Most of the time when you see a computer screen in a film the cursor always moves in a perfectly straight line.

Sometimes you can even see actors moving the mouse, but it would in no way align with what's happening on the screen, a cursor moving straight from point A to B.

It is quite obvious that the actors movement and cursor movement aren't the same. Natural mouse movements just aren't that straight. So, why do they do that?

Is it an editing thing, where they will just edit the scene (emphasis with what would be on the computer's screen) later and have the actor make general mouse movements upfront? As to save time perhaps?

Most of the time the goal of a movie is to draw you in to its story. But for me every time I see a cursor go perfectly straight I can't help but think "oh heh, there's that typical unnatural cursor again". That can't be a desired effect, and must've been thought about during production, right? So is this just being overlooked for the sake of simplicity and / or money?

For some weird reason I'd really like an answer to this minute problem.

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    It could be worse... Commented Dec 8, 2016 at 22:14
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    A good actor is "someone who can deliver a line without bumping into the furniture" (I forget who coined that phrase), getting them to click an icon while doing all these other things may be asking too much :)
    – Wossname
    Commented Dec 9, 2016 at 10:40
  • @Wayne Werner: there are musicians pretending to play keyboard on the stage the same way. Maybe it would be fun to assign a note to each key and listen to what they are playing there.
    – Holger
    Commented Dec 9, 2016 at 11:07
  • @Holger that would be awesome. As a musician myself it irks me when either they hide the hands when they're "playing" music, or just hork up the "playing" entirely. (Seriously? How hard is it to just teach them 3-4 power chords? Then they're at least playing something). Commented Dec 9, 2016 at 15:21
  • I use a Kensington trackball. I have no trouble moving it straight to where it’s needed (on the same monitor anyway).
    – JDługosz
    Commented Dec 11, 2016 at 11:18

5 Answers 5


The reality is that these images are nearly universally added in post production.

Creating a computer environment for a film that the actors can actually interact with is much more time intensive and expensive than just creating an animation of the screen. Even if they did so, it would be time consuming to have to reset the computer screen to clear out whatever the actor did... so it's easier to just do it in post.

Green Screen phone

Another reason, which some of the other answers pointed out is that, particularly with CRT screens, the refresh rate of the screen would often be picked up on camera. This is something I remember a lot from shows in the past. It's less of an issue with modern screens but there can still be some issues. Here's an example of what it looks like, an explanation of why it exists and actually a method for getting rid of it:

The easy way to avoid this is the same method as before, use a green screen. While it's sometimes possible to change the screen refresh rate, it's not always the case and it's not always possible to set it to match your recording media.

Unfortunately, as many computer programmers are aware, in most films and TV shows, it's pretty obvious that the person who's creating the computer environment generally knows very little about computers at all. As such, you end up with unnatural behavior like mouse movement along a straight line, and "programming" environments that look nothing like the reality.

This generally has been getting better in recent times - likely because we're becoming more and more beholden to computers and are more likely to recognize that this is an issue.

All that being said, other than relaxing and not paying attention, there's not much to do about it on your end. Much as the extremely straight flight lines in Indiana Jones annoy me, you have to just ignore them a bit.

Remind yourself that movies aren't reality and that, maybe, in their reality, mouse cursors do move in a straight line.

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    Thanks for the answer. It does indeed seem quite logical now that you've said it to do it like this. I also do like the advice, so I suppose I'll just have to see each film as having it's own reality, where cursors indeed only move straight... ;)
    – user44135
    Commented Dec 8, 2016 at 17:06
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    @BruceWayne That's probably from some stock footage but, yes, it would likely look similar to that. I tried (briefly) to find footage from an actual set but wasn't able. If I find something better, I may change the image.
    – Catija
    Commented Dec 9, 2016 at 0:47
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    There's other technical issues with capturing screens too. For CRTs (thankfuly rare now even in TV land :)), mismatched refresh is ugly, and for most screens, it's hard to maintain proper contrast. Modern screens are mostly backlit, while you get lots of artificial lighting for the scene proper - so either the screen is too bright, or it's way too dark. Fixing this in post-prod is much easier. I've actually worked with a guy who did one such interface for Mission Impossible for real - despite being in a scene that was naturaly lit, post-prod was a must.
    – Luaan
    Commented Dec 9, 2016 at 8:49
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    In the original Jurassic Park, Lex "flying" through the Unix system. Unix is notorious for not having user interfaces. Great answer, thanks.
    – Pete B.
    Commented Dec 9, 2016 at 15:16
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    @PeteB. Funnily enough, it was a real Unix interface, and it was not added in post-production :)
    – Luaan
    Commented Dec 9, 2016 at 20:53

When filming, capturing footage of a computer or tv screen can cause a lot of issues since there could be desyncs between the timing of the camera capturing footage and the refresh rate of the screen. Also, the amount of light coming from a screen can also cause a lot of issues when trying to capture clear video

So, instead of dealing with this difficulty most of the time the imagery of using a computer will be added in digitally. One could argue that whoever made the imagery did a bad job of matching up what the actor did, but they may not have had actual footage when they were instructed on what to create.

So, the real reason is that the actor is not controlling anything besides their own physical movements, they're usually staring at a blank screen or it's covered in a green screen so they can key in what they need later.


In most movies it is animated after the fact. Mr. Robot in particular uses flash animation to generate the text on the screen as the actors press buttons on their keyboards. With the ability to shoot higher frame rates as well as displays that can get up to 240 Hz refresh rates, the sync issue is less of an issue.

All that gets translated into a script and sent to an animator, “who has no idea what any of this stuff looks like or what it’s supposed to do” but has to make it look perfect. The animator builds interactive Flash animations for the actors, which accept any input from the keyboard so that no matter what the characters type everything looks right. Wired


It depends on how picky the director is, but that's usually done because of screen refresh rate. It's very convoluted and has to do with refresh rates, electrical current and film speed, but it almost always causes a "flickering" effect. In order to avoid this, sometimes the monitor image is done via some form of CGI in the post-processing stage.


All of the other answers are correct, but there's one more element that nobody has mentioned. In video editing (or more often, motion graphics) apps, the usual way to move an object between 2 points is by using 2 keyframes. The editor would position the simulated mouse cursor at the start point on the first frame and set a keyframe there, then move the playhead to the end frame, move the simulated mouse cursor to the end point and set a keyframe there. By default this creates a straight line and the simulated cursor will move the same distance on every frame in between the start and end frame.

But that's not what happens when you use a real mouse. First, you're unlikely to actually move in a straight line. You'll often over or undershoot and readjust while moving without even realizing it. The second issue is that your hand accelerates and decelerates over the course of the movement. So you start out slow and get faster until a certain point, then you begin slowing down the closer you get to the final point.

Also, depending on the OS being used, the software may treat movement of the mouse via acceleration rather than velocity. This link sort of explains it.

All of these things are possible to get right in editing, but they require an editor who understands the issues and the time and budget to get them right.

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