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Why do most people look taller/shorter on tv/in film than in person?


Harry Weaks
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A lot of people after seeing their favorite tv/film stars attest to being stunned at how different their heights/statures appear to be in person versus what they though they would. They often say the subjects appeared taller/shorter on tv/in film than they did in person. Why do you think they appeared that way to them? So often appear that way to most people?

 

Is it something about cameras and the way they record ones image? Lenses? The way ones image displays on a tv/movie screen? What have you experienced regarding the previously stated? Do you think people appear taller/shorter on tv/in film than they do in person? If so, why? Have subjects you've filmed appeared that way? If so, why? If not, why not? Subjects someone you know has filmed? Did the person you know have an opinion on the difference? What was it, if any?

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There are many photographic tricks in cinematography to manipulate the perceived height of an actor. It's generally known that if you lower the camera closer to the ground and point it up at an actor, they appear taller, and vise versa. In wider shots an actor could wear platform shoes, and/or have the taller actor remove their shoes or slouch. Then, of course, there's the trusty apple box to stand on.

 

In general though, if you have someone framed in a close up, a 6'4 man can appear the same height as a 5'1 woman depending on the placement of the camera. Or, look at the Lord of the Rings movies for extreme examples. A lot of the 'height difference' between hobbits and humans was not CG and was camera tricks with people standing on their knees and/or stunt doubles that were little people or extremely tall people.

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There are many photographic tricks in cinematography to manipulate the perceived height of an actor. It's generally known that if you lower the camera closer to the ground and point it up at an actor, they appear taller, and vise versa. In wider shots an actor could wear platform shoes, and/or have the taller actor remove their shoes or slouch. Then, of course, there's the trusty apple box to stand on.

 

In general though, if you have someone framed in a close up, a 6'4 man can appear the same height as a 5'1 woman depending on the placement of the camera. Or, look at the Lord of the Rings movies for extreme examples. A lot of the 'height difference' between hobbits and humans was not CG and was camera tricks with people standing on their knees and/or stunt doubles that were little people or extremely tall people.

and forced perspective in some shots so that the smaller appearing actor was much farther away from the camera than the other and they for example modified the carriage so that it looks like they are sitting next to each other. or the table scene where the table parts actually move during the shot to compensate the camera move :)

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I wonder if it's a statistical reality that actors tend to be smaller in stature than the population average, though. It's my completely subjective impression that that's true, but I have no idea why it would be.

 

There are of course standout (ho ho ho) examples. Ron Perlman is taller than me, and I'm 6'3".

 

P

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There is probably some psychology going on as well. Often in films its difficult to guess the height of actors due to not having clear visual references in the shot. If we are investing in a Heroic character on a large screen I think we as an audience assume they are larger more powerful then real life - because we are watching larger then like characters.

 

I think the audience brings there own assumptions when that have no other fixed reference points.

 

e.g from watching the Terminator I always assumed Arnie was huge and would have expected him to tower over me in the way he does to the other characters in the film(s). So on a trip to Madam Tussaurds as a teenager was very surprised to find I was taller then him.

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