Zolly

The dolly zoom, or ‘zolly,’ is a technique in which the camera zooms in on the main image or character while the camera is dollied (see ‘Dolly’) away or toward the same subject, so that the focus remains sharp while the background is flattened or sharpened.

The 'Jaws Zoom'

It's typically done with a telephoto lens above 50mm - one which can zoom in or out without losing focus - on a dollied camera, using the zoom to keep the focal point or character the same size while the dolly’s forward or backward motion flattens or stretches the field of view. This gives the appearance of the foreground or background of the image being stretched out or squashed in. This technique can be used to convey a shocking realisation or threat, or to imply a sudden narrative change, as the character's surroundings alter and they are left centred in this changed world.

For the viewer, the visual distortion creates the same sense of defamiliarization as the on-screen character is experiencing. It is a visceral and unsettling effect. It draws the viewers eye to the main character’s features so that we share their feeling of unreality. The relationship between the character and their world has been changed in our perception.

The depth of field shrinks dramatically, closing in character(s) and audience alike, creating a claustrophobic feeling of being restricted and unable to escape. The two methods are to zoom out with the camera while dollying in or zoom in while dollying out.

You’ve probably seen this in Jaws (1975), in which cinematographer Bill Butler used the shot to great effect in the scene showing the second attack by the shark.

As the water boils red, Chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) realises that the shark has struck again.

Vertigo

Created by cinematographer Irmin Roberts for the 1958 film 'Vertig'o, the effect was used to accentuate Scottie Ferguson’s (James Stewart) disorientation and fear when confronted with heights. For this reason, it’s also called the ‘Hitchcock shot’ or ‘Vertigo shot.’ The technique Roberts used was the opposite of the one in Jaws: to zoom in with the lens while dollying out, creating a stark feeling of isolation and powerlessness.
An original poster for Hitchcock's 'Vertigo'

An original poster for Hitchcock's 'Vertigo'

Toying with the depth of field like this, while perhaps overdone in the eyes of some critics, can nonetheless can be an arresting and economical way to make an emotional or psychological point immediately and completely effectively.

Steven Spielberg preparing to film the classic dolly zoom from Jaws (1975)

Spielberg directing Roy Scheider in Jaws (1975)

The full set up for the Jaws Zoom.

Scottie Ferguson’s (James Stewart) fear of heights and increasing estrangement from reality is conveyed to the audience through the use of this technique throughout the film.

Credits

Main Image Roy Scheider in 'Jaws' (1975) © Universal Pictures

Jaws behind the scenes images. Photographs: MPTVA/HA/LFI

'Vertigo' (1958) © Alfred J Hitchcock Productions / Paramount Pictures

If you thought that was good...

There's More!

A is for Alan Smithee

A is for Alan Smithee

A prolific director with a diverse yet staggeringly poor range of credits. It's not all it seems.

Read more
C is for Crossing The Line

C is for Crossing The Line

The ultimate guide to keeping people on the right side of the frame. Or not.

Read more
D for Dolly

D for Dolly

A dolly is a piece of kit for smoothly moving a camera either on rails or wheels.

Read more
E is for Exposure

E is for Exposure

Isn’t exposure that thing that’s offered instead of pay to freelancers?

Read more
F is for Foley

F is for Foley

This is another one of those film techniques that you probably didn’t know had a name.

Read more
I for Inciting Incident

I for Inciting Incident

It may well sound like a euphemism you'd find in a clumsily-worded police report, but the inciting incident is, if not the most important part of a story, certainly one of the crucial ones.

Read more
J is for Jump Cut

J is for Jump Cut

This technique was frowned upon in editing, until Jean-Luc Godard made extensive use of it in his masterpiece 'Breathless' (1960).

Read more
K is for Knock it Down

K is for Knock it Down

Lights! Camera! Hairspray! Action!

Read more
L is for Lunch

L is for Lunch

Life on set can get strange sometimes. Especially when you're having lunch at Midnight. We explain everything.

Read more
N is for Noddies

N is for Noddies

The devious art of filming a two-person interview with just one camera. Yes, yes, that's really interesting.

Read more
O is for The Oscars

O is for The Oscars

I'd like to thank my agent, my drug dealer and my plastic surgeon.

Read more
Q is for Quota Quickies

Q is for Quota Quickies

In 1927, British filmmaking was still centred around smaller studios working with contracted technicians and in competition with the more dominant theatre world.

Read more
R for Rear Projection

R for Rear Projection

Mastering this quite simple technique allowed cinematographers to put their stars in previously unimaginable situations.

Read more
T for Glorious Technicolor!

T for Glorious Technicolor!

In the Wizard of Oz (1939) Dorothy left the monochrome behind and stepped out into a brave new world of colour cinema.

Read more
U for Undercranking

U for Undercranking

Undercranking refers to the effect the mechanical operation of the camera has on the speed of a film.

Read more
W is for Wilhelm Scream

W is for Wilhelm Scream

If you don’t recognise this phrase, you’ve almost certainly heard the scream it describes.

Read more
X is for X Rated

X is for X Rated

The history of cinema classification is long and complicated. But you need to know your R from your X.

Read more
Hey! Let's do Lunch

Contact Us

Did you like it? Did you not like it? Did we get something wrong? Or is there something you think it's worth including on the A to Z? Whatever the reason, we're always delighted to hear from you.

Our Address

Studio 9,
44 St. Paul's Crescent,
London NW1 9TN

Get Directions
Our Phone

Tel. : +44 (0) 20 3876 0759

Call Us
Our Email

Main Email : atoz@nextshoot.com

Send a Message