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Dolly Shots


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#1 stevewitt

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Posted 16 April 2007 - 07:14 AM

When talking about camera dolly shots(moving in closer or moving further away).....Is there a generally preferred lens type (wide anglel, normal, or telephoto) for this type of shot? I'm wondering if it is better to try and set things up to try and make sure a focus puller is not needed for this type of shot...or if you just do what you think looks good.

Are there any tips some one could give to help ensure nice looking dolly shots?? I don't have any particular scene in mind yet...I'm just wanting some tips to start practicing.

Thanks.

Edited by stevewitt, 16 April 2007 - 07:18 AM.

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#2 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 16 April 2007 - 10:25 AM

When physically moving closer or farther from a subject (or the subject moving closer or farther from the lens), that's exactly when you need a focus-puller the most!

Generally forward and back movement is more dynamic using wider-angle lenses because you see the perspective shift more dramatically. Problem is that it's harder to get close and tight enough with a wide-angle lens, and if you could, it's not too attractive on faces, plus if it's a long move, you have to figure out how not to see the dolly tracks ahead of the lens when you are backed-up.

This is one reason why most people use a wide-to-medium lens for a dramatic push-in to a close-up -- in 35mm terms, it would be in the 27mm to 50mm range depending on how tight/close you needed to get. If I normally would shoot a close-up on a 75mm, I'd probably switch to the 40mm or 50mm if I had to do a push-in.

Now some people will do it with very wide-angle lenses (14mm to 18mm) ala Terry Gilliam and I've seen push-ins on telephoto lenses (100mm and higher) although when you do that, the perspective change is so subtle that it tends to feel more like a zoom-in. Usually you'd do a slower "creep-in" if you had a longer lens, partially to minimize bouncing (wide-angle lenses tend to smooth that out.)

Now if you're shooting on a format with a lot of inherent depth of field (1/3" DV, Super-8, etc.) and are using wide-angle lenses, you can sometimes get away with just doing the focus-pull yourself by feel as you push-in -- just memorize how far you have to rotate the lens with your wrist. The deep focus of the format, especially if you are stopped down, will hide your mistakes. Realize that the focus is more critical when you are closer/tighter. (Of course, auto-focus on a DV camera may or may not help in these situations.)

But otherwise, you need a real focus-puller when doing a push-in on a face because it gets so critical when you get in tight.
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#3 Brian Dzyak

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Posted 16 April 2007 - 01:01 PM

Just to tag onto what David is saying so well...

The "other" key to a successful dolly shot is having a Dolly Grip/Camera Operator team working in tandem. The Dolly Grip isn't just pushing the dolly up and down the track. He is "operating" the camera just as much as the Camera Operator is with gentle starts and feathering stops. Depending upon the blocking of the Actors, the Dolly Grip can help the Operator with his framing by making slight subtle adjustments during the course of the take. The Camera Operator already has a lot to think about as he keeps the talent in the frame while they, he, and the camera are moving. Having a Dolly Grip who is in tune with the technical aspects of operating as well as the aesthetic sensibilities of creating a pleasing frame is invaluable.

It also helps to have a quality dolly and track to do the shot from. If the floor is rough and making it difficult to roll wheels on it or lay down even track, use large sheets of plywood as a surface instead.

And set up the shot keeping in mind the limitations you have. For example, if you have an inexperienced focus puller (First AC), don't sabotage him or the shot by shooting wide open at the long end of the lens. Depth of field is reduced under those conditions and only someone with experience can manage to keep a shot like that in focus throughout the dolly move. If your Dolly Grip can't move the dolly gently and subtly enough, consider revising the shot instead of settling for something that calls attention to itself. If the Operator is having trouble, try to figure out why and find a way to improve things.
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#4 Patrick Lavalley

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Posted 16 April 2007 - 01:27 PM

I don't mean to hijack this thread, but in the film "Brick" there is a series of shots in the opening sequence of the film where it cuts back and forth between the main character "Brenden" and a girl who is laying on the ground, it looks to me like they used zooms in the shots that they cut between, but everyone I talk to swears that they are dollies. Has anyone seen this film? It's a good example of when a dolly shot can get mistaken for a zoom, or vice-versa.

Edited by Patrick Lavalley, 16 April 2007 - 01:28 PM.

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#5 stevewitt

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Posted 17 April 2007 - 10:39 AM

Thank you Dave, Brian and Patrick.

Have you ever tried to do both by yourself with any success??? (Keep frame and pull your own focus)
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#6 stevewitt

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Posted 17 April 2007 - 11:24 AM

Ahhhh! Nevermind.....I see the answer at the bottom of Dave's Response. Thanks again!!!
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