Contact Mirror Shot

This year the sci-fi drama Arrival has been receiving all sorts of praise. Thanks to the emotional core that ties character drama to grounded science fiction, the film from Denis Villeneuve has been compared to a similar film: Robert Zemeckis‘ adaptation of Carl Sagan’s novel Contact.

Contact is a little more visceral and unbelievable than Arrival, but it’s still one of the better sci-fi movies to come out of the 1990s. And much like Arrival had some incredible visual effects that were not easily spotted by even the most avid of movie watchers, Contact had some impressive, state-of-the-art visual effects work done at the time. But there’s one particular shot that you probably didn’t even know was a visual effect.

Find out which scene we’re talking about after the jump.

Here’s the scene from Contact that we’re talking about:

You may have never realized just how tricky this shot is until now. The camera remains in front of young Jena Malone as she runs up the stairs and into the bathroom, but all of a sudden, the shot we’ve been looking at is the reflection of the medicine cabinet mirror she’s been running towards. In case you don’t realize just how tricky (and trippy) this shot is, here’s a snippet from the film’s DVD commentary to help explain how the Contact mirror shot was done:

In case you still don’t fully understand just how this shot was pulled off, this GIF might help:

How they pulled off the “Impossible Mirror Shot” in Contact

Honestly, even after seeing that GIF, I was still a little perplexed, but Contact’s first assistant film editor Carin-Anne Strohmaier explained a little more thoroughly how it was done to SteadiShots.org:

“…a Steadicam person with the Vista Vision camera strapped to his chest ran backwards in front of Young Ellie as he goes up the stairs and down the hallway – there was a speed change – we ramp from 24 to 48fps (though I can’t remember exactly – we could have ramped through three different speeds) – by the time she stops and puts her hand to open the medicine cabinet door (“A” plate ) – we are then inside the reflection. The medicine cabinet was the “B” plate (second plate) and then the door closes and we have the “C” plate (third plate) which was the reflection of the photo of Young Ellie and her dad. By the way – the first time we received this CGI shot as a final (completed & ready to be signed off) Bob [Zemeckis] noticed that the picture frame did not match the one in the Arecibo Puerto Rico bedroom with older Ellie and Joss so they had to have an insert crew reshoot the “C” plate with the correct picture frame and re-composite the shot over again – not an easy thing to do since timing was critical in getting everything to match up.”

That’s quite the tricky shot to pull off, and even more impressive is how seamless the shot is, including the bevel of the mirror and the movement of the “C” plate in the reflection of the mirror. I’m willing to bet that most average moviegoers don’t even realize how difficult that shot was to pull off. But now you know, and don’t you feel better about yourself already?

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