Green Screens and Greener Pastures

This is a 2009 sample reel from Stargate Studios. Hollywood all the way. Some of the shots from this video reel are certainly better than others, but that’s not my point.

My point is that this technology is becoming increasingly more available and affordable for still and video production, and is soon to be everywhere. Heck, we even used this technology pretty extensively in The Blakes music video we released last month (thanks to Superfad‘s post-production chops…). That was a legit production my most measures, but certainly not Hollywood. And I’m guessing that this video highlighted some familiar scenes that–before watching it–you wouldn’t have guessed were virtual.

Having just viewed the latest blockbuster movie…[click ‘continue reading’ link below]

…that’s all the rage, Avatar in IMAX 3D (loved it btw…didn’t think I could embrace the blue people, but went on to love it, noting it will forever mark a change in cinema…), and read a review that spoke of manufactured worlds as ‘gimmicky’, I can’t help but run to the defense of the integration of imagination and technology.

Are there really people out there that think this is somehow less than amazing, cool, and enabling?

Unlike my earlier post, Purists Beware, this doesn’t have historical precedence from the “masters” pre-dating Star Wars and the mid 1970’s. But is it any less virtuous because of this? Will creative professionals somehow exhibit less “vision” because they’re no longer leaving their studios and back lots, traveling the world, and getting into adventures of their own?

Nonsense. It’s not a substitute for vision. It will create a new world of infinite possibility for the independent and most day-dreamy of creatives–even within the most cost-conscious of productions. And if you want a part of it, it’s either in your court already or just around the corner.

33 Responses to Green Screens and Greener Pastures

  1. Jeff N December 29, 2009 at 8:37 am #

    Amazing. There is no limit on what we can achieve visually anymore. The stories and worlds can now be as rich as our imaginations can make them.

    This also bodes well for our lower end budgets. There are so many amazingly talented artists and content creators out there that have the skills to blow the roof off of the traditional game.

    2010 is sure to be full of excitement!

  2. Scott MacKenzie December 29, 2009 at 9:05 am #

    Man, I can't wait to see what happens next!

  3. Will Kronk December 29, 2009 at 9:14 am #

    So we have the technology to prove the conspiracy theorist right. That newcast segment looked really real.

  4. Tom December 29, 2009 at 9:25 am #

    While I really appreciate the new digital technology and motion tracking that transformed the green screen from driving scenes to virtual worlds, I still to a point see that there was more creativity when studios had to figure out how to capture a scene in camera rather than say, "we'll CG it." Unfortunately in the beginning, it was the numerous mere use of it for the novelty of it rather than using it to tell the story.

    Adversity breeds creativity and the result has been new tools and processes to get the image one desires. This is a great thing. Although knowing that it took several thousand men to pose as soldiers in Sergeï Bondarchuk's Waterloo seems much more impressive than understanding that Lord of the Rings battles consists largely of digital artists' renderings. I suppose one could look back and think of it being so much work for a scene. I see neither one being better just different approaches to the visual medium.

  5. Rockhopper December 29, 2009 at 10:20 am #

    I have been using this technology for the last couple of years,

    I am a one man band,

    the tech is obtainable and is getting easier to use, however creativity and vision cannot be fixed by a button on a computer.

    You still need legwork and drive to get the production plates.

    My biggest concern is that anyone can call themselves a visual fx artist. These faux visual fx artists can cause those of us who understand the medium to be pushed out of work.

    Sometimes I bang my head in frustration seeing really bad fx work. I was at a photographic award ceremony and a photographer used a preset fx in the digital category and got an award.

    It was not even done correctly, as a matte painter I am trained to spot these things.

    i think post production can be handled by a photographer, however compositing and CGI, greenscreening, animation and all the other disciplines should be left to those who are professionals.

    The danger is that you will sell yourself short and leave someone out of work.

    You dont get on a bus, and drive the vehicle yourself thats the drivers responsibility, just wish some creative types remember this.

    Thanks for the post,


  6. Boston Photographer | MWynne December 29, 2009 at 10:53 am #

    Really cool. I never would have guessed a few of those scenes were green screen. Thanks for the post.

  7. Photographer Noah Fallis December 29, 2009 at 10:54 am #

    It's the future. Plain and simple. Photographers should be embracing 3d, and amping up their post skills whenever possible. Then, with all the money they make from being booked constantly because they can produce mind blowing visuals without the overhead…

    They can take off to Thailand for personal shooting.

