Scaling up – Truck in (Part 2)

In this page, we will see how truck-ins can be used to depict characters’ emotions and mental activity. As before, in order to let you compare the differences between truck-ins and zoom-ins, both articles share the same structure.


Entering a character’s mind

Trucking in on characters changes their scale on screen. Transitioning from physical to mental shot scale puts them in a better position to share their inner thoughts and feelings with the audience. In Twilight Zone: The Movie (J. Landis & S. Spielberg & J. Dante & G. Miller, 1983), the camera slowly trucks in on Valentine — a stressed-out airline passenger who is convinced that a hideous creature is tearing apart a wing of the plane. By coming very close to the character’s face, we can feel his desperate struggle to cool down (read more in Introduction to editing – Interrupting a shot). Similarly, in Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence (N. Oshima, 1983), by coming very close to Major Jack Celliers’s face, we better feel his painful reminiscing about his past. In both cases, trucking in (as opposed to zooming in) makes us feel closer to the characters as we actually move towards them.

Trucking in on characters’ faces makes us feel ‘in synch’ with their emotions and thoughts even when their eyes are closed or hidden. In fact, unable to maintain eye contact with the characters, we become more receptive to scale and sound. In Highlander (R. Mulcahy, 1986), trucking in on MacLeod — who is learning how to feel his environment — makes him share his feelings with the audience even though we can’t see his eyes, thanks to the shift in scale of his figure. Similarly, we can feel Rachel’s fear as she sings to cover the sounds of the deadly fight between her father and Olgilvy in the next room in The War of the Worlds (S. Spielberg, 2005), through a subtle track-in on the blindfold covering her eyes. Note how the foreground character grows bigger and faster on screen than the background character in the first example, due to the camera actually moving towards them (as opposed to zooming in).


Sudden awareness

Trucking in on character’s faces is a common and efficient way to convey their sudden awareness. In E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (S. Spielberg, 1982), Elliott watches E.T. assembling balls of play dough to describe the solar system he comes from. By quickly trucking in on the boy, his face emotionally ‘hits us in the face’ the same way E.T.’s experiment strikes him, which makes us to share his astonishment. For the same reason, a quick truck-in on Marnie’s face conveys her sudden fit of panic as she gets emotionally struck by a red stain on her sleeve in Marnie (A. Hitchcock, 1964).

A sidenote: One interesting fact about truck-ins is that they are commonly part of longer shots — most often occurring at the end. In The Man Who Would Be King (J. Huston, 1975), after a long negotiation (not presented in full here), the camera suddenly trucks in on both characters’ faces as Peachy orders Danny to accept the risky proposal they are submitted. Contrasting with the steadiness of the frame, not only does that move forwards convey Danny’s astonishment, it also makes the audience realize that an important twist in the story is about to happen. Even conflicting moves can take place in the same shot, as in The Lost World – Jurassic Park (S. Spielberg, 1997), when the camera tracks back to let Ludlow enter the frame, then trucks in on his face as he hears baby T-Rex calling out for his mother. The effect works just fine even though the final truck-in is in complete contradiction with the initial camera move. Note: We’ll get into more of this in part 3.


What’s up?

Truck-ins as well as zoom-ins are commonly used to let characters share their inner feelings and thoughts with the audience, owing to an apparent transition from physical to mental shot scale. Often, truck-ins are only parts of longer shots, contrasting with their steadiness or moves, which emphasizes their effect. Much like we did with zoom-ins, we will see how truck-ins can be used to thrill/scare the audience or even design shots in part 3.


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