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Focus Pulling 101


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#1 Robert Glenn

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Posted 23 March 2007 - 02:14 PM

Ok this is me wanting to learn more about the technique, so apologies if you thought I would teach you, but maybe a pro can provide info. I think taht mostm of the questions are easy to answer, but I'm always trying to get better insight on these types of jobs so I asked them anyway. Feel free to add what you know!



Anyhow, I guess the 2 main elements to follow focuses are set up and operation.

So With set up: Do you need to set the lens in a particular way before anything? I take it that you make marks on the disk with some dry erase pen.. Are there any tips for determining where to set your focus points? Also how do you get the timing right since I doubt the camera person can communicate verbally with the puller.

With operation: How does the camera operator and puller handle handheld work, especially when theres running or large pans involved? Are there situations where pullers should not be used? Should the camera operator focus at times too?
Thanks a lot
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#2 Jon Kukla

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Posted 23 March 2007 - 02:37 PM

Well, the lens needs to be set in a way that allows it to be seated in the lens mount, first and foremost. If there are several seating options available, then you'll probably want it so that the focus marks are clearly readable from the operator's side of the camera.

You set your focus marks by watching a rehearsal and measuring between the camera's film plane (there is a usually a stud to hook measuring tape to) and your subject. If the framing permits, you can put down marks for reference. Then you just pull as you can judge it against your marks.

For handheld, it just really depends on the situation. It's certainly not impossible - you can do it by follow focus or with various accessories like a speed bar or a "whip", and if you really can't move with the camera, then you can use a wireless system with a motor. But you also need to take into account how much the camera is moving, how much depth of field you have, and how likely it is that focus will even been seen critically. If your operator is running after the subject with an 85mm lens, it's gonna be so bouncy that the motion blur will cancel out most of your focus anyway. (Whether or not anyone would want to watch the footage to begin with, however, is another story...) In some of these situations, it may be easier for the operator do some rough focus, but if the DoF is fairly critical and is moving, I'd want a focus puller. Also, the focus puller and operator do sometimes communicate during the take - since they are so close together it usually is easy to do this VERY quietly.
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#3 Robert Glenn

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Posted 24 March 2007 - 10:16 AM

Hey Jon, thanx for that
So here's another dumb question.. what types of shots are focus pullers used for the most? Is it with zooming or with dollies or just to shift focus from one character to another behind them?
I've never really watched a movie to concentrate on focusing, since it's one of those jobs where your success is based on how much you are not noticed. Now I'm thinking that there must be a lot of skill and planning involved to get it right.
Does anybody have any movies in mind that have superior focusing techniques? Thanks again
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#4 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 24 March 2007 - 10:31 AM

Like you say, if the focus-pulling is done right, you don't notice it. A focus-puller is always working, except maybe in a rare situation, like a wide-shot that has locked-off focus, like an establishing shot of a building. Otherwise, you have to put the focus somewhere and usually you have to change it at some point.

Probably due to the nature of movies, a large portion of the job involves following actors' faces in tight shots, but even then, it's not as simple as keeping the actor's eyes in focus, especially when multiple people are acting and talking and moving in the scene.

If you want to see something that was hard on the focus-puller, it would probably be any low-light stuff shot tight on long lenses.

RobertNC, you need to edit your Display Name under My Controls to a real first and last name -- "NC" is not sufficient. These are the rules now listed first whenever anyone registers to join this site (you joined in 2005 before the new rules took effect). Thanks.
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#5 Eden Lagaly-Faynot

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Posted 24 March 2007 - 10:49 AM

Hello Robert,

I think you may find some anwers on this post at CML. We are given some very useful and interesting tricks!

Eden.
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Rig Wheels Passport

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Ritter Battery

Broadcast Solutions Inc

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