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Cotopaxi

Think that ship is big? Think again.

An intentional exploitation of the camera's 2-D vision. Place an object closer to the camera, and so long as it's in focus, it looks bigger. Or, place something in the distance, and it looks smaller. This is one of the oldest Camera Tricks, and dates back to early still photography.

In the pre-CGI days, this was one of the most commonly-used techniques to make sets appear larger than they actually were. This can be augmented by placing children or "little people" into the miniature background so that they look like they're full-size adults, although this only works if they are seen from a distance.

Compare Depth Deception (when this happens in-story for comedic effect), Perspective Magic, Vertigo Effect.

Examples of Forced Perspective include:


Films -- Live-Action

  • There are no special effects in the above shot from Close Encounters of the Third Kind. It's simply a forced-perspective trick achieved by placing a model ship next to the camera.
  • Star Wars
    • The famous opening scene from A New Hope uses this. The Rebel Blockade Runner model is bigger than the Star Destroyer. Though it's not quite the same thing -- the models were filmed separately and composited using Blue Screen.
    • In Episode III Lucas used Forced Perspective to make Darth Vader seem much taller than Palpatine.
  • Referenced in Galaxy Quest. When "Captain Taggart" tries to explain that they're actors, he holds his fingers about two inches apart and says, "The ship is that big."
  • The Lord of the Rings
    • Used to great effect in the movies to help the average-height actors playing hobbits and dwarves seem to-scale with their man and elf co-stars -- as noted in entry #6 of this Cracked article.
    • Also used in reverse in one shot from The Fellowship of the Ring: While climbing Carhadras, Frodo falls and drops the Ring. There is a shot of the Ring lying in the snow in the foreground--the filmmakers used a much larger model of the Ring in this shot to make it seem closer, while still in-focus.
    • The Rings movies also pioneered moving forced perspective. Normally, FP only works if the camera doesn't move. By having parts of the set and either the "big" or "small" actors on tracks, moving in synch with the camera, the creators were able to eliminate this limitation.
    • The filmmakers also lucked out by casting the quite tall John Rhys-Davies as Gimli, as his height compared to the Hobbit actors was the same as what the difference between dwarves and hobbits should be, so that they could be filmed together and require fewer composite shots.
  • Used to terrible effect in the B-Movie Future War. By holding dinosaur puppets right next to the camera, it looks just the like the protagonists are fighting giant dinosaur puppets.
  • Back to The Future
    • In Part II, the scenes set at the 1955 construction site of Lyon Estates were filmed on a soundstage with the background scenery laid out in forced perspective. The filmmakers did not want to return to the remote location they had used in the first film.
    • In the same film, the tunnel is much shorter than it appears to be. The filmmakers made it look longer by placing the lights further from the camera closer together.
  • Darby O'Gill and the Little People
  • Used on the Harry Potter movies for Hagrid.
  • For the airport scenes in Casablanca, scaled down airplanes and midget extras were used to make the airport set look larger than it was.
  • Something similar to the Casablanca example occurs in Twenty Million Miles to Earth, which had effects by Ray Harryhausen. To set up a confrontation between the alien Ymir and an elephant Harryhausen needed establishing shots of a real elephant with a zookeeper. A small actor in a zookeepers' uniform was used to make the live-action elephant look bigger than it really was, so that it matched the scale of the animated elephant used in the fight scene.
  • Star Trek movies:
    • For the Engineering set first used in Star Trek the Motion Picture, the giant coil thing was built in forced perspective. In one shot, you can see a man standing at the end of the coil - it's actually a child.
    • Almost exactly the same trick was used in a deleted scene set inside a Klingon prison from the 2009 Star Trek movie. A hallway was made to look bigger by (you guessed it) casting children as the guards. Also, Kirk was played by a child on a scaled-down set in the shot where he runs into the ice cave on Delta Vega.
    • The turbolift shaft from Star Trek V the Final Frontier is done with forced perspective. Unfortunately, the illusion is destroyed if you do what they did in this movie: they took the camera straight towards and very close to the background so that the difference in angles was noticeable.
  • An unusual use of Forced Perspective happens in the 1987 film The Gate, where a zombie menacing the kid leads falls to the floor and breaks up into little demons. The demons are full-sized humans in suits, filmed in forced perspective bunched up in a roughly humanoid shape (animation is used to transition between the fall and the breakup). You can see the scene at 1:15 in the trailer.
  • The Terminator used forced perspective a lot. The scene where an automated hunter-killer is rolling over human skulls, the skulls are actually about the size of golf balls and the HK is merely a model. The ship that flies overhead is actually built from several model planes sold in hobby stores.
  • The famous Space Jockey-set from the first Alien movie was too much smaller than it appears, with the Jockey actually the size of a normal human. The gigantism was achieved through clever use of perspectives and child actors.
  • In Spellbound the climax is a POV shot of the villain aiming a gun at Dr. Peterson then shooting himself after she convinces him that he can't get away with it. Because the optics of the day couldn't allow both the gun and Dr. Peterson to be in focus, the gun was a large prop attached to the camera, making it a sort of inversion of the usual forced perspective shot.
    • Hitchcock also did this in The Lady Vanishes, making a pair of poisoned drinks look more threatening by using enlarged prop glasses in the foreground.
  • Lampshaded in Monty Python and The Holy Grail when King Arthur and his men made it to Camelot.

