After 20 years, this is still one of the most mind boggling visual effects, from the movie Contact

After 20 years, this is still one of the most mind boggling visual effects, from the movie Contact
An explanation as to how it was done

Also somebody recreated the effect for their own use and walk through the process as well.

TL;DR: the "trick" to how they did this is they harnessed the genius skill and craftsmanship of very clever people and meticulously built this shot almost frame by frame.

Woah that's crazy. I never noticed this madness. When she reaches for the handle you can see her red sleeve poking out but not on the "reflection"

I would never have noticed this anomaly if someone hadn't pointed it out.

I am a numpty.

What'll really bake your noodle later is the whole scene where they're carving pumpkins and watching Larry King Live? Larry King's footage wasn't shot yet. It was composited into the shot. The reflections in his glasses, and on the glass of the TV was composited in. The shot outside of the dish array was composited in, as well.

This whole film was an example of special effects done right to achieve a vision dreamed of by the filmmaker, unconstrained by reality.


Oh, and Elle's run up the stairs? She's really outside the VLA at first... but as the camera doesn't break, and she starts up the stairs, she's comped together with her running up a soundstage in L.A. with all the computers... and the comped-in view of the VLA outside.

That's because it's not about the software, or the hardware. One brilliant filmmaker dreams up a way to show a scene that becomes an integral part of how the story is told, then artists and technicians use whatever is available to make it happen. Years later, the effect has become so iconic that someone incorporates it into existing software and makes it easy.

The genius is in coming up with the cinematic idea in the first place, and is also in applying your craft to make it reality.

Every imitation that comes later is just irrelevant.

EDIT: because more than one person asked, here's how I, at least, interpret the shot as part of the storytelling:

Zemeckis says that he was looking for a way to come up with a creative way to represent her torment and all that was going through her mind, without showing the father.

Personally, I think that the shot is talking about how the world changes and you see things differently at the moment you go through something as traumatic as the death of your father. The girl, Ellie, is going through a defining moment, something that will forever shape who she is. She is going through the mirror into this new reality.

Excellent movie.

Now a days this wouldn't be too hard, but 20 years ago is what amazes me. Adobe After Effects makes this trick trivial, but I've used some 20 year old software and it's definitely not as easy as it is now.

The big deal is at about 14 seconds in. She runs into the bathroom and goes to the medicine cabinet on the opposite wall. You "think" that the camera has been pointed at the girl the whole time which means the cameraman would now have to turn around to get a shot of the medicine cabinet (because it is behind where you think the cameraman is). But the camera does not turn around. It has been recording the mirror the whole time. And the mirror is not a mirror. It's a green screen where they put the footage of the girl running up the stairs

EDIT: Well, my golden cherry has been popped. Thank you to whoever joined me in this most certainly consensual interaction. Time to figure out what reddit Gold is all about!

So CGI is a visual effect, but not all visual effects are CGI. IN these scene there were no rendered 3d models added to the shot so it's not CGI even though it was done on a computer.


It's one of those movies that really makes you feel like you've gone somewhere.

Fellowship of the Ring felt the same way.

Visual Effects, not CGI

This is much better imo:

Still feel the TLDR needs to mention that at least some CGI is involved.

Airplane did something similar at about 1minute in.

So I think there are three elements:

The shot of her running

This was composited onto the mirror of the next shot, which is the girl reaching for the medication. The timing has to match perfectly here.

The shot of the photograph at the end is another shot composited onto the mirror.

One brilliant filmmaker dreams up a way to show a scene that becomes an integral part of how the story is told, then artists and technicians use whatever is available to make it happen.

Yeah. They didn't go to the moon because they had all these rockets and computers laying around. They said "Let's go to the f*#$ing moon." and spent the next decade inventing everything that would make it possible.

"We go to the moon, not because it's easy. We go to the moon because we really need velcro in our lives."


Honestly that didn't really explain anything.

I don't get what happened

The only thing that really stands out to me is the fake running she does down the hallway.

Lmfao i'm glad I'm not the only one who came to this thread for her

I will not Jodie Foster this kind of behavior.

Movie makes some very good points about science and religion.

Really captures humanity's struggle fairly well.

IIRC the main character was loosely based after Carolyn Porco the lead scientist for the Cassini spacecraft mission. (one of my personal favorite scientists)

"This better not be Contact."

thworps contact fan

TIL numpty. Proving myself one in the process.

