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Trying to figure out if this shot (23:50) in 2001: A Space Odyssey is a camera movement or a zoom happening. I'm pretty sure it's a zoom but some confirmation would be helpful. For those that are wondering, I'm making a short video essay on Kubrick's zoom technique, and would love to be able to take an example from 2001.

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  • Recently, Brian Johnson, who worked on the special effects for 2001 had this to say about still shots being zoomed in on, in 2001: "There were a number of high res/fine grain photos stuck on glass with rubber cement. We used Polaroid Land ultra fine grain negative sheets and Ken Bray made the prints. Most wound up on Wally Veevers ‘sausage factory’ rig" The aforementioned rig used a Selsyn motor and was used for many scenes as mentioned in Steve Beggs answer and related comments. Nov 14, 2023 at 11:21
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    @blobbymcblobby - yeah, it kind of ends up that if everything is dead flat on a 'wall', then there's no discernible difference between a zoom & a dolly, as there's never going to be any perspective change ;) My guess turned out to be wrong, but I'd claim grounds of "who'da thunk it."
    – Tetsujin
    Nov 14, 2023 at 11:29

3 Answers 3

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It turns out this was an incorrect interpretation - see other answers below - it was based on a principle of no-parallax [perspective shift], but was actually achieved in another way, which also, incidentally, has no parallax.

As [we are fairly sure] we know, Kubrick used spherical lenses not anamorphics on 2001, we can use a simple perspective test to see if it was a zoom or camera move.

If you move the camera, perspective will change. If you zoom, it will not. [This is physics 101[1].] This is harder to test on anamorphic lenses as they also change image framing as you pull zoom in quite a complex way - so let's be glad we don't have to compensate for that too.

By the simple expedient of taking an early and late frame & re-sizing one to fit over the other, you can tell this is entirely a zoom.

enter image description here

I have intentionally stepped this out by 20px vertically so you can see it. Accurately lined up, there is no discernible perspective change at all & therefore the overlay vanishes entirely.

Because of the difficulty in hand-matching the compositing for the 'windows' you would have to assume this was all done in post; so it was all shot at the widest and zoomed after compositing. Otherwise the compositing would have to be hand-matched for every frame. A nightmare of a task when everything was done by hand.

I can also find no reference to Kubrick using zoom lenses before Barry Lyndon, which would add weight to this argument.

[1] This confuses photographers too, especially when using crop-frame cameras, so I did a beginner's guide on PhotographySE - How does crop factor affect perspective? - if you want to see this in practice.

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    I know my comment will need removing but before it does, Jeez Louise Tetsujin, you are bloody clever and despite this not being my question I thought both it and your answer was excellent. I knew about the use of the round lenses as opposed to anamorphic but this provides practical context for that decision Apr 25, 2022 at 14:25
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    Thanks. I was pretty sure this was a zoom, it was harder to be sure with the background being black. I was actually able to find 2 zooming shots in Lolita, a whole bunch inside the plane in Dr. Strangelove, 2 in 2001, and a whole bunch more in A Clockwork Orange. Still need to go through Barry Lyndon, The Shining, Full Metal Jacket, and Eyes Wide Shut which I know there are a lot of. I'll post the video on here when I'm done. Apr 25, 2022 at 16:48
  • "so it was all shot at the widest and zoomed after compositing." So does that result in a loss of resolution? Apr 25, 2022 at 19:52
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    @Acccumulation - not if the compositing was at its highest resolution as it were. With film its harder to see if that happens, with digital it is very obvious as the resolution is digital (fixed pixels) rather than analogue which has a organic feel in the form of grain, which can be more forgiving. If you see any BTS of vfx for films where they paint mattes you will see that they are extremely large. That removes the problem of 'loss of resolution' as they have such a large format to start with. Apr 25, 2022 at 21:36
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    Roger - it would be interesting to have a look at those earlier examples too. Do you have timestamps for any of them, save me going through entire movies looking for them? Barry Lyndon, of course, is famous for them. Half the film is shot in a kind of tableau, with a pull zoom. Always makes me think of Greenaway. [Of course,. the other thing BL is famed for is that F0.7 lens… which frankly isn't all that convincing. It's way too soft for my liking. Of course you could do it on a T2 these days, with high ISO.
    – Tetsujin
    Apr 28, 2022 at 9:19
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Its not a zoom. Its a motorised (selsyn) track back on a huge 8x4 ft print of a large format probably 5/4 still of the model interior of Space Station 5 stuck on glass and shot pretty much the way matte-paintings were done back then, with the windows and bay entrance cut out, with black velvet beyond. Multiple repeat passes were done to add in all the rear-projection elements of people in the windows. The flares at the beginning come from the lights backlighting the white lit strips around the bay, a happy accident. The approaching Orion and rotating stars are matted in after.. Im afraid I have no hard evidence of the approach I described other than I knew a few people who worked on the FX in 2001. When I started in the business I worked at a place called the Magic Camera company in Shepperton studios which had all of Wally Veevers giant matte glasses and tech gear that was used to move the 65mm FX cameras on that movie. I was fortunate to work alongside a cameraman called John Grant who was one of Wally's assistants and was a fountain of info on their work on 2001. He described in great detail how a lot of the photos of the craft and landscapes were filmed on these big glasses, the biggest being 15ft by 10 and weighed a ton! There was also a massive worm gear which I believed was used to film the slit-scan. Brian Johnson who is still around and a senior fx technician on 2001 and is also a good source for undocumented info on the movie. I edited my original comment as it wont let me add a new one, saying its too long.. Steve

