Eyeball special effect
October 21, 2007 1:23 AM   Subscribe

In medical shows like House or E.R., the doctor will often shine a flashlight in to the eye of a comatose patient, but the pupil doesn't constrict. How do they do this special effect?

It usually looks very realistic, so I'm assuming it's not CG or a fake face. Can you just give drugs to the actor to prevent the pupillary reflex? Have a blind guy stand in for the eye in question?
posted by 0xFCAF to Media & Arts (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Scleral Contact Lenses.
posted by melorama at 1:27 AM on October 21, 2007

ask peggy archer.
I bet she knows.
posted by krautland at 3:42 AM on October 21, 2007

Drops of belladonna in the eyes, apparently, is the old school way to do it. Here's a note about it from the IMDB trivia page for Psycho:

Alfred Hitchcock received several letters from ophthalmologists who noted that Janet Leigh's eyes were still contracted during the extreme closeups after her character's death. The pupils of a true corpse dilate after death. They told Hitchcock he could achieve a proper dead-eye effect by using belladonna drops. Hitchcock did so in all his later films.
posted by Karlos the Jackal at 3:42 AM on October 21, 2007

These days I bet that a lot of the time they do it in post-production with a computer. Cheaper, easier, faster, safer.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 4:22 AM on October 21, 2007

Steven C. Den Beste: "These days I bet that a lot of the time they do it in post-production with a computer. Cheaper, easier, faster, safer."

Yes and No.

It all depends on the nature of the shot. The cardinal rule of VFX work is that if you can do an effect as a "practical", then do it as a practical, because it will almost always be cheaper, look better and take less time than doing it in post as a CGI effect.

This would be a relatively easy effect to do in post, but you wouldn't have to, because it's so much easier just to stick a scleral prosthesis into a stuntperson's eyes, shoot the shot, then be done with it.
posted by melorama at 5:17 AM on October 21, 2007

Belladonna is named for the "beautiful women" who used to use it for this purpose; those beautiful Italian ladies knew that dilated pupils were a sign of sexual interest and they dripped it into their eyes to enhance their allure.

I had a friend in med school - he became a wonderful pediatrician - who ordered some belladonna seeds or plants or something, grew them up next to the driveway of his apartment, and made an extraction which he dripped into his left eye. He showed me the results ruefully the day of the Step 1 board exam: his eye had been dilated for a week. He hadn't bothered to check the half-life of atropine in the body, which is quite long.

Nowadays there are drops like Mydriacil™ which only last a few hours and are mostly safe (for people who don't have glaucoma). I don't know if these drops are used in TV shows but they could be.
posted by ikkyu2 at 8:15 AM on October 21, 2007

And, often times, the shot of the doctor/investigator shining a light in the eye of the corpse isn't a closeup and you can't see whether or not the eye dilated. You can see what the doc or cop is doing and the result is implied, which is all that's necessary these days since audiences are so familiar with this storyline gimmick.

That's a standard film/TV technique -- just imply something offscreen (like the sound of a gunshot but no image of victim being perforated by the bullet) and let the audience's imagination fill in the rest. When you ask them to describe the scene later, they will remember it as actually happening onscreen.
posted by randomstriker at 12:05 PM on October 21, 2007

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