It’s no wonder that Alfred Hitchcock’s psychological thriller Vertigo is considered by many film historians to be among the most influential movies ever made.

Not only was it a masterpiece of storytelling, but its technical innovations — particularly the use of a camera effect that became known as “the Vertigo effect” — have been copied, referenced, and parodied countless times in movies since.

The basic idea behind the Vertigo effect is simple: The camera moves forward or backward from its subject while zooming in or out at the same time.

This creates the illusion that everything around the subject is moving when it’s actually staying still.

What Is the vertigo effect

What Is the vertigo effect in film?

The Vertigo Effect is a term used to describe an optical illusion effect in film. To create the effect, the camera zooms in on a subject while at the same time moving away from him or her.

This creates a disorienting effect and makes the viewer feel like they are losing their balance.

This technique was created by director Alfred Hitchcock in his 1958 film Vertigo.

It was so effective that Hitchcock used it multiple times during the movie, but probably most memorably during a scene in which Kim Novak’s character is running away from Jimmy Stewart in an art museum.

The Vertigo effect makes us feel like we’re running along with her when actually we’re just following her from above.

What really made the Vertigo effect special was the way Hitchcock used it to make us feel uneasy, almost sick to our stomachs.

That’s because of something called “motion parallax,” which is what happens when you move your head while keeping your eyes fixed on an object.


What Is The Vertigo Effect?

The Vertigo effect is also used in horror films such as Halloween and Friday the 13th where the viewer sees everything askew as if they are being hunted down by the killer.

This type of visual serves to build up the suspense because it puts the audience into a vulnerable position, allowing them to feel just how helpless their characters are.

Other times the Vertigo effect is used to show someone losing control of their mind, such as in American Beauty when Lester Burnham begins hallucinating after he starts smoking marijuana.

In many cases, one of the angles is taken from a high angle looking down on the subject (sometimes as high as 45 degrees).

When this angle is alternated with one taken from a low angle looking up at the subject, it gives the viewer the sensation of floating or falling. A common variation on this technique uses two different shots that simulate motion in opposite directions.

For example, if you combine an upward shot with one taken from a downward angle (looking up), the viewer’s eyes will move in opposite directions along their horizontal axis and create a sense of vertigo.

The Vertigo effect is a very important element in filmmaking because it allows viewers to experience situations from a new perspective without having to be there. It shows that filmmakers can manipulate viewers’ emotions just by using camera techniques.

The Hitchcock Zoom Explained

Tricks used to createthe illusion of whirling vertigo include double exposure and various types of camera movement.

A double exposure shot is one in which two separate images are blended into one on the film itself. This can be achieved optically on an editing table, but it can also be done in-camera with a special effect known as traveling matte.

Traveling matte shots can include elements that move within the frame while everything else remains still or vice versa.

In Vertigo, for example, James Stewart is shown from behind walking up a flight of stairs, with everything else in the frame moving horizontally past him. In another shot from the same film, Kim Novak’s face remains perfectly still while her body and surroundings whirl around her.

The importance of zoom can be seen in Alfred Hitchcock’s very first film, The Pleasure Garden (1925). Here, he uses a dissolve to move from one shot to another in which the actors are placed further apart.

This effect is also used in Hitchcock’s The Lodger to convey the sense of unease felt by the female protagonist as she feels that she is being watched. 

In his earlier films, Hitchcock often moved the camera closer to the actors, but by the time of The Lodger this movement had become a more general zooming technique in which an object of increasing interest came into focus and slowly filled the screen.

In 1930 film, Murder! this was taken a stage further, with an extreme zoom that took the object filling the screen then back out of it again (Hitchcock’s cameo appearance in this film also saw him zooming into his head).

This device was used so effectively that it became synonymous with Hitchcock himself. With this device, Hitchcock could create suspense by moving closer to an object or person and then away again, leaving viewers eager for a closer look.

The Origin Of The Vertigo Effect Shot

The origin of the Vertigo effect shot is not entirely clear, but it is a useful and versatile tool that can be used in all kinds of films, documentaries, and reality shows. While it may seem simple, it requires a good deal of staging and precise timing.

Trying this at home

The first step is to make sure you have enough space to move your camera along the track. For a standard dolly shot, you need to know the length of your track, so that you can calculate how far from the subject you will need to stand to give yourself enough room for the camera movement.

You also need to think about what the path of your camera will be. In most cases, you will want your audience to feel as if they are walking toward the subject – so keep that in mind when choosing your direction.

The next stage is to set up your rig – whether you are using a fluid head or a tripod. The rig needs to be attached firmly and level with the ground. 

You should mark out where the wheels are on your track so that you can repeat this process every time you shoot. It is also worth setting up an objec on or near to your track at one end that can help guide you along the track.

How To Do The Vertigo Effect

Here’s how to do the Vertigo Effect.

Create a panorama 

First, you will have to create a panorama of your subject using your wide-angle lens. 

Set up your camera on a tripod and make sure that it is stable; next, frame your shot so that the subject fills about one-third of the frame horizontally, then take a shot.

Take another shot

Take another shot at a higher height, filling about two-thirds of the frame vertically, and then take another one at full height. Take as many shots as you need until you get a complete panorama from horizon to horizon.

Tilt The Camera

After creating the panorama, tilt your camera.

What Is The Vertigo Effect Used For?

The Vertigo effect is used to create a spinning or spinning sensation when a page is viewed on a monitor. This can be used to simulate a spinning camera on a page or it can be used to make the reader feel dizzy and disorientated.

To create this effect follow the instructions below: 

  • Create a document in Photoshop. I have created one with an A4 paper size. The resolution should be 72 pixels/inch and RGB color mode.
  • Add an image to your document and place it in the top left-hand corner and resize it to cover the whole of your document. I have used the image from here.
  • Select the text tool T on your keyboard) and type out some text onto your image, for example: the Vertigo effect (this will be your caption). Choose a strong font e.g. Impact, Arial or Verdana for best results. (You can also use an image for your text, but we will use text for this tutorial.)
  • Place your text into position using the move tool (the arrow) on the toolbar at the top of your screen, then adjust it using the transform tool (the two squares). Your text should look something like mine below
  • Next, we are going to create the effect.

Vertigo Effect Examples In Film

The Vertigo effect can be incorporated into any film, but it is most effective when its use is subtle.

Some films incorporate the Vertigo effect to increase the overall tension, while others use it to evoke a sense of confusion and wonder.

Tension-heightening films that utilize the Vertigo effect include:

  • Vertigo (1958)
  • The Matrix (1999)
  • Fight Club (1999) 

There are two scenes where the Vertigo effect was applied to heighten the tension of the scene. The first scene takes place when Tyler and Jack are sitting in a restaurant discussing Project Mayhem.

The camera slowly pushes in on Jack’s face while he’s talking, which causes Jack’s head to spin around and his nose to wrinkle in confusion. The second scene takes place when Tyler and Jack are in the basement of their apartment building planning their fight club activities.

While Jack is talking, the camera pulls back in a steady motion, creating a sense of disorientation for both viewers and characters as they try and make sense of what they’re doing. This scene works so effectively.