Behind the Scenes of Elf: How Forced Perspective Turned a Low Budget Film Into a Christmas Classic

Elf is undoubtedly a Christmas classic, but the 2003 film was low budget, and the idea of creating a lot of the visual effects in-camera had many senior people worried it couldn't work.

Given Will Ferrell is such a global name these days, I hadn't realized how low budget (in commercial terms) Elf had been. In this video, you can quickly see just how difficult some of the shots were to get, and that is largely due to the decision to make the film without using digital effects, so as not to age it. I can imagine it's rather hard to resist the most modern digital effects as they're always impressive at the time they're cutting edge, but they will indeed age a film like nothing else. Whereas, using physical tricks ā€” like forced perspective ā€” can last the test of time, as we've seen with films like Lord of the Rings.

One common thread I have noticed with films using difficult techniques is how it often requires one strong vision and that person to remain steadfast under pressure. For Elf, that seemed to be Director of Photography, Greg Gardener. After they spent full days building up scenes and then shooting them using forced perspective, only to find that at the end of the day they didn't get anything usable, Gardener came under pressure from the studio. Never the less, he knew what he was capable of and stuck to his guns, and the results speak for themselves. Elf grossed $220,000,000 and became a beloved Christmas classic, guaranteeing it a surge of seasonal revenue each year.

Rob Baggs's picture

Robert K Baggs is a professional portrait and commercial photographer, educator, and consultant from England. Robert has a First-Class degree in Philosophy and a Master's by Research. In 2015 Robert's work on plagiarism in photography was published as part of several universities' photography degree syllabuses.

Log in or register to post comments

im curious about how they got release statements from all of those real people walking in the streets. Did a crew scramble around with them after the shots?

im curious about how they got release statements from all of those real people walking in the streets. Did a crew scramble around with them after the shots?

People in public don't need release statements. Just like I can take photos of anyone I like in public.

How can an educated person even watch such crap films. When was the last time a Christmas film came out of the US that didn't drown in every cheap and cheesy stereotype imaginable? The voices alone in the video above are almost unbearable. No, every Christmas we are showered with the same unbearable stupor from the USA. Stop it!

You do realise that you're not being forced to watch this, that you can watch something else, right?

If others get joy out of this and you can choose something else instead it's rather selfish to try to stop that joy, don't you think? That seems to go very much against the whole "spirit of Christmas" thing in my opinion.

Also, an educated person would have used a question mark to end their first sentence.

I am not forced as you are not forced to comment or even read my posting. Some of my money, I am forced to pay for television if I watch it or not, is used to buy this crap. So, yes, I have the right to express what I think.
"Spirit of Christmas"? It is all about money, don't fool yourself!

Your comments are rather negative and suggest you may be deeply unhappy in life. You have my pity.

Good day to you.

What a disrespectful and manipulative answer! Mind of your own business!

Yes, regrettably I am. As in most countries of Europe. For us it is about $400 a year. I've read Christmas Carol, but it is quite some time ago.

OMG, calm down! Do not be so sensitive! I am talking about movies and you guys get personal? What is wrong with you?

Well, now you are playing the nationalist card and getting even more personal?

You have now lost your contenance. Who do you think you are, that you could chase others away?

Nah, I was just saying that most Christmas movies from the US are bad. The one above is one of the worst. Your insults fall on yourself.

Dude I's a COMEDY. If you want a serious Christmas movie, Die Hard is available too. :D

Never forget NAKATOMI PLAZA 1988.

What happened at Nakatomi Plaza?
On Christmas Eve, 1988, a group of terrorists led by Hans Gruber took the Nakatomi employees hostage during their Christmas party.


I liked the behind the scene video. The movie not so much. There are a few funny scenes, but watching it once when my kids were younger was more than plenty.

What a delightfully condescending comment.

Learnt a lot there. Thanks

Does this 'forced perspective' also require the use of a split focus front element?