In this mini documentary we’re going to explore the use of mirrors in cinema visual effects.
In fact from the beginning of the century mirrors have been employed like a practical instrument for all sorts of useful ends:
- to bounce light, in case of inaccessible section in the set, directing the light with the mirror.
- to provide wide angle views in restricted areas when the camera can’t be pulled back or when a short focal length can’t be employed. This effect, has been developed by Eugene Schufftan, who managed the special effects on Metropolis and created the Process specifically to address Lang’s desire to have actors moving around in his majestic miniatures. Basically, the process uses specially cut or altered mirrors. One section of the mirror would be de-silvered or otherwise made transparent. Actors would stand, specially positioned to appear the appropriate size, behind the mirror, and a miniature would be placed so the camera would capture its reflection in the mirror. The camera would be aimed at the mirror. Whatever was reflected in the mirror would be combined automatically through the camera’s eye with what it could see through the mirror.
- to multiply images in a scene for surreal effects creating a communicating the character’s mood (like in the scene of the hall of mirrors in Citizen Kane, 1941)
- to create ghosts using an invisible transparent mirror (but partially reflective) at 45 degrees, that would project in the scene other elements or actors out of it. With the same method is possibile to project a colored cardboard, for a little color grading. A white cardboard will make the image flatter filling the shadows, in opposite, a black one will obscure the shadows giving more contrast, instead, a colored cardboard will give his tone to the image.
- to safeguard the crew and equipment from hazard. This effect has been employed especially with locomotives, for recording the train reflected in the mirror at 45 degrees let in the railway in front of it.
In general, mirrors have been a well used and economic resource in cinematography, especially when matte painting and digital post production didn’t exist; today is almost disappeared, unless someone want to try the romanticism of it!