Split Focus Diopter Archives - Blog
Quentin Tarantino has a long history of using SPLIT DIOPTER shots in:
- Reservoir Dogs
- Pulp Fiction
- Jackie Brown
- THE HATEFUL EIGHT
This time around with the help of legendary DP Robert Richardson they have accomplished the shots in the Ultra Panavision 70 format. It is technically a 65mm film format that is projected in 70mm and it is one of the largest film formats available. IMAX is larger but it lacks the super-wide 2.76:1 aspect ratio of Ultra Panavision 70.
I now triumphantly return with even more visual storytelling examples from Brian De Palma’s epic thriller DRESSED TO KILL:
To reiterate…the most effective use of this optical device is to emphasize a story point and for it not to be a visual gimmick. De Palma incorporated this technique across every film he directed and it is a staple of his visual style.
A Split Focus Diopter is a half convex piece of glass that attaches to the front of a camera’s main lens to make half the lens nearsighted. This lens can focus on a plane in the background and on a foreground element at the same time. To effectively apply this cinematographer’s tool a filmmaker has to plan out each shot so that both the foreground and background elements will be in focus.
The Spilt Focus Diopter creates a hyper-real visual effect that logically shouldn’t happen but somehow it magically delivers a striking and visceral image that resonates in the mind of the viewer.
SPLIT DIOPTER shots are most often attributed to Brian De Palma but director Robert Wise incorporated them into many of his films as a visual style and storytelling device, often using them more than 100 times in one film.
His split diopter shots became an integral part of the story and not just a stand-alone visual trick. In THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN, Robert Wise used 206 split diopter shots…the most in any feature film I’ve researched.
Robert Wise edited Citizen Kane. That alone is most impressive. He then went on to direct: The Day the Earth Stood Still, Run Silent Run Deep, West Side Story, The Haunting, The Sound of Music, Star Trek: The Motion Picture and 35 other feature films. On THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN, Wise teamed up again with DP Richard H. Kline, one his favorite cinematographers. They went on to film Star Trek: The Motion Picture in 1979 which had over 100 split diopter shots as well.
A Split Focus Diopter is half convex glass that attaches in front of the camera’s main lens to make half the lens nearsighted. The lens can focus on a plane in the background and the diopter on a foreground element. In the 1970’s and 1980’s, Brian De Palma championed the use of this tool to enhance the visual and emotional experience of his films.
The Split Diopter allows for Deep Focus cinematography but requires much less light. It also delivers a distinctive look that blends sharp and out-of-focus imagery all in one frame. Subjects in both foreground and background can be kept in focus. In the video below are all 15 Split Diopter shots from Brian De Palma’s film Blow Out (1981).