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Aesthetics of pulling focus


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#1 Daniel Stigler

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Posted 31 May 2006 - 11:55 AM

Since the director's viewfinder thread got a little off topic, i'd like to start a new thread on focuspulling. Focus is a powerful tool in imaging that hasn't been discussed much here. What are your favorite moviescenes in relation to focus choreographie?
I try to avoid wild focus shifts that distract the viewer and interrupt the flow of the scene. Unless of course it makes sense and/or my DoP asks me to do so.

Edited by Daniel Stigler, 31 May 2006 - 11:55 AM.

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#2 Max Jacoby

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Posted 31 May 2006 - 01:03 PM

I really like big focus-pulls that go from the foreground to the background (or vice versa). Since I like to shoot anamorphic, the pulls cannot be too fast, because otherwise the horizontal breathing of the lenses becomes to distracting.

I don't like focus-pulls that are instantaneous, ping-ponging back and forth between two focus planes. Even if the lens does not breath at all (like the Master Primes) these pulls still feel very articifial to me. The human vision does not work that way.
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#3 Adam Frisch FSF

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Posted 31 May 2006 - 01:18 PM

I never thought I'd say this; but I'm actually getting quite tired of focus pulls. I love shallow DOF still, I just don't like those extreme foreground-to-background pulls anymore. Especailly in anamorphic - they take me right out of it. It's too obtrusive, pontificating and self-aware to sit well with me. And they rarely tell the story - they're always there for aesthetic or flashy reasons.

God, I'm turning into an old grumpy conservative Gordon Willis-type of DP. Hate those. :)
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#4 Daniel Stigler

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Posted 31 May 2006 - 01:37 PM

I try to "disguise" those big shifts when possible. For example: i had a scene where the camera was on one end of a hallway pointing at the door at the other end. An actor came through the door, walked through the hallway and passed the camera with the door to be seen for a few moments before the cut.
When the actor was on his last step before leaving the picture and his belly was filling the frame i shifted focus on the door, so it was in focus the moment the actor was out of the frame.
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#5 Nick G Smith

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Posted 31 May 2006 - 02:01 PM

I am with Adam on this. I don't like noticeable focus pulls - but I always feel more lefty liberal kind of Nestor Almendros influence, don't impose the camerawork on the viewer, but then again depends on what the director wants. When an actor passes camera and my focus puller asks if I want the focus to go back to the background I usually don't want it to as I want the editor to make the cut on the pass and I don't want the viewer thinking that someone else is entering from the b/g. Then again I am pragmatic and will not make a dogma of it. Depends on the feel you are after.
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#6 Michael Nash

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Posted 01 June 2006 - 09:52 PM

What are your favorite moviescenes in relation to focus choreographie?


Best focus pull ever: The Graduate when Elaine realizes Benjamin has been sleeping with her mom.

When I shoot ENG stuff, the producers LOVE the rack. I don't. ;) Sometimes it's daring -- and therefore invigorating -- to simply leave something out of focus.

But focus is just one more visual tool, free to use or abuse as you see fit.
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#7 Brad Grimmett

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Posted 02 June 2006 - 06:02 PM

Sometimes it's daring -- and therefore invigorating -- to simply leave something out of focus.

Agreed. The converse of that would be when you start a shot out of focus, which I haven't seen that often. There is a shot in Elephant that does just this. The camera is looking down a long hallway (my guess would be about 50 yards) and two blurry objects come around the corner and walk slowly down the hall until they come into focus very close to the lens. I'm not sure if I'm describing it in a way that can be understood properly, but it's a great shot, and a perfect example of creative use of focus.
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#8 Alex Haspel

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Posted 06 June 2006 - 09:21 AM

There is a shot in Elephant that does just this. The camera is looking down a long hallway (my guess would be about 50 yards) and two blurry objects come around the corner and walk slowly down the hall until they come into focus very close to the lens. I'm not sure if I'm describing it in a way that can be understood properly, but it's a great shot, and a perfect example of creative use of focus.



i remember that one. i thought that it was an extremely brave shot, since it was so long, but it worked perfectly in this movie (and it's pace).
i wish i had seen elephant on the big screen.


altough only seeing it on dvd, i remeber saying to myself 10 minutes into the movie that this must have been a hell of a job for the focus puller...

Edited by haspel, 06 June 2006 - 09:23 AM.

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#9 James Erd

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Posted 06 June 2006 - 10:17 AM

I really like big focus-pulls that go from the foreground to the background (or vice versa). Since I like to shoot anamorphic, the pulls cannot be too fast, because otherwise the horizontal breathing of the lenses becomes to distracting.

