Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Green Screen: Just fix it in post (but really)

Not to sound like an old person, but technology absolutely amazes me these days. I was just recently shown the new Snapchat update, which includes new features like being able to put crazy animated features on your picture that track and move with your face on the screen. If you really take the time to think about it, that's pretty freakin' cool. How long would someone have worked to create that effect on a moving picture only fifteen years ago?

Almost every major production involves green screen, or chroma key, in some capacity. Whether it is creating a fantasy land, or making a slight change to the background, green screen technology gives filmmakers the power to manipulate the onscreen world in more ways than one. So, how did we get here?

The first use of a green screen, or at least the idea behind it, came from Georges Méliès. Ol' Georges didn't use a green screen, or any screen at all for that matter. He used a 'matte shot' by actually painting (matting) parts of the frame black, which would stop it from getting exposed. He would then rewind the frame and matte our every ELSE in the frame, and only expose what was originally matted, resulting in two 'different' shots in one frame via double exposure. And thus "green screen" technology was born:

As on screen trickery evolved, another more direct technique was developed. Filmmakers would actually have a piece of glass painted, and then place it between the subject and the camera. Kind of the ultimate perspective manipulation. This technique was perfected by early filmmaker Norman Dawn. 

To solve the problem of motion in film, both primary and secondary, the "black screen" was born, the ancestor of todays green screen. This allowed a entire background to be matted, and also eliminated any matte "line" that actors would have to avoid crossing or else ruin the effect. It was most famously used in The Invisible Man.
As technology advanced, several different colors emerged in efforts to perfect the matte process, but in the digital age green has emerged as the industry standard. 

It seems like each year some new, visual stunning film comes out that totally blows us away. From Jurassic Park to Avatar, Gravity to Interstellar, Alice in Wonderland to The Hobbit,  green screen digital effects seem to be taking over cinema. They allow a surreal escape into fantastic worlds, or, as technology continues to advance, it just might be easier to "green screen it" and literally fix it in post.

Some interesting examples:

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