The Elegant Mechanics of the Focus Pull

The Host

How to shift an audience’s attention without changing the shot.

The rack focus, adjusting the camera midshot to change what’s blurry and what’s not, is one of the most psychologically apt of camera techniques. It mimics our physiology almost completely: when we look to the distance, objects in the foreground are fuzzy and on the edges of our attention. If they were to, say, move in a frightening or unexpected manner, instinct would take over and we’d look there. We wouldn’t need to move our heads, so the “shot” would stay the same, only our focus would change.

This is what filmmakers are replicating (to different extents) with this camera adjustment. Technology has advanced, leaving first assistant camerapeople even less appreciated than in the past. Even with the changes to the technique, the skill, planning, and outcome have stayed the same.

Philip Brubaker’s video doesn’t just supercut a bunch of these impressive techniques together. It explores the physical and professional requirements to achieve these shots, breaking down a commonplace (but impressive) aesthetic element into its even more impressive details. This is behind-the-scenes cinematography at its most accessible.

Jacob Oller writes everywhere (Vanity Fair, The Guardian, Playboy, FSR, Paste, etc.) about everything that matters (film, TV, video games, memes, life).