We all know that, generally speaking, "up" is toward the sky and
"down" is toward the ground. From your camcorder’s perspective,
however, "up" is whatever you frame at the top of your viewfinder.
As TV viewers, we have come to expect that "up" is at the top
of the screen and "down" is at the bottom. This means that by
turning your camcorder upside down or on its side, you have the power to
trick the eye, fool the mind and (in the video realm) make "up"
any direction you like.



What’s the Use?

One of the most practical uses of this effect is to make people appear to
be climbing mountains, walls or the sides of buildings, when they are in
reality, on level ground. In fact, this very effect was used regularly on
the old Batman TV series starring Adam West. Let’s set the scene. Batman
and Robin are climbing up the outside of a building to get to the Joker’s
top-floor hideout. Once they arrive, POW! BAM! BIFF! They’ll beat up the
bad guys and foil the Joker’s evil plot. But first they need to climb that
high-rise. Here’s how it was done, and how you can create the same effect.



Up We Go

Needless to say, the caped crusaders weren’t really scaling scyscrapers.
The shows producers simply tilted the camera on its side and had the dynamic
duo fake it. All you need to pull off this feat is a tripod, some rope and
a backyard deck or patio made of brick, concrete or wood. By placing your
camcorder on the tripod and rotating it so that the tilt lever is on the
side, you can tilt your camera 90 degrees to make the deck or patio appear
to be a wall.

Attach the rope to the ground several feet out of the frame in front of
the actor, so that when your talent holds it, the rope appears to be fastened
to the roof of the building. Next, have your actor hold the rope (keeping
it pulled taught), crouch forward and pretend to climb the deck as if it
were the side of a building. Have an assistant hold the end of the rope
off the ground behind the talent so that it looks like the rope is hanging
down and not stuck to the building. For the illusion to work, you’ll need
to pay special attention to framing. Be sure your talent is climbing "up"
not "down" the wall and crop out or remove anything that would
give away the illusion (weeds growing out between the bricks, for example,
might suggest that this is not actually the side of an apartment
building).



Sell it to the Viewer

While this illusion may look obviously fake to some viewers, there are ways
to make it more believable. The best way is to cut the scene into a sequence
with an actual building whose wall resembles the deck that you’ll use. Have
your talent run up to the building, throw up a rope, tug it so see that
it’s secure, then have your actor put a foot on the wall as though beginning
to hoist himself upward. Next cut to the climbing scene we’ve just described.
You might end the sequence by showing your actor standing on the roof of
a tall building (hint: a low angle can make even a single story building
look gigantic).

There you have it. A simple "Which way is up?" effect that Hollywood
has used for years. Tune in again, same Bat Time oh, you get it.

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