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The Use of the Dolly Zoom in “Ratatouille”

Todd Vaziri, a compositing supervisor at ILM, has written an enlightening piece about the subtle use of the dolly zoom in a shot during Pixar’s Ratatouille. He highlights director Brad Bird’s application of the dolly zoom as “one of my favorite uses of the technique in the last decade”:

The effect is used in Ratatouille with confidence and elegant subtlety; like previously stated, most viewers do not even realize the perspective is flattening out, which is antithetical to the modern, in-your-face cliche use of the dolly zoom. The technique is generally used as punctuation (usually an exclamation point), screaming “The characters are going through something significant RIGHT NOW!” In this scene from Ratatouille, the dolly zoom is simply part of the mise-en-scène and not the focus of the shot. Like the editing, costumes, and the lighting, the dolly zoom is not meant to be seen, but felt.

An annotated video of the zoom accompanies the write-up:

As a side note, Vaziri mentions that before writing the post, he could not find a single reference posted online about the dolly zoom in Ratatouille. That observation speaks to a broader point about the virtual absence of critical discourse about the cinematic qualities of animation. From the standpoint of filmmaking, what sets apart one animated feature from the other? We’re not talking about story or characters or design, but the creative choices that were made by the director about how to tell the story. Animation directors like Bird are keenly aware of cinematic language and how to use a specific technique to achieve a desired emotional effect. Vaziri’s post serves as a reminder that a great deal of thought and effort is invested into every shot of certain animated films, and a rich viewing experience awaits those of us who pay close attention.