What is… a Dolly Zoom?

A dolly zoom is a camera effect that distorts an audience’s regular sense of visual perception. It is created by zooming in or out whilst the camera physically moves (dollies) in the opposite direction. For example, the camera would zoom in whilst dollying away. This keeps the subject of the frame roughly the same size throughout the effect, whilst the background moves closer or further away, depending on the direction of the zoom/dolly.

The invention of the effect has been credited to Irmin Roberts, a second-unit cameraman at Paramount, and was made famous by Alfred Hitchcock in Vertigo. Most film fans will be aware of the moment in Vertigo in which a dolly zoom is used and the effect it creates…

A dolly zoom creates a feeling of disorientation for the viewer. It is not an effect that the human visual system is used to seeing and can therefore be jarring and unsettling. It might be used to create a sense of height, as in Vertigo, unease, a sense of urgency or danger, or may show a sense of dawning realisation in a character. An example of this is in Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, where Brody realises that they do indeed have a shark munching on swimmers. See below…

Just some of the alternative names for a dolly zoom include:

  • The “Hitchcock zoom” or the “Vertigo effect”
  • “Hitchcock shot” or “Vertigo shot
  • Triple Reverse Zoom
  • Reverse Tracking Shot
  • Back Zoom Travelling
  • Telescoping
  • Trombone shot
  • Stretch shot
  • Reverse Pull
  • Contra-zoom

For more entries in the β€˜What is…?’ series, click here and (hopefully) learn a little bit about deep focus, chiaroscuro, German Expressionism, and more.

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46 thoughts on “What is… a Dolly Zoom?

  1. That’s such an awesome effect! I’m actually considering playing around with it and trying to include it in my film…I have a dolly πŸ˜€
    great post πŸ˜€

  2. Mark Walker says:

    Nice one again, Chris.’i love the effect t that this particular technique creates but I didn’t that it was called that. An education once again, sir!

  3. ckckred says:

    Nice analysis. I love that effect and it works so perfectly in Vertigo.

  4. Great post! That scene from Jaws has been permanently cemented in my memory, because it was the most alarming scene, and the dolly zoom amplified that feeling!

  5. I learned something new today, thanks! I love Vertigo so many memorable shots in that movie.

  6. Garrett says:

    Excellent job, this was all new to me. I remember those moments from Jaws and Vertigo, but had no idea how they were executed. Awesome stuff.

  7. Tyson Carter says:

    Always informative, nicely done buddy πŸ™‚

  8. Paula says:

    Reblogged this on Paula's Cinema Club and commented:
    Terry always provides great info and examples, this time he covers the dolly zoom

  9. Ha! I mentioned the Dolly Zoom in my recent Vertigo vs.The Machinist post. I appreciated the listing of the other films that have it. Forgot all about Jaws. Nice post. πŸ™‚

    • Thanks Cindy. I do vaguely remember reading about that in your post. Perhaps it was the subconscious inspiration for this one! πŸ™‚

      • I doubt it, but you are kind, Chris, to suggest it. I think you went to film school, did you not? Or maybe that’s Vinnieh. I vaguely remember reading a post about a type of cut shot (it was a French film) and thought that was really interesting, that is, to learn about the process of filming. If that’s you, teach me something. I love it. πŸ™‚

      • I didn’t go to film school as such, but I did study film as part of my degree at university (linguistics & film studies). The post you’re thinking of my well by the one I did on jump cuts, which featured the French film A Bout de Souffle. I’ve done a few of these posts now. If you check the link at the bottom of the post or the ‘What is’ header across the top, you can have a read of a few other things πŸ™‚

  10. Nick Powell says:

    This one I knew, but thanks for the lesson. I love the dolly zoom and I think it works wonders in the films you mentioned, especially in Jaws. I think it’s a great technique to use when you have that OH SHIT I JUST REALIZED THAT! kind of moment.

  11. ruth says:

    Hello Chris! Hope you’re well man. Another great post, I definitely remember the Jaws one and from a few others, now I know the name of this technique πŸ˜€

    • Hey Ruth, good to see you back & I hope you’re good! The Jaws example is a great one and probably up there with the Vertigo one to be honest. Always glad to spread a little wisdom, even if most of it does come from a book or the Internet rather than my brain πŸ™‚

  12. Dolly Zoom is one of my favorite exotic dancers.

  13. le0pard13 says:

    Great and informative, Chris! So cool.

  14. theipc says:

    I have ALWAYS wondered what that is called!!! EXCELLENT!!!

  15. Hunter says:

    Nice post! I love this effect, though I could never remember which way it goes: if they zoom in and track out or vice versa but I guess it doesn’t matter?
    Also I think there is one in Goodfellas as well?

    • Thank you! It might well have one in Goodfellas although I can’t remember to be honest. And yeah it doesn’t matter which way it goes, although it does create a slightly different effect, with the background either coming forwards or backwards.

  16. filmhipster says:

    Nice one Chris, didn’t know it was called that. An amazing effect for sure.

  17. jackdeth72 says:

    Hi, Terry:

    Dolly Zooms come in all shapes, sizes and lengths. Yet all deliver emotions. And you’ve selected some of the best!

    I still believe the slow zoom in on Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) as he describes how he plans to take out Sollozzo and McClusky in ‘The Godfather’ rates very high in the patheon.

    Along with the sit down at the diner between De Niro and Ray Liotta with the telephone booth in the background in ‘Goodfellas’ feels eerily a step out of time, but works exceptionally well.

    While the opening, record breaking Tracking Shot, which is an entirely different animal, in ‘Touch of Evil’ still reigns supreme!

    • Hey Jack! Those are some superb examples you’ve given. I did have to double check to remind myself of them though. Goodfellas is choc full of great shots. I love the long take as they enter the restaurant, swooping in and out of the tables and rooms.
      Thanks for commenting!

  18. jackdeth72 says:

    Hi, Terry:

    The restaurant scene with Liotta voice over as he introduces the members of Paulie’s crew is way up there too. A Steadicam was used in it to heighten fluidity. I think it was also used when Liotta was taking his girlfriend (Lorainne Braca) out to the Copacabana and they tracked through its basement and kitchen and arrived at a ringside table to enjoy Henny Youngman.

    Very smooth stuff!

  19. vinnieh says:

    Loved reading this post, so interesting.

  20. Nostra says:

    Love the effect, looks awesome and really attacks your senses.

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