The mirror shot—where a character is seen looking at their reflection in a mirror—is a classic scene found in films and TV shows since the early days of moving pictures. Pulling it off without revealing the camera or the camera operator in the reflection can be a little tricky though. As demonstrated in the below video from Insider, here are some of the ways filmmakers avoid revealing their camera while creating this style of shot.
Two Way Mirrors
Two way mirrors have been used since the early days of film and are often what’s employed by filmmakers to create sequences where characters are lost inside of a funhouse. Actors are typically placed on the reflective side of the glass while the camera is placed on the non-reflective side. This technique was used in the Orson Welles’ film The Lady from Shanghai and more recently in the funhouse sequence in It Chapter Two to switch between the reflections of a child and Pennywise.
Windows and Body Doubles
Sometimes the easiest way to pull off a mirror shot is to eliminate the mirror altogether. In many popular scenes where it appears that a character is looking back at their reflection, they are actually looking through a window into a duplicate version of the set. This is the technique that was used in Terminator 2 when Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) is seen removing the chip from the Terminator’s head. Linda Hamilton was shot on one side of the window, while the reflection that we see in the “mirror” was actually her twin sister. Arnold Schwarzenegger silhouetted in the foreground is actually a dummy, while the actor was placed on the other side of the window. Generally speaking, the body double trick works best when you have an actor who has a twin.
Using body doubles can be prone to human error though, which is why many filmmakers rely on bits of CGI tech to pull off a mirror shot. First the actors are shot in front of a mirror, next they film the background that appears behind the actor. Having the two shots allows VFX artists to wipe away the camera using pieces of the background. To accomplish this, filmmakers need to make sure lighting is identical during the filming process. Occasionally filmmakers will cover cameras in green tape to make it easier to make precision cuts for a more realistic effect. The whole process becomes more complicated if the camera happens to be moving.
These days it’s not unusual to see all of these tricks combined to pull off complicated mirror shots. Last Night in Soho creators had to build a world full of mirrors for many of the scenes that appear in the film. The Cafe de Paris where much of the film takes place had approximately 178 mirrors and in addition to cameras being removed, they also had to have two actors who weren’t twins replicating one another’s moves. The shots were also incredibly active with lots of character and camera movement happening. The film was shot using a combination of steadicams and pre-programed motion control cameras. A movement coach was on hand to ensure that the actors were accurately matching each other’s movements in every single shot. There were also tons of double sets and a few adjustable mirrors that could be pushed away at key moments.