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The Dolly Zoom: Film History and Video Tutorial

Caleb Ward
By Caleb Ward
By Caleb Ward

Give your shots some depth with a dolly zoom. Check out the history of this popular film shot, as well as a few tips to nail it on-set.

What is a Dolly Zoom?

The dolly zoom is an easy film shooting technique in theory but not as easy in practice. It’s accomplished by zooming in while the camera dollies back, or vise-versa.

The technique, when performed correctly changes the field of view for the background but not the main subject. So, the background will compress behind your subject making the frame feel compact (or if done the opposite way a dolly zoom will make the scene grow to feel spacious and open).

Dolly zooms go by a lot of different names including:

Vertigo Zoom Smash Zoom Retrograde Zoom
Hitchcock Zoom Stretch Shot Zido
Push Pull Jaws Shot Contra-Zoom
Zolly Smash Shot Triple Reverse Zoom
Trans-Trav Trombone Shot Reverse

If you want to be a successful filmmaker you need to know every single term. Just kidding...most people just refer to it as a dolly zoom.

History of the Dolly Zoom

The dolly zoom was ‘invented’ by a second-unit cameraman, Irmin Roberts on the set of Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo. Roberts made history with his new cinematic technique but was uncredited in the film.

The technique was later popularized and widely used in many classic films including Jaws and E.T. Today dolly zooms can be seen in tons of major motion pictures, causing some to say they are overused. The following video by Vashi Nedomansky shows the progression of dolly zooms over the years.

When Should I Use the Dolly Zoom?

A dolly zoom is often used when trying to simulate dizziness or internal conflict. Simply put, a dolly zoom will make your subject appear crowded when you zoom in or isolated when you zoom out.

For Hitchcock the technique was used to extend depth and a feeling of dizziness but for Spielberg the technique is usually used to convey discomfort. Obviously there is no set in stone rule for when you can and can not use a dolly zoom but like any other film technique, motivation is the key to determining whether or not it is appropriate for the your scene.

Dolly Zoom Tutorial

The following video by FilmmakerIQ demonstrates how to create a dolly shot. With some practice and a steady hand you can be a dolly zoom master.

The always entertaining Ryan Connolly from FilmRiot demonstrates the technique in this episode of Film Riot (jump to 7:20 for the Dolly Zoom coverage):

Want to try it in post? This tutorial by Novalapse shows the “Vertigo Effect” applied to a timelapse shot in After Effects:

Do you have a secret to making your dolly zooms smooth? Share your thoughts and on-set experiences in the comments below.