It's designed to make it look like she can't run fast enough. The framerate is slowed down as the actress speeds up her steps and arm pumps to match, so that it appears that she's still running as fast as she was up the stairs, but time is bending to make her move slower.

It's one thing that annoys me, that Velcro shoes are considered for children. Oh because children can't do laces very easily so they get Velcro? So what? Why does it matter if you can do laces, not having to do them is just easier and saves time? I can do laces perfectly well but I would rather not. /end of rant

Or just tie your shoes little loose and never untie.

Every pair of shoes I've worn for past 15 yrs is essentially slip-on.

Running shoes, work shoes, idgaf.

Yes. Them slowing down her running was more helpful than you might realize too as it would allow them to edit the speed of the second shot (the shot facing the mirror) to better match the first shot (the camera following the girl).

These visual effects, are they computer generated?

I'm just noticing now how this relates to later themes in the movie. Extra-dimensional duuude! Great lil spacey timey foldy maneuver

Obviously... How can a mirror be real if our eyes aren't real?

That video doesn't do the best in explaining, this GIF may be better as it shows the two plates (shots used) separately:

Additionally, here is the film editor's explanation (what she refers to as the 'A' and 'B' plates are the two shown above):

After following this thread and watching this gif on loop a dozen times, I'm realizing what makes everything so seamless (for me) is how perfectly the "reflection" of her hand meets up with her real one. The timing and movement lines up unbelievably well, and I'm not entirely sure if it was choreographed or just a lucky shot.

CGI computer-generated image. There are no computer-generated images in the scene but there are computer effects in the scene has been manipulated to create the effect and that is the difference between CGI and visual effects.

The Very Large Array near Soccoro, NM. Where, in the movie, The Signal is first herd by Elle.

Fair enough. I don't know all the lingo.


Very good scene. I may watch this movie today now. Thank you

Mirror was fake, all there is to it. They just put the shot of her running onto the cabinet. What's amazing about this is the amount of precision and skill it takes to do this.

This movie makes me mad. People build an alien machine based on an alien blueprint and still don't believe her...

2017 and I still have to tie most of my shoes.

I hate you all.

I need that contact dress

They took the shot of her running up the stairs put that shot on the mirror. Then added the rest of the other side of the shot in effects.

I've seen this explanation 20 times over the past few years and I still don't get it.

I'm just gonna chalk it up to the director and his team are geniuses and used some black magic sorcery.

Jesus Christ thank you. I'm an idiot.

What's a VLA?

Found the basic bitch in the Katya thread.

Thank you!!

I disagree completely. The book was not anti religion by any means. I think Palmer (played by mr. alright alright alright in the movie) was a much better character in the book. He represents the union of science and faith. The book is pro science and pro religion. The only thing Sagan demonizes is ignorance, hate, and a lack of curiosity / imagination


I’m not sure I understand. People are capable of running with closed fists, are they not?

Katya is a drag queen who competed on RuPaul's Drag Race and is notoriously obsessed with the movie Contact. She has a web series called UNHhhh where she makes a lot of references to it.

I'm not entirely sure if it was choreographed or just a lucky shot.

I am entirely sure that it was choreographed, and not just a lucky shot. That's kind of what the various jobs in filmmaking are for.

Source: I work in the film industry.

Movie makes some very good points about science and religion.

The book was a lot more pro-science and anti-religion than the movie, which Hollywood changed to please a mass audience.

The way I understood it is that they do believe her. And that they're merely trying to discredit her to cover up the fact that they've made contact with a extremely advanced civilization.

Not just for children.

The're also for really old people and retards.

Pronounced with the umpty?

Don't you mean mind bottling?

Here is the Contact intro; the big zoom.

Looks to me like:

1: shoot her running up stairs

2: shoot mirror opening

3: lay the video of her running up the stairs over the mirror

Matrix reference.. have an upvote

But are you filled with bees?

I always liked how dream-like it felt. She just can't run fast enough.

Same goes for cad modeling. Older software even like rhino doesn't hold a candle to fusion 360 or onshape for ease of use.

It's done so well we didn't even see it

Cus honey what you see, isn't always the truth

I'm okay to go

Only 90s kids get this

Written by Carl Sagan. It's the Interstellar of my generation.

I have 100% time for this joke

No, there is no mirror. They just made it look like a mirror post-production.

OPs post is an impossible situation using special effects to fake it. And this is just a mirror in one take and a hole in the wall in the next take.

Picture the mirror as a TV. Now picture that TV playing a video of you running up to it from it's perspective. Now record yourself reaching the TV at the same time that the video you reaches the TV.

