Focus Pulling - Children and Animals


I recently completed a short film as FP that had a large number of Children and a dog.

I found that getting marks became a real challenge- Esp with the 85mm lens. The DP was great and just before each take would get eye sharps first as the kids would move so much and I would lose my critical focus.

I would love to hear any tips that anyone would have when it comes to focus pulling on kids and animals as I would like to not rely on my DP for help all the time.

Jasmine Lord

Focus Puller in Training.

Jasmine Lord writes :

>>I would love to hear any tips that anyone would have when it comes to >>focus pulling on kids and animals as I would like to not rely on my >>DP for help all the time.

Don't bother giving fixed floor marks to kids and animals.

Just put down marks for yourself - 8 ft,, 10 ft., 12 ft., 15 ft. etc. (whatever the printed distances are on the lens), however many of each distance you need for the area of the shot.

Use 1" tape and write the distance on the tape, in numbers large enough for you to read from the camera, so you don't have to remember which is which. Or else use colour code you can remember (yellow = 8 ft., red = 10 ft., etc) Then wherever your kids or animals go, there will be a solid lens mark nearby.

You will only have to "guestimate" between your marks (between 12 ft. and 15 ft., for example).

If the lens is so wide you see the marks, you probably don't need the marks, or you can camouflage them, or use existing landmarks (the edge of the rug is 8 ft., the chair is 12 ft., etc.).

Doug Hart

I agree with Doug. Giving kids marks is usually a useless exercise.

If the brief is to follow the kids where-ever they go, which is a common thing these days as directors are unaccustomed to not restrict the little darlings, I normally map out the room. As Doug mentioned, the corner of the rug, etc.

I was taught to not preoccupy myself & stick to the 'published' marks on the lens. If a mark is at 7'7", then figure out where 7'7" is on the lens between 7 & 8 feet. Where is 15'9"? . . that sought of thing. I think I found working that way, I was able to have a better feel for focus. The same applied for dolly shots. I would just place marks down & if they fell between marks on the focus barrel, I was able to accurately place the focus in the right spot. As we all know, as soon as the object being photographed moves from it's original position, it's resultant position cannot always be guaranteed, so a good judgement of the new position gives you a fighting chance of getting it sharp. Without getting too cosmic about focus, you just let the eyes roll into the back of your head & feel it. Sometimes, I don't know how I get some shots. With experience, you will know when you have nailed it. It just feel right.

Children & animals ... the natural enemy of the focus puller, He-he.

Angelo Sartore
1st. AC


Thanx guys, I wish I had the luxury of a dolly... or a rug...

We were in a park.... with grass.... not many trees...


Jasmine Lord

Yes indeed my lady ,you have entered the nightmare of the 1st AC .

But no matter what the nature of the shot is ,nothing is impossible ,but sometimes ,there is a point where it is only logical that the guy that has the eye in the camera takes the wheel and finishes the job. Don't worry about that .I mean you are a team after all .And the only thing that counts is what's printed on the negative. An operator or DP that refuses to help, is also refusing to help the film .So guess what ,he's just screwing himself. But after analysing the situation ,if there is nothing left around to help you get the shot 100% ,you have to inform the DP or Director. Just give them a little idea ,without sounding to pitiful .Make it sound like your ready for the battle of your life ,but you would just appreciate if someone had a helping hand .(a better T-stop is also useful)

For kids :

Try to build a relationship with the kids. If they know you more then the 40 others around ,and you make them feel comfortable, they will remember you. Believe it or not ,in the long run ,the kid might start wanting the marks because it makes him feel important. Or the marks can become a game for them. But if all hell breaks lose ,You need to ask for a beginning and an end position. That s the minimum any 1st AC can ask. At 85 mm you can put marks on the ground to at least 15 feet if the camera doesn't pan down too much And that s where it starts to becomes critical for you .If you always see the ground (low shot) ,use any piece of wood ,a rock, a pile of grass and place them on the exterior of the frame, so you have some reference points.

For animals :

IF you get a chance talk to the owner, ask what are his habits, things he likes ,hates...Find something that will give you an idea of how fast you are going to have to react .Since most animals will play with marks, you can't use that .But mark or learn by heart your 10' , 5' and 3'

These are my key distances for reference.

For telephoto shots, knowing your distances is the best tool. Make it a martial art, koz it takes time, but one day you are going to nail that 100mm T.2 4' 7'' shot ,and when you do get that feeling of OMG what just happened and OMG I just got it ,that means you have entered the magical world of guessing distances in 1/50th of a second. And the worst is, like Angelo said ,you probably won't even know what you
did right . LOL

Hey good luck with the rest , yoda is around ,the force is over you ,use it...

Eric Bensoussan
1st AC

Nicely said, Eric.

Just last week, I got into a shuttle with a 10 or 11 year old who I suspected would be the feature background performer.

I immediately engaged in conversation with her, moaning about the call time, etc. to build a rapport. On set, she looked to me for approval. Nice feeling.


Mark Lunn
1st AC

Yes I also agree with Doug - and use the same technique with other situations e.g. unpredictable moves or actors/actresses.

Anna Carrington
Focus Puller & DOP


I just finished working on a French movie called "the Fox and the Child", shot in the Alps. Even if the script was storyboarded, the moves of the animals and the camera were unpredictable. The girl had to play according to what they are able to give. My lens was a 24x290 optimo. There was always a second camera for the wide shots. It meant no marks made of tape for me. It was probably the most difficult and frustrating job I ever had to do.

Sometimes both the DP and I were lost for few seconds.

Somehow the director Luc Jacquet, the DP and I felt confident as a team. And Fuji too : many rolls, many out of focus, But what a delight when you have the shot perfect in the frame and sharp in the eyes. I mean you can be out of focus but you have to be focused, keep smiling and never say "I f...ed up" but "No worries mate, I will improve, we will sort it out".

And that is what happened : the director got his shots

My follow focus was a FF3 Arri to let me choose the speed, with the largest gear to be more precise. I used the "L" handle to be still quicker at pulling the focus on the zoom. I knew that the focus was at 6 feet when it was down (the "6 o'clock position"), 8 feet at 9 o'clock, 12 feet at 12 and so on.

To be more precise, before rolling the camera, the DP which made me fell like we are a team (you are so right Eric), kindly gave me the focus on a stone I placed by or in the frame, on a leave on the nearest branch, on a log, on three white little flowers.

Here, my rainbow video assist was very useful ; the Dp could "show" me what he had in the eyepiece.

All these positions where marked on the lens with arrows made of tape of different colours. I do not wrote any number or name on them, but simple drawings, symbols.

If you can't use marks, well, let it go, do not be afraid, know your reference distances, worship your video assist and "calibrate" your eyes every morning on the set .


Pierre Chevrin
French AC in Paris


I’ve used hard marks or small collared sandbags for grass shots and they work great. They’re easy to move and brightly collared. On an 85, you won’t see them on the ground at all at 10ft, unless you’re pointing the camera at the ground! And, you just memorize your distances really fast on a shoot like that. If you’ve left yourself enough time to check out your lenses for their particular characteristics before the shoot, then you’re in good shape. It’s really dodgy going in when you’ve not had some time with your lenses, as you tend to second guess yourself – and that never works.

Cheers to everyone who’s had shoots with kids and animals for commercials over the last few months.

Susan Jacob


(Non-Union, but I’m eligible to join in a hot second if I get Union work)

© copyright CML all rights reserved