The importance of blue-screen technology

Posted by David Konow

We’ve all seen those science movies in school, or parodies of them. Without this element or compound, here’s all the things we wouldn’t have in life. Then you think about blue-screen special effects.

It’s ridiculous to think how many movies we wouldn’t have without blue-screen.

How about any Star Wars movie, Tron, Avatar, the list goes on and on and on. These days, you can create entire worlds with blue-screen without having to go further than a soundstage. Now as the L.A. Times reports, one of the pioneers of blue screen technology, Petro Vlahos, has passed away, and we owe him big-time for so many great years of movie magic.
 
Vlahos worked on Ben-Hur and Mary Poppins, which were both major groundbreakers in special effects. Vlahos was 96, and as visual effects supervisor Bill Taylor (Blade Runner), told the Times, "It’s hard to emphasize the import of his inventions. He created the whole of composite photography as we know it."
 
The Times tells us it took six months for Vlahos to perfect the "color-difference system traveling matte scheme" for Ben-Hur, especially its spectacular chariot race scene. And without Vlahos work, we also wouldn’t have had the great mix of real people and animation in Mary Poppins. Hitchcock used Vlahos’s innovations in The Birds, and as the New York Times pointed out, we wouldn’t have weather reports on TV complete with animated rain and suns without this technology either. 
 
Back in the day, the average Joe didn’t know much, if anything, about special effects, which is why when you saw an amazing movie like Star Wars or Tron, you were blown away. You couldn’t pick it apart and see how the magic was done. These days, we’ve probably all seen behind the scenes footage of something being shot in blue or green-screen, and we all realize much of the time somebody is performing in front of those screens, with the rest filled in later.
 
In many ways, blue-screen was the technology that modern special effects were built on, and like those educational films we saw in school, just try to imagine today’s movies without them. Then we geeks would all be pleading, "Come back blue-screen! Come back!"