Rumble" for when the Mount Rushmore stone figures of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln were approaching a boy playing on the street; it can be recognized where the effect would be used, as that scene is slightly zoomed in to allow for the effect's use.
- Episodes of Spongebob Squarepants from season 2 and beyond would also use this effect in certain situations, sometimes added normally, and sometimes digitally added (though for the latter case, unlike the Dexter's Laboratory example above, there's no obvious slight picture zoom-in where the effect would take place).
- The season 1 episode, "Neptune's Spatula" is the only episode from that season to add this effect digitally in certain shots early in the episode; although, unlike in episodes in later seasons, there is a slight picture zoom-in when each screen shake would occur.