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    Is this just your own opinion about how this scene was shot, or can you offer any evidence to prove these assertions?
    – Valorum
    Oct 21, 2023 at 10:56
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    Good new info to have :) I was unaware they had any kind of repeatable mechanism. My answer above was worked out from first principles, but assuming the would have to make the composite first at a fixed frame, then zoom later on rostrum camera or similar. I was working entirely on the parallax issue in my assumption, too.
    – Tetsujin
    Oct 21, 2023 at 12:07
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    @blobbymcblobby - fascinating. Right up to the mid 80s we were still using magnetic tape for audio mix automation [on one track of the 24]. Even though we had rudimentary Midi, we didn't have computer-based automation until the SSL came along, a little later, around the same time as software sequencers. Even then for 'total recall' all the early SSL did was show you diagrams of the desk setup & you had to manually match up the lines on virtual pots with real pots.
    – Tetsujin
    Oct 21, 2023 at 14:51
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    @blobbymcblobby - I doubt there's been so much change in any single lifetime before. I was pro audio until just a decade ago when I shifted over to film - but in a non-tech capacity. I'm a keen amateur photographer, though, & a general anorak;) so I do grok a fair amount of 'how the pros do it'. I spliced my first edit in about 1980 & though it taught me a lot, didn't miss it one bit once DAWs came along. I worked with the team who brought the first computer-based DAW to market, mid 90s.
    – Tetsujin
    Oct 21, 2023 at 15:20
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    98% of film audience - do not even notice that zoom occurs. 1.9% of film audience - notices that zoom occurs but thinks nothing of it. 0.07% of film audience - wonders how did they ever match this so precisely, was it camera movement or zoom? 0.029% of film audience - realizes that it's not simple camera movement, must be some type of zoom. 0.001% of film audience - knows that it's not zoom but selsyn synchronized motors. I'm happy that I am now part of the 0.001% of moviegoers that are aware of how this great effect was done thanks to everyone's terrific knowledge and research here. Oct 21, 2023 at 15:25
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I'm not submitting this as an answer, just an addition, as I realize a lot of the interesting chat is in comments, that might one day get lost.

This video features interviews and quotes from both Douglas Trumbull and Brian Johnson, both of whom worked on 2001.

(part 3)

Unfortunately, the interview links with the video are now dead.

This should be read along with all of the other answers, including Tetsujins because he notices the lack of perspective shift, and of course Steve Beggs.

And this whole technique of mounting 2-dimentional flat photographs of the models on a giant sheet of glass and then being able to project little movies into the windows. You’ll see a lot of shots in 2001 where there’s really not any perspective shifts going on because it’s a 2-dimensional photograph. And we had to mount it on glass to superimpose one thing against another.”

(part 5)

“So we would go to the storyboards and take the shot that we were doing on any particular day and then I would set it up on the blacked-out sound stage. The electrician would come in and set up the lights [where] Stanley wanted them. Stanley would set the key light were he wanted it, then we would blanket the exposure. We had problems with processing the film because we at times would work with a f/stop of 128 for about 10 minutes -- which was basically an aperture the size of a pinhole -- this was because we had to get a certain depth of field, but also everything had to always be in focus as well.

From there, I had to clean the negatives that Stanley had shot. Then Stanley would go over those to determine which part of the image he wanted to appear on the screen. Once he had decided, he would have someone cut out the model from the composite made from the negative with a surgical scalpel and then that would be placed onto the glass plates.

Once the glass plates were made, they would re-photograph those with a film camera. [The] cameras would track along with the image or move in on it as was necessary. We didn't very often shoot the models with a film camera, but we shot more with a still camera really.

It was animation. It was important to do it this way because then we could then go back and re-re-photograph those with background projections in place.

(Brian Johnson Interview) “I was given the job of getting all of the models ready to do the still photography with Stanley. We had an Electrician, myself and Stanley on a completely blacked-out sound stage.

Stanley would work for hours lighting the models and then he would shoot the 4"x 5" plates, and those plates would then be used to make enlargements for the animation. We used Polaroid Land 300 stock. It was the same stock that spy planes used, and it was very fine grain black and white. It was very high process stock, it was fantastic stuff”

Some of this is from:

The Making of 2001: A Space Odyssey: A Space Odyssey

http://nzpetesmatteshot.blogspot.com/2015/01/kubricks-2001-one-mans-incredible.html

same or similar quotes here:

enter image description here

enter image description here

Just to add:

Brian Johnson (Nov 2023):

"There were a number of high res/fine grain photos stuck on glass with rubber cement. We used Polaroid Land ultra fine grain negative sheets and Ken Bray made the prints. Most wound up on Wally Veevers ‘sausage factory’ rig"

edit: Wow, HAL popped up and asked if i was a bot! :P

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