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  • Entering a hole in the ground — Help?

  • George Bartlett

    January 25, 2021 at 4:03 pm


    I hope this is the right place to post — please feel free to correct and point me in the right direction!

    I’m looking to create the effect of a man climbing into a manhole/open storm drain in the street, without getting my actor do so. The shot in question will be recorded on a CCTV camera, so there’s room to hide tricks behind the low-quality. That said, due to the concept, I have to show him actually getting into the manhole and disappearing down it/don’t want to cut away or move the camera.

    To start, I have a manhole cover which I’ve touched up to match the ground where I live — allowing the actor to walk up to the hole and actually remove the “cast iron” lid in the shot — but there will be no real hole below for him to climb into. How might I go about shooting and compositing this? The only thing that comes to mind is shooting a plate of the street, and the action of him climbing into the hole on a green screen, separately, and compositing the two. I am, however, trying to do this on a small budget, and would like to avoid renting a large green screen space if possible.

    Any ideas or suggestions would be super!

    Huge thanks.

  • Ricardo Marty

    January 25, 2021 at 8:48 pm

    Your best bet is to use green screen or 3d. but it’s probably much more time consuming and expensive than actually doing it for real.

  • Eric Santiago

    January 25, 2021 at 10:52 pm

    If not Green Screen then find a spot that keeps your camera elevated and a lower level for your actor.

    Loading docks, picnic tables, etc..

    But a little more work if don’t use a green screen.

  • Mark Suszko

    February 6, 2021 at 4:58 am

    Part of this, you solve with the choice of camera angle. You can shoot down from a high angle, and make a very small chromakey set work. Heck, the sunroof of a car could be used as the hole from that angle. With a low angle, you’re doing old-fashioned trick photography, layering a fake foreground, and using a discarded cardboard fridge shipping box from the alley behind the appliance store, painted green with a hole cut out. It’s sexy to make the shot a “one-er”, but, easier to break it into three angles and use cutting to help transition your actor at and into the hole.

    Also, shoot it with a good camera, then make it look like grungy CCTV in post; results will be much better.

    This is a trick you might not have considered, and it’s based on the very old concept that the eye only sees what the lens captures. You can make the hole VERTICAL in a wall, or just on a driveway, or in a garage, and show your actor in one continuous shot, working into or out of it. Nobody is expecting it, so they won’t recognize it. Because you laid in greenscreen cloth and/or paint (again, a big sheet of cardboard or 4×8 insulation foam sheet will do), the replaced background and the right kind of lighting angle will sell the viewer that it’s a hole in the ground.

    If the manhole cover isn’t too heavy, attach it to the wall section with a magnet, so the actor can reach for it and slide it around, but it otherwise looks like it is held down by gravity. Ernie Kovaks would LOVE this trick. And probably used it at least once himself.

    Another variation is, to take a 4×8 sheet of wall board from the Home Depot, cut a manhole aperture in it, add 2×4’s across the underside that extend like a medical stretcher. Add fake grass or actual sod, or use paint to make the board seem to be concrete. Your actor stands on regular ground, two assistants lift or lower the device, WHICH HAS THE CAMERA MOUNTED RIGHT ON IT. Because the audience doesn’t expect the camera to be mounted to the “ground” , the mental relationship they get is that the “ground” is stable and the person is the one moving. They think the thing that is moving, is the person standing in the hole. The background should be in soft focus and you use short depth of field. Pick the right real-life exterior backdrop and it should,”read” like what you want, because the sunlight hits everything the same angle, or green screen the wall, or add the green or blue screen to the back of your hovering hole sheet, at a right angle. The wallboard for this is like, 20 dollars a sheet. Less, if you buy an ugly one on clearance.

    Check this example of a guy “hanging: from an elevator car in an elevator shaft. He’s just laying on a board attached to a forklift, driving up and down a hallway. What sells the effect is the prop elevator car floor attached to the front of the forklift, and the Dutch Angle the camera is set in, plus the type of lens setting. This is my favorite scene in the movie because it was effective but also super-inexpensive. Creativity and imagination can make up for a low budget.

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