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Changing the point of focus from one character or object in frame, to another character or object that is closer to or more distant from the camera, typically with little or no movement from the camera itself. Used to subtly direct the viewers' attention to a specific part of the screen.

Alternatively called "Roll Focus" or, in film, "Pull Focus". Requires deft manipulation of the Depth of Field.

In motion picture and film-based television production, this is often done by a separate person (the "focus puller" or "first camera assistant") rather than by the primary camera operator. In video production, the cameras usually aren't large enough for this to be necessary.

Sometimes used in two-dimensional animation, which involves filming the foreground and background separately and then combining them.

In theory Rack Focus should be made redundant in new 3D films because the viewer would be able to change focus at will. Of course because it is a simulation of 3D this isn't quite true and the technique remains. This sometimes causes frustration as the viewer wants to change focus but cannot.

Not to be confused with a camera shot designed to focus on a woman's rack. That's Male Gaze.


Examples:

  • Executed well at the beginning of Avatar when the focus shifts from Jake's face to the floating drops of water(?) to introduce the fact that it's 3D AND RIGHT IN MY BLOODY FACE!!. However the technique can be annoying later on as explained above.
  • A rather famous animated example comes from the opening song of The Lion King, when the focus shifts from a line of leaf-cutter ants on a branch in the foreground to a herd of zebra thundering by below.
  • In the film of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, as Harry walks past a Quidditch store, the view, from inside the store, shifts from his face to a closeup of the Nimbus 2000 lettering on the broom in the window.
  • In an episode of Glee, Santana, placed in the immediate foreground, makes a rude crack about all-boys schools being an endless source of gay jokes; the camera then pulls a dramatic rack focus to the other end of the room to capture Kurt's irritated reaction.
  • In The Master Detective and Rasmus, Kalle and Anders need to catch up with a car, a seemingly insurmountable task according to Anders. In response, Kalle looks into the background of the scene, where a Rack Focus reveals a motorcycle with a passenger's seat.
  • In Up, when Carl Fredricksen looks up to his house where the picture of his wife is hanging.
  • Master and Commander, while the crew is on shore leave in the Galapagos, this is used to transition from Dr. Maturin holding a beetle to the Acheron sailing in the inlet right before his eyes.
  • In El Goonish Shive, this effect is simulated to shift focus between Ellen and Abraham's axe in this strip and the page image.
  • In "Lesson Zero" of My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic, there is a particularly well done instance of this at the end of the episode, where we focus on a worried Spike to Celestia lecturing Twilight in the library after the latter had caused a ruckus just to find a lesson to learn.
    • "Putting Your Hoof Down" has an even better example, switching focus between Fluttershy and a boarded-up door.
  • Used recently in Homestuck, in a single panel, here.
  • Used beautifully in Legend of the Guardians: the Owls of ga Hoole with a flying owl in the background and one of its feathers in the fore, as seen in the trailer.
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