How the Incredible “Through the Looking Glass” Trick from Contact Was Taken

If you’ve seen Contact, you know it’s a wonderful movie, not just for its plot, but also for its wonderful cinematography. In one of the film’s most memorable scenes, Ellie (Dr. Eleanor Ann) finds her father dead and runs to the bathroom medicine cabinet to take her pills. It’s a single shot that follows Ellie down the stairs until she reaches for the mirrored cabinet and opens it, to reveal that the entire shot has been taken “through the mirror”.

How is that possible without us seeing the cameraman?

Here’s the shot again, explained only by Contact visual effects supervisors Ken Ralston and Stephen Rosenbaum.

The 1st Assistant Film Editor – Carin-Anne Strohmaier – explains how the shot was made. Not trivial, to say the least:

that’s how it was done – a Steadicam person with the Vista Vision camera strapped to his chest ran backwards in front of Young Ellie as he ran up the stairs and down the hall – there was a gear change – we let’s go from 24 to 48fps (although I don’t remember exactly – we could have gone through three different speeds) – the time she stops and raises her hand to open the medicine cabinet door (plate “A”) – then we are inside the reflection. The medicine cabinet was plate “B” (second plate) then the door closes and we have plate “C” (third plate) which was a reflection of the picture of young Ellie and her father. By the way – when we first got this final CGI shot (completed and ready to sign) Bob Z noticed that the picture frame didn’t match the one in Arecibo Puerto Rico’s bedroom with Ellie and Joss older so they had to arrange for an insert team to take the “C” plate back with the correct picture frame and recompose the picture again – not an easy thing to do as timing was critical so that everything fits. #