I don't like focus-pulls that are instantaneous, ping-ponging back and forth between two focus planes. Even if the lens does not breath at all (like the Master Primes) these pulls still feel very articifial to me. The human vision does not work that way.



I agree. Human vision is very different from cinema or photographic vision. For example this discussion on focus-pull is unique to cinematography. The term depth of field has slightly broader usage, but not very far beyond photographers. Human vision gives us the illusion that every thing is focus all the time ( unless I'm not wearing my glasses )

I don't object to focus-pulls at all. It's just a tool and you never use all the tools at the same time or any tool all the time. What I object to is auto-focus-pulls. I hate watching footage shot on prosumer video gear where the operator left every thing on automatic.

I don't use focus-pulls that much, but I appreciate them when they fit with the story. I do use depth of field, and I love it for the reason that people don't seem to notice.
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#10 Michael Collier

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Posted 06 June 2006 - 04:36 PM

I love a focus pull when a new subject enters frame with some motion. Motion can make the focus pull so subtle its surreal. To the average viewer they dont see the pull. Even I miss it sometimes, because I get lost in the image. The DoP has control over my eyes, and the only way I know there was a pull was the new object is clearly out of the Depth of Feild of the preivious shot. It feels almost like 2 shots when used right. But just a simple rack from foreground to background.....uggg so boring. A rack when a cut would work. Any move when a cut would work is lame. Seems to me that a move or a rack or a zoom or a dolly has to be done create some visual appeal (not to show off the wicked dolly pull we can do! which has sorta become the hollywood mantra. Look! I can dolly 40ft and have CG extend that shot to a death diffying 40 second rollercoaster! just like clancy wiggum said on the Simpsons once (funny enough refering to CSI) 'Yeah thats it, all flash and no meaning!"
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#11 Michael Nash

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Posted 09 June 2006 - 12:29 AM

Any move when a cut would work is lame.


Why limit your vocabulary like that? I'll reiterate; "focus is just one more visual tool, free to use or abuse as you see fit."

I understand what you mean about flash over meaning, but I try to avoid blanket philosophies like "cuts are better."

A good example is The Swimming Pool which used very careful blocking and camera movement to control shot size and proximity instead of simple cuts. The fluidity of the shots pulls you into the scene in a way that's different from what you could get with cuts. You don't even really notice that the camera is moving, or that there wasn't a cut.
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#12 Bill Totolo

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Posted 09 June 2006 - 02:35 PM

Just adding to Michael's comment, a great movie to look at for this style of framing is Jean Renoir's "Le Grande Illusion". Instead of relying on cutting, Renoir blocks his camera to reveal new and meaningful information at precise moments in the scene. A very deliberate approach.
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#13 Stefan Kubicki

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Posted 09 June 2006 - 07:50 PM

The best artistic use of focus I've seen to date is in Hou Hsiao Hsien's new film "Three Times", at the very beginning. Two characters play pool, and the camera moves back and forth from the pool table to the faces. The focus is always slightly slightly delayed, a simple technique, but the effect is mesmerizing. It's like motion blur, but for focus. Mark Lee Ping Bin has a very good first.
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#14 Travis Cline

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Posted 09 June 2006 - 09:31 PM

I love when objects start out of focus and come into focus. Robert Richardson does this from time to time. I love the effect in Snow Falling on Cedars and The Horse Whisperer. On my last film I tried having actors walk into the focus rather than just rack to them and I was quite pleased with what I got. It didn't draw the attention to itself that I thought it might.

Travis

Edited by travisclinedp, 09 June 2006 - 09:32 PM.

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#15 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 09 June 2006 - 11:19 PM

My favorite example of that (not pulling focus) is in "Blade Runner" when Rutger Hauer steps into his focus in a big CU when he confronts Dr. Tyrell ("I want more life....")
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#16 Jamie Metzger

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Posted 10 June 2006 - 12:59 AM

I find when a pull focus is happening, and the camera is moving even a slight bit, you can hardly notice it (depending on a bunch of variables)
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#17 Matias Nicolas

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Posted 29 June 2006 - 06:29 PM

I love those shots were you have 2 actors , different distance from camera, making a dialogue. Both ar sitting torwards the camera. And you must carry the focus with the talking . I made a couple of those , as focus puller, and enjoyed them, cause you cant miss., and you have a short silence to pull the FF from one to another.
Also action takes , handheld camera , were the camerman is running from side to side ..., then he walks toward an actor for a close shot, an the he pan again to the fight .... I love them cause yo cant make mark on the floor, you must trust your eye and experience ! they are so challenging !!
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