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In the movie Game Night they had several transitionary shots of the town the movie was set in that seemed to be an explicit made to make the town look like a detailed model toy set. This goes with the 'game' theme of the movie (and is confirmed by an after credits scene).

How do did they actually make these shots give the illusion of a model toy set? I noticed they played with the focus that appeared to make some items stand out more, but I don't understand it fully. Was it some CGI or was it fully camera magic?

Since this is a new movie still in theaters I unfortunately can't find any video examples of this

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This is a technique called Tilt Shift Photography. It can be performed entirely using optical techniques or using software to post process an image.

A lens with tilt and shift capabilities allows you to more selectively control which parts of the image are in focus, and the plane of focus.

It can be used to make more of the image than normal be in focus, or it can be used to very selectively focus only part of an image. When used to create a shallow depth of field it tends to give an impression of the image being of a miniature model - so called miniature faking or diorama effect.

As @barbeque stated in a comment, the theory for why the brain interprets these as miniatures is that the depth of field resembles what the eye sees when focusing on a very close object. When we focus at a distance, the depth of field we see is very much larger, so we don't see the kind of blurring that we see in these tilt-shift images.

The following is a still picture example of the technique.

Miniature.jpg
By Phpcitizen - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

I couldn't find a reference to precisely how they did this in Game Night, whether this was entirely camera-work or post-processed images. Now that you know the name of the technique, you can see this mentioned in lots of reviews of the movie.

  • Thats super interesting. Can you add any commentary on why this selective focus makes things look miniaturized? – David Grinberg Mar 3 '18 at 15:36
  • @DavidGrinberg One theory is that our vision interprets the image blurring as corresponding to the retinal blurring that occurs when viewing close objects. jov.arvojournals.org/article.aspx?articleid=2121298 – barbecue Mar 3 '18 at 16:43

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