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Movie Fact #185 - April 14th, 2021


1997's Contact is without a doubt a milestone in visual effects-driven storytelling. One sequence in particular that left an impression was where the young version of Jodie Foster's character Ellie (Played by Jena Malone as a child) runs upstairs to try to retrieve her father's medicine. In the scene, the illusion presented is Ellie running just behind a camera as they move into the bathroom, but the shot resolves to show that this had been part of the medicine cabinet's mirror reflection, pulling back to have Ellie open it. This sequence is noted as one of the film's most impressive visual effects in particular due to the seamlessness of the transition. How was it pulled off though?

According to Carin-Anne Strohmaier, the first assistant film editor, the shot was created through three different plates, digitally manipulated in CGI to create the effect. One plate was from the cameraman leading Ellie, the second of Ellie opening the cabinet door (which was a blue screen instead of a mirror), and the third of the reflection of the photograph of Ellie and her dad when the door closes. For visual aid, check out the video below to see how it was done:

Initially, the plan was to use an effect similar to bullet time from The Matrix which would have shown Ellie's father stopping in time as he dies, but as the movie was being filmed, they found that this approach would not fit the casting or direction the film was going. However, they still wanted something that the audience would recognize as off-putting and without having to show Ellie's dad, leading to the development of this mirror sequence. And that lead to the praised sequence you saw above. One small step for the film, one giant step for cinematic storytelling. Stay tuned!

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