A working knowledge of camera movement, shot size and angle is essential for all skilled matchmove artists. When directors, editors and cameramen refer to particular types of camera shots, it can sound like a foreign language if you’re not familiar with the terminology. Our essential guide to camera movement will help demystify some of the common terminology used in film production.
Core Camera Movement Types
In this article, we will take a look at some of the more common terms we use to describe how a camera moves through a scene.
Camera motion is a fundamental part of how we narrate a story visually and has created some of the defining moments in popular films, such as the contra-zoom in Jaws (1975) or the Steadicam shots in The Shining (1980).
For matchmoving, camera motion is an essential component to help determine the correct scale, position and orientation of the camera within a 3D scene. This article will help you to identify the types of camera motion that make up your own shots. While it is not a complete summary of all camera movement types and terms, it provides the core essentials widely used in every production.
Static / Lock off
The static shot, sometimes referred to as a lock off, has no intentional camera movement at all. While this might seem an easy shot to matchmove as there is no camera movement to match, it can be tricky to match perspective exactly when integrating CGI. However, you can eliminate the guesswork and position a static camera accurately with an application like PFTrack using its unique ability to use multiple cameras to solve a scene, even if a camera isn’t moving.
A panning shot will involve lateral movement of the camera to the right or left of a given starting position. The relative position of objects that are near and far to the optics will be exaggerated depending on the choice of focal lengths. Wide-angle lenses will make distant objects move slowly and seem far away, longer focal lengths will make objects in the distance seem closer and move more quickly. With good Parallax Matchmoving, a panning shot can be relatively easy.
Nodal pans involve the same lateral movement to the left or right as the standard pan. The difference here is that with a nodal pan the camera will pan around the entrance pupil of the optics. The intention of this particular type of camera movement is to eliminate the parallax in the shot.
This type of movement would be useful for stitching plates together for visual effects shots or generating a large digital matte where parallax would be an issue. This move was sometimes used in the past to disguise foreground miniatures in forced perspective shots. These shots can be tricky to generate a virtual camera from as there are little to no clues for the depth of a scene.
A tilt is the vertical movement of the camera up or down, usually from a fixed starting position, while keeping the horizontal axis consistent. Tilts are used often in establishing shots or in a reveal. Depending on the lens used and the position of the camera on the tripod, these shots can be more tricky to matchmove than a pan.
Pan and tilt
This is a combination of both horizontal and vertical motion from a fixed point. An example shot may be following a character as they walk from one end of a room to another, panning and tilting the camera as they go to keep the framing consistent.
Track / dolly
A tracking shot, also known as a dolly shot, is the forward and backwards motion of the camera commonly used to follow a character as they traverse a scene. While these shots can seem quite daunting to matchmove, with suitable masking it can actually be quite easy to find a solution.
Lateral track / crab / truck
Similar to a standard tracking shot, lateral tracking – or crab – is the sideways movement of the camera. Depending on the scene, this type of shot can provide a large amount of parallax, which is useful when calculating depth and solving a camera. Some good examples of lateral tracking shots can be found in the films of Wes Anderson and Steven Spielberg.
Crane / pedestal / jib
This is the vertical raising or lowering of the camera, which will normally remain in relatively the same position while motioning up or down. On some rigs, the camera can be boomed out to make for a more complex motion. These types of shots are quite often used to establish the geography of a scene, starting high and lowering to eye level. Crane shots are sometimes easier than others to establish a good ground plane when matchmoving due to the elevated perspective.
Handheld is as it sounds – the camera operator is hand holding the camera, usually shoulder-mounted or slung underarm. Movement of the camera is completely free due to the fact there are no mechanical axial restrictions. Some good examples of handheld camera work can be found in the films of Paul Greengrass. Motion blur can become a factor when attempting to matchmove handheld shots. The motion can also be hard to predict due to its non-linear nature.
Usually mounted on a Steadicam, gimbal or a combination of the two, a stabilised camera will move through the scene being able to perform many, if not all, of the camera moves as handheld but with the ability to remove the high-frequency movement. Smooth, stable shots with linear motions are generally much easier to matchmove.
Aerial / drone
Aerial shots taken from either a helicopter or drone allow the camera to be at a greater elevation than a crane/jib while being stabilised via a gimbal to remove high-frequency movement. They are usually combined with other camera moves and tracked forwards or backwards through the scene to establish an environment or to follow the action from a greater elevation. Due to the vertical perspective, these types of shots often provide plenty of trackable detail and parallax when matchmoving.
Of course, shots can be a combination of many of the techniques above and there are also many more complex camera movements, but it’s good to be able to identify the basic components that make a shot. In part two, we are going to be taking a look at the common terms used to describe the framing of a scene in both size and angle.