Scaling down – Truck out (Part 2)
And now for the emotional and design effects of truck-outs. In part 2, we will see how scaling characters down by trucking out can tell us about their minds and feelings, as well as disconnect them from the audience for effective closing shots, and how all those effects can be pushed to their limits.
Making characters recede in the frame — thus creating space around them — increases the impact of the environment on their minds. They suddenly look more aware of the context. In The Fearless Vampire Killers (R. Polanski, 1967), the camera trucks out on Sarah in her bath staring in disbelief at snowflakes falling down before her eyes, until she decides to look upwards at the ceiling and figure out what causes this. In TV series episode Sherlock: The Hounds of Baskerville (J. Lovering, 2012), the camera trucks out on Sherlock investigating a hollow as he suddenly realizes that a ‘hound’ is facing him from the top of a cliff.
Isolating a subject
By trucking out on characters, we scale them down, which makes them look less important, less ‘in charge’. But we also physically move away from them, which isolates them from our POV. In Thelma & Louise (R. Scott, 1991), a truck-out on Louise isolates the character as she feels unable to explain her dramatic situation to her husband over the phone. In The Lord of the Rings – The Fellowship of the Ring (P. Jackson, 2001), the camera trucks out on Gandalf to bring out that the character won’t manage to hoist himself onto the bridge. We literally abandon the character to his fate.
Recoiling from a subject is an extreme case of isolation. Hence, truck-out are typically used to suggest fate, especially when the action is too horrific to be displayed on screen. In The Usual Suspects (B. Singer, 1995), the camera trucks out from a window of the cabin where a man is being murdered. This lets us put some distance with the action, changing our perspective on the story by suggesting that a ‘milestone’ has been reached. In Underworld (L. Wiseman, 2003), the camera moves backwards as two Lycans posing as cops try to administer Michael an injection in a patrol car. An overwhelming cloud of fog ensures that we completely lose touch with the action, leaving no choice but to cut to another scene (read more in Dynamic occlusion – Closing shots).
In fact, trucking out is a very common way to close a scene — even a movie — by breaking the link between the characters and the audience (for the same reasons as zoom-outs). In Pirates of the Caribbean – The Curse of the Black Pearl (G. Verbinski, 2003), the last scene featuring Will and Elizabeth ends with a truck-out shot disconnecting the audience from the characters. In Poltergeist (T. Hooper & S. Spielberg, 1982), the film ends with a long truck-out shot starting on the balcony of the hotel where the characters have taken refuge — kind of “let us leave them alone”.
Pulling back the camera lends itself very well to extreme shot design. In Contact (R. Zemeckis, 1997), the 3-minute opening shot of the film is entirely made of a long truck-out through space, starting with the earth and ending through the eye of Ellie as a child, who is fathoming the mysteries of space with a HAM radio in her bedroom (only the last part of the shot is shown here). In The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (T. Gilliam, 1988), the Baron is about to be executed by the Grand Turk when the camera pulls back at full speed, revealing a staggering number of Turkish soldiers attending the execution (read more in Dynamic occlusion – Intruders).
All in all, extreme shot design only adds a stylish appearance to otherwise classic treatment. In Trainspotting (D. Boyle, 1996), the camera slowly trucks out in a fast motion shot of Mark Renton in a pub, commenting on his feelings in voice over. All the hustle and bustle around the character supports the feeling of isolation conveyed by the truck-out. In Evil Dead II (S. Raimi, 1987), the camera trucks out vertically (a.k.a cranes up) at high speed when he wakes up in the woods, as though we were utterly scared of him. Despite its cartoonish style, this move is but an enhanced truck-out for recoiling.
Trucking out contextualizes the characters by adding space around them. They suddenly look more aware of their environment. By pulling back the camera, we feel as though we were moving away (even recoil) from the characters, which contributes to isolate them. This disconnection from the characters makes for effective closing shots. Trucking out is the foundation for numerous shot designs, which only emphasize the natural effects of the truck-outs they are based on.
Although it may seem contradictory, truck-ins and truck-outs can both be used in the same shots, or make up entire scenes, as we will see in next article.
- Scaling down – Truck out (Part 1)
- Scaling down – Have subjects move to the background
- Scaling down – Zoom out
- Scaling down – Cut out
- Scaling up – Truck in
- Alternating truck-ins and truck-outs
- Zooming on dolly – Boosting truck-ins and truck-outs
- Dynamic occlusion – Closing shots