How does Hollywood do this camera trick?
October 5, 2012 9:00 AM   Subscribe

How does Hollywood film a scene without taking the camera off of the character and then you realize that the character has changed (but the camera never left them!)?


On this season's premiere of Modern Family (which aired on 9/26/12), near the end, there was a scene where Jay and Gloria hug and as they're hugging, the camera pans around their bodies, but never leaves their embrace and when they pull away, it's obviously been several months later, as Gloria is visibly pregnant, everyone is wearing different clothes, and Phil, in the background, now sports a beard.

How does Hollywood do that, where the camera doesn't leave the scene it's looking at, but the characters in the scene are able to change their appearance without going off camera? I'm sure it's a simple explanation, but I'm really curious and can't get it out of my head ever since I watched the premiere.
posted by lea724 to Media & Arts (15 answers total)
I don't know about that exact scene, but as a rule: CGI.
posted by Tomorrowful at 9:02 AM on October 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Careful and clever editing, aided by computers. There's a splice there, but you don't notice it.
posted by Faint of Butt at 9:03 AM on October 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Special Effects and direction.

Film scene 1, have everyone stand in the same spots and positions for scene 2, then meld in post production/editing with cool software.

Think of Michael Jackson's Black or White video. It was amazing 20 years ago.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:04 AM on October 5, 2012

Best answer: The simplest answer: you stop the camera halfway through the spin-around, let the actors change and such, then start the camera again at the spin-around, at the same point, and it looks like nothing changed.

This was done in editing, though -- they film the spin around twice, one "before" and one "after", cut both film at the same point in the spin-around, and stick the two ends together, seemingly in an uninterrupted spin-around. It's sort of like stop-motion video.

But, there's lots of tricks, including look-alikes in the same clothes, tear-away outfits, wigs, stagehands hiding behind furniture, etc, that can result in the same effect.
posted by AzraelBrown at 9:05 AM on October 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: There is technology that will replicate the same exact camera move, allowing for multiple takes to be seamlessly blended. This tech was made famous in Cronenberg's Dead Ringers, where Jeremy Irons played twins and the camera was able to move around him like on a normal shoot.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:09 AM on October 5, 2012

And, if I recall correctly, at the point where the 'splice' happens, only Jay and Gloria's backs are in frame, making it easier to line up the break. It's a simple trick, and probably didn't require any CGI at all.
posted by AzraelBrown at 9:11 AM on October 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Google "computer controlled camera"...its relatively new, and what sticherbeast is talking about...the camera mount is basically a robot that the cameraman can move around for the first shot as it records those movements to play back again for the second...see the special features on the 'fight club' dvd for a really in depth treatment of how they shot and edited the scene where the camera pans thru ed nortons apartment as it fills with furniture from ikea...they had to run the camera movement again for every peice of furniture they added. Additionally, they had to do a lot of post-processing (in the computer) on top of that to handle secondary when they put in the green couch and it made the walls look greenish from light reflecting off of it...this was actually much harder because of all the complicated masking...a technique thats been around forever (also called "green screen" or a "matte shot"), but looks much cleaner digitally.
For the shot youre talking about (didnt see, but have seen similar) they undoubtedly shot it twice, edited them together, then corrected the color and light until it matched...the last step was the hard part, but when done right, really 'sells' this kind of effect...
posted by sexyrobot at 9:27 AM on October 5, 2012 [5 favorites]

Also, they probably spun (span?) around and around for a while, so they would have multiple takes to choose from...whichever looked closest...
posted by sexyrobot at 9:30 AM on October 5, 2012

Best answer: You shoot the scene twice (using a computer controlled camera, as has been mentioned), and then you cobble it together "in post", i.e. when the editors cut together the finished film/episode/whatever.

CGI might be involved, as well, depending on what the actual scene is (for example say that, after that pan, you come out to reveal a post-apocalyptic wasteland or Mars or something).

Continuity is extremely important in all this -- each time you shoot it, everyone has to be standing the exact same way, holding the mug in their left hand, letting their ponytail hang over their right shoulder, same expression on their face, etc. Usually you have to do this a lot of times to get it just right, though on Modern Family it might be easier since it's a TV show that has been on for several seasons. Presumably the cast and crew know each other well and are a well-oiled machine at this point.
posted by Sara C. at 9:49 AM on October 5, 2012

You can also have video playback of the actors in Makeup #1, and overlay it on the set with the image you're getting of the actors in Makeup #2, to make sure the shots line up. Then there will be minimal repair to do in post.
posted by musofire at 10:41 AM on October 5, 2012

There is far more CGI than you would think in TV. This video is pretty remarkable in the way that it reveals how often totally prosaic things are manufactured in post-production. The one that surprised me the most was Ugly Betty walking into a bus shelter.
posted by chazlarson at 10:49 AM on October 5, 2012 [7 favorites]

"motion control camera"

Often something in the fore-ground swooshes past and there is a cut in there. Like in Hugo with that annoying long shot was a composite of a lot of little shots. It's basically a old-school director stroke fest.
posted by Napierzaza at 11:01 AM on October 5, 2012

There is far more CGI than you would think in TV.

Yeah. I thinks this only counts as cleanup, not CGI, but a simple instance I liked was the latest Rian Johnson-directed episode of Breaking Bad, where the camera is directed straight at Walt and Walter Jr.'s extremely shiny new cars. Apparently the camera rig and the whole crew was visibly reflected in the cars, and they just painted over it in post. I had wondered how the managed to shoot it without seeing the camera, and that didn't even occur to me.
posted by Beardman at 11:34 AM on October 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Seconding the direct splice. I had a character once hold up a dress, I dollied in to a closeup as she spun and when I pulled back she was wearing it. It was just a simple splice in edit. Did a couple takes, used the one that matched best.

With all the motion, etc the cut is invisible.
posted by IzzeYum at 6:19 PM on October 6, 2012

And, if I recall correctly, at the point where the 'splice' happens, only Jay and Gloria's backs are in frame, making it easier to line up the break. It's a simple trick, and probably didn't require any CGI at all.

I think it would still use a bit of computer magic to line things up exactly. In the pre-CGI days, they would do this kind of cut during a pan over a solid background, or just do the jump cut directly. Neither one is really acceptable today.
posted by smackfu at 9:24 AM on October 9, 2012

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