Zooming on dolly – Boosting truck-ins and truck-outs

Whereas truck-ins and truck outs bring dynamism to a shot, zoom-ins and zoom-outs certainly look flatter, but have the ability to scale the image up or down in a much wider range. So why not combine those moves and get the best of both worlds?


Boosting truck-ins

The dynamic feeling of a truck-in can be boosted by adding some amount of zoom-in to it. This will scale the subject up much faster than a dolly move alone. In Goodfellas (M. Scorsese, 1990), the camera trucks in on Jimmy (for awareness) as he responds to Henry’s call, but a fair amount of zoom-in is incorporated to accelerate the move, providing the shot with an extra dose of emergency. Besides, zooming in allows the camera to stop trucking in on a subject before it becomes too distorted by the lens — especially in the case of a wide angle lens — as in Enemy at the Gates (J.-J. Annaud, 2001), when the camera rushes towards König as he realizes — too late — that his reckless move forwards has put himself in Vassili’s line of sight. Not only does zooming in tremendously increase the effect of the truck-in, but it extends the length of the lens (i.e. like a telephoto), preventing the character’s face from being too much distorted in the final ‘Choker’ Close Shot.


Boosting truck-outs

Unsurprisingly, zoom-outs are often used in conjunction with truck-outs to increase the speed and range of motion. In both excerpts from TV series episodes The Wild Wild West: The Night of the Pelican (A. Nicol, 1969) and The Wild Wild West: The Night of the Kraken (M. Caffey, 1968), the shot starts with a tight framing of a symbolic detail of the set or action, then trucks out to reveal the environment. Zooming out dramatically speeds up the move, making for an energetic introduction of the context and characters. Moreover, with so many characters and props standing in the way, resorting to a zoom lens is a cheap and effective way to address the limitations of camera moves and get that opening Close Shot.


Zooming for tuning

Regardless of speed, zoom lenses are very often used to compensate for the limitations of dollies (e.g. when a part of the set prevents from getting close enough to a subject). In The Exorcist (W. Friedkin, 1973), the camera zooms out on Chris on the phone and smoothly trucks out all the way down to Regan secretly listening from her bedroom the other side of the corridor. Because the handrail of the staircase is in the way, the camera is prevented from coming close enough to Chris to frame her in Medium Full Shot, so a zoom lens is used to compensate for that limitation of movement in the first part of the shot.

In fact, using a zoom lens makes it easier to fine tune the framing of a dolly shot dynamically. For example, it might be hard to spot but there is a small amount of zoom-out in this excerpt from E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (S. Spielberg, 1982), as the camera trucks out of the mirror triptych to frame both children and their reflections in the wall mirror. Slightly zooming out when trucking out is an efficient way to tweak the framing of the shot. Besides, zooming out puts Gertie at the center of the screen faster than just trucking out. Dolly shots need TLC in order to convey the right feeling.


What’s up?

Zoom lenses effectively overcome the limitations of speed and movement of dollies — either conspicuously or transparently — while keeping the feeling of movement that truck-ins/outs provide.

This is all fine and dandy, but how about zooming in while trucking out, or zooming out while trucking in? Let’s drill down through this in next article.


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