In Birdman there are some techniques for making it all look like a single shot that I've picked up on which are quite obvious, such as the camera turning upwards towards the sky and then having it turn from night to day in a timelapse, but there are other parts where I can't think of how they got it all in one shot (eg. Riggan running through new york in his underwear).

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    The answer is disappointing, I'm afraid ;-)
    – Tetsujin
    Commented May 17, 2020 at 15:58

1 Answer 1


I know I teased this as a comment, but the answer really is disappointing…

They used CGI to mask the transitions.

After comments
This doesn't mean it wasn't clever or a lot of hard work by some amazing artists, merely that these days we're quite used to half of humanity vanishing, worlds colliding, or a woman pushing a space ship across galaxies.
Mundane does not mean not clever or incredibly detailed.

Back in the old days, they had to come up with a black frame they could use to cut at, or some of the rather clever physical film-masking techniques, as mentioned in How was the wipe transition done historically? but these days, so long as your lighting matches, you can wipe past a door frame as a character walks through - it's just so easy, relatively speaking.
It does, of course, require great attention to detail so shots do just about match before they reach the edit suite, but the compositing is the job of an artist skilled at masking these joins. You will almost never see them, even frame-by-frame, because of the skill and technology used.

Birdman, in particular, used corners and doors to achieve the cuts. CGI is used to mask the transition almost by making a visually accurate animation to cover the joins.

There is some further exposition in this report on the making of, but nothing too specific - VFX Secrets Behind 'Birdman' Finally Revealed but it does mention that not only the wipes, but also individual scenes were actually digitally composited from several takes.

See also:
What is this type of scene transition called?

I often find I'm distracted if I'm watching a movie which has mainly achieved its fame through some kind of technical aspect rather than for its plot and characterisation. I think if you want to watch a movie 'known' for being one continuous shot, then the more recent 1917 is a better bet, from an audience perspective.

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    What's disappointing about someone using the best tool for a job? If a cook uses a Sous-vide machine and spices from all over the world instead of just a fire and salt we wouldn't call that disappointing, why would using the best available solution 'disappointing'? And yes, I get that people think CGI is easy and simple and that it's just a reaction to that believe, but had to call that out none the less. Commented May 18, 2020 at 18:13
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    @DavidMulder - It's 'disappointing' because the answer isn't in itself very exciting. When Superman first flew it was done with a new wire-harness system & blue-screen; when X-Wing fighters attacked the Death Star, someone had invented a new remote camera movement-tracking system; when hordes of trolls attacked in Lord of the Rings, it was because of a new computerised system known as Massive… now it's 'just CGI'.
    – Tetsujin
    Commented May 18, 2020 at 18:21
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    There's a list of one-shot movies on Wikipedia. We don't need to list them all here. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/One-shot_film
    – Tetsujin
    Commented May 18, 2020 at 19:01
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    You probably wouldn't call it "just CGI" if you were the person making it work. Commented May 18, 2020 at 20:47
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    Well, you can say that Superman used disappointing techniques because it was just regular wire harness and blue screen - not using a real flying man. Not caring about the details of a technique always make the technique "disappointing". The broad label "CGI" covers a very wide array of techniques. Most recently CGI was used in the Mandalorian to shoot virtual backgrounds completely in-camera with no green screen and almost no post-production effects
    – slebetman
    Commented May 18, 2020 at 22:38

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