Learn how to recreate the mind-bending shot from Contact with this simple, two-take technique.
Image via Warner Bros.
Of the many practical visual effects you can create with camera movements, passing through inanimate objects is the most visually striking and jarring (in a good way) trick you can pull. Add moving the character with the camera through a mirror or window, and you’ve created something truly special. It’s an excellent way to propel your story and style to new heights.
You’ve most likely seen the famous scene from Contact wherein one of the characters runs toward the camera down a long hallway as the camera tracks backwards. The character then reaches towards a mirrored cabinet, and we learn that we’ve been looking through the mirror the whole time. It’s a stylish way to add excitement, as well as a mind-bending way to play with the audience’s gaze. Luckily, our friends over at Cinecom have created a video tutorial explaining the process step-by-step and detailing what all you need to pull this off.
In this example, Jordy demonstrates the camera trick with a small, hinged cabinet that they have placed against a wall. Don’t worry about finding a cabinet with a mirror because you’ll just need to place a small green screen over the cabinet. For the green screen material, they simply printed out a green piece of paper. Green construction paper would also work just fine in this instance.
To light the “mirror” part of the cabinet, it’s important to light the green section as you would a green screen by minimizing the shadows. A soft, overhead, even light should do the trick. As always, remember to play around with the position so that you don’t end up with the light in your shot.
When it comes to actually shooting the subject and tracking backwards, they recommend allowing a little more headroom than usual because of the space you’ll give yourself. Once the actor approaches the “mirror.” they need to mimic the action of opening a cabinet door. Let them reach out and grab the handle. As they swing the handle back, follow their hand by panning at the same speed as their arm.
For the next shot, start on the green screen. It’s important to fill the screen completely with green. Then back up and reveal the hand opening the cabinet door. Remember to open the cabinet door at the same speed that you opened the invisible cabinet in the previous tracking shot.
Once you’re done shooting, open up the Lumetri panel in Premiere (assuming you’re working with Premiere), and color grade the shot accordingly. Once you’ve brought out the green screen card, key out the Green from Ultra Key tool in the Effects panel.
Then, since the first clip is taking place within the cabinet mirror, apply the Horizontal Flip from the Transform Tool to the first clip. Next, put the second clip on top of the first one, and time the hand movements appropriately. Once the timing matches, re-align and scale the first clip to fit inside the mirror, giving your actor believable reflective dimensions. Finally, don’t forget to grade the mirror shot and apply keyframes to your key as the mirror opens, reflecting light differently as the angle changes.
Do you have a different approach for moving through walls and mirrors? Let us know in the comments.