 "Camelot!"

"Camelot!"

"It's only a model..."

"Shh!"


Live-Action TV

  • Mystery Science Theater 3000 Used this a few times.
    • In the episode where they watch the aforementioned Future War, Mike is inspired by the film to run to the back of the theater and start "threatening" the bots with forced-perspective shadow puppets.
    • The end of the Screaming Skull episode sees Observer shrink Bobo--this is achieved by having Bobo stand at the back of the room, while Observer sticks his hand in front, pretending to hold Bobo. The makers of the show were well aware of the hypocrisy of using this "special" effect after having made fun of it so many times.
  • Beakman's World used the perspective to good effect in one of its segments on Optical Illusions. The trick is, of course, to fool a viewer into thinking the assistant is in the rat's hand.
  • A minor example in Supernatural usually used to make Dean, played by the relatively short Jensen Ackles seem taller compared to his brother.
  • Done regularly on Power Rangers. In order to convey the monsters as giants the actor in costume would menacingly stomp his foot down close the camera (which is set close to the ground) while the rangers are farther away.


Theme Parks

  • Disney Theme Parks use this trick liberally. The castle and the buildings in Main Street are shorter than they appear because each subsequent storey is actually shorter than the one below it.


Video Games

  • Donkey Kong Country 2 shows what appears to be Donkey Kong Island from the first game way in the background of K. Rool Keep. However, it turns out to be Klubba's Kiosk, which you can easily access right there.
  • The paintings for Tiny-Huge Island in Super Mario 64 also make use of this. The one in front is of normal size, but the other two on the side appear to be, too... until you approach them.
  • Star Wars: Rogue Leader plays this when inside the Death Star's reactor. The entire room is rigged to look far, far larger than it actually is through use of high-res textures, forced perspective, and slowing you down considerably. It looks amazing at first, but if you fly down toward the floor the whole illusion falls through and you can see clearly that you're just moving slowly through an average-sized area.


Web Animation

  • Used frequently in Red vs. Blue for the character Junior, a baby alien. Since the game engine does not allow the player to resize their characters, the makers used a regular sized Elite, but just stood him in the background.


Western Animation

  • Referenced on Adventure Time when Finn and Jake are making a movie. Finn equips a frog with a miniature chariot and instructs Princess Bubblegum to stand back so that she appears to be riding the chariot.


Real Life

  • Researchers have observed male bower birds seemingly using forced perspective to make themselves look larger to potential mates.
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