This isn't quite what happened since timings occur during editing, but it's how I pictured it to make sense of it.

That's not similar in any way other than there's a mirror in the scene.

When I first read your comment, it made complete sense. After thinking about it, the shot of the hand opening the mirror is easy to match the mirror footage. You could change the speed of that all you want, and then composite the mirror footage at the desired playback speed. The timing's actually not as hard as I initially thought- I remembered both footage(s?) don't have to playback at the same speed. Though it's true that it's much better to shoot slow footage to edit. More to work with and can be sped up without consequence. Still impressive nonetheless (I'm a motion graphics and vfx artist)

Not since the accident.

The camera follows her down the hall and into the bathroom, but when she opens the medicine cabinet, we realize the perspective is from inside the mirror. So if the camera were inside the mirror, we'd see her as she came down the hall, but not coming up the stairs. Does that make sense now?

I disagree. I felt that Carl Sagan was not a good fictional author. The pacing was atrocious. It wasn't half bad, just not a particularly good read.

I did love the ending though, with their travel into the unknown and Hadden's discovery with Pi at the end. That was cool.

I am so fucking lost and all the replies only make me more confused. What is this reference you and everyone else are making?

yeh, I think that is what he meant by "they put the shot on the mirror"

Don't mind us, it's just some malicious gay faggotry.

I like my beats funky

I'm spunky

I like my redditors numpty

For anyone who wants to watch it (it's HILARIOUS), here's the first episode. Warning: you may lose the next 10 hours of your life.

He represented her relationship with the religious part of the world at large and it was key for the impact of the final scene where she admits the panel has to take her word on faith.

Well the whole world saw the ball just fall straight through, and the explanation of the mad rich scientist faking the signal and giving them blueprints for an expensive machine would make sense to most people.

The end of the movie does show that a few people know about the large amount of static video recorded in just a few seconds, but it seemed like they were covering that up.

Completely off the subject of the shot here, but the computers they used to get to the moon are absolutely archaic and obscenely primitive compared to today's technology.

It astounds me that we got people to the moon and back again so regularly and casually that people took it for granted, using that level of technology.

She was also a really good child actor in the 90's. It would take a lot of talent to get her hand to be in the right spot and be convincing. Few kids would "get" this.

You've made a numpty of me in the process.

one of my favorite come-back lines by any character to another

Still the best intro to any movie I've seen.

edit: I'm going to add two more things. First, Contact is among my favorite movies. I loved Carl Sagan. This movie also had , especially if you know the context.

Fascinating from a technical standpoint. Emotionally devastating as a cinematographic device. Simply brilliant all the way around.

This. More people need to learn to do this in their lives. Imagine how much more time people would have in their day if they did this! They'd have like 30 more seconds to comment on that coconut pic!

I used to watch this movie like once a month as a kid and have never ever noticed this gag in my life

What is so confusing about this? It's pretty clear that it's witchcraft.

So since CGI is a visual effect you can just say Visual Effect and never be wrong. But no it would not be CGI unless the mirror was a rendered model. They used mostly compositing for this shot, which is combining multiple sources in post.

I highly recommend it, it has aged fantastically well, and it's both very touching and extremely intellectually stimulating!

I would still suspect the slowdown is helpful. If it was meant to look 'natural speed' and it didn't line up perfectly on both shots, you'd get an uncanny valley sort of effect as a viewer. It'd seem weird. But since the shot is slowed down and you can tell it's intended to be slower, they can synchronize them however they need to, as long as it's ballparkishly close to the degree of slow in the hallway shot, it'll come across okay.

We'll much more readily accept something that's clearly intentionally warped from reality than something that's trying to pass as reality but is actually a little bit wrong.

Yeah but CGI doesn't stand for computer generated visual effects. It stands for computer generated imagery. So even if visual effects are created using a computer, it doesn't make them CGI.

He's probably just being snobby, I'm getting flashbacks to my fifth grade gym teacher who singled me out in front of the class after we did sprints because I ran with my hands in fists and he went on and on about how proper running form requires that you run with your palm open or something like that.

Because it's using existing video footage, correct? You're not 'generating' something new. You're modifying real footage.

Now if the had made a computer model of her, and completely faked the scene using that model with textures and animation, that would be CGI, correct?

If you take out that godawful romantic subplot with Matthew McConaughey, it's a great film

What is more mind blowing is watching the actor grow up and fuck a corpse in "Neon Demon".