Alfred Hitchcock’s 1958 psychological thriller Vertigo first introduced the dolly zoom to the film industry. The camera and the dolly transform the audience’s viewing experience. One of the duo’s most substantial contributions is the dynamic dolly zoom. The dolly zoom significantly enhances the viewing experience by disorienting the perspective, and it’s an easy effect to accomplish.
The dolly zoom’s best feature is its simplicity—all it takes is a normal zoom-lens camera. The dolly zoom tricks the brain into thinking objects in the foreground remain the same size while objects in the background seemingly shrink.
After Hitchcock’s film brought the method to light, other filmmakers used it in pictures like E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Goodfellas, and Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” music video.
In Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, the dolly zoom intensifies the scene and the character’s emotion. The camera focuses on Martin Brody’s reaction to seeing the shark attack for the first time and the audience is able to truly understand the gravity of the situation.
While the dolly zoom increases stress and fear in thrillers and horror films, it can effectively magnify a scene in any genre. Comedy films use it to increase the humor in a scene, like when the main characters in Neighbors 2 find themselves in a predicament after discovering they’re living next to a sorority house.
The dolly zoom works wonders. It’s disorienting and gives the audience a glimpse inside the character’s mind and allows them to feel the psychological impact of their dilemma.
For a full range of dolly offerings for the film industry, and other offerings from Matthews Studio Equipment (MSE), The Light Source, Lex Products, Peerless and Gerriets, visit the MTN Shop's Film Industry Section.