    Or you hit cool locations just because the CD/AD/Client has a fat budget and wants to get out of the office. That practice won't be fading anytime soon.

    Which is fine by me ;)

  8. Matthew Walton December 29, 2009 at 11:04 am #

    I found the demo to very interesting. I think I was caught off guard the most with the "Ugly Betty" sequences. It is amazing how much they can do in a studio.

    I, too, saw AVATAR and was completely blown away. The possibilities are endless.

    Great post. I'm looking forward to what lies ahead!

  9. Adam December 29, 2009 at 11:21 am #

    Cool. Thanks for sharing…will share with my high school photo kids.

  10. Adam December 29, 2009 at 11:22 am #

    Cool. Thanks for sharing…will share with my high school photo kids.

  11. Jason Collin Photography December 29, 2009 at 12:10 pm #

    Wow, green screen technology has really improved since the days of SNL skits of people riding horses with a black outline around them in front of a matte background!

    Very well edited video as well.

  12. Michael Plaxico December 29, 2009 at 1:16 pm #

    I agree 100%. It's a safe bet that, like so many processed foods, by the time a work within a given medium has reached your senses, it has been greatly modified. But what matters most to viewers is the visual/emotional impact of the work–not whether the work itself is in some ways synthetic.

    Few typographers cast their typefaces in sorts anymore. There's nothing wrong with the old way, but using some typography program on the Mac might save you a little time and money.

    Everyone is certainly entitled to their own opinions, but, rather than gripe about change, it would probably behoove one to accept and exploit those changes that can save time, possibly cut costs, and help the artist to better realize their vision. As evidenced by their falling prices and their increasing presence, these technologies are here to stay. Furthermore, they are, in all likelihood, iterations toward some grandiose, sci-fi-grade technologies that we thought we'd never see in the really-real world.

    Holodeck, anyone? ;D

  13. Rockhopper December 29, 2009 at 2:46 pm #

    To illustrate my point about greenscreen


  14. Stephon December 29, 2009 at 4:02 pm #

    Hey Chase. I know you are a huge fan of cutting edge ways of integrating technology with art (especially involving the iPhone). I thought I'd share this video from The Mill's homepage (Nov. 23rd, 2009).

  15. jeremy December 29, 2009 at 4:11 pm #

    there is definaly a boom and prolifiration of technology these days. my guess is most of these shots are being done to keep costs down, its cheaper to shoot on the back lot then ship actors and equipment to a location.

    but remember, there are teams of trained professionals working on this for hours and hours. I'm sure there is still tons of rotoscoping to be done to clean up plates, as well as matchmaking, ect, and that is great for a big studio, but as a small independant new media company, its actually easier for me to shoot on location naturally then try to purchase all the equpiment to do this plus the specialized training required. if done right it looks great, if done even slightly off, it looks soo sooo horrible.

    so yes, green screen rocks, but its just a tool. Just becuase we all have strobes doesn't mean we don't go out and shoot in the sunlight, right?

  16. David December 29, 2009 at 7:32 pm #

    stink! That's crazy!

  17. Phat Baby Photographer December 29, 2009 at 8:01 pm #

    Neat. The question in my mind is whether this ushers in an era of technology for technology sake or whether this gives creatives a way to accentuate an already brilliant story?

    Awesome video – thanks again.

  18. Kris Singleton December 30, 2009 at 12:30 am #

    While it's very cool and all, and I usually by default dislike new technology until I try it…..(then love it LOL)

    it does look incredibly boring to be an actor or crew :|

    I used to program industrial robots to do similar movements as the booms in the same sort of bland environments, that's why I left to become a photographer :)

    Obviously the the director of photography on set can only guess at the finished render (I'm sure he doesn't do the CGI himself), to see the finished product would be like "did I have anything to do with that?"

    Oh well, I'm sure the money's good and makes up for it LOL

    The director, on the other hand, would be having an awesome time :)


  19. Margaret Lindsay Holton December 30, 2009 at 7:56 am #

    Hi. As a parallel 'look-see', suggest you all take a gander at the directors cut of 'Hancock' (on DVD, starring Will Smith/Charlize Theron). The green screen provided some amazing visuals to that production FOR SURE. Check it out. Best, mlh

  20. Simon Duhamel December 30, 2009 at 9:35 am #

    Pretty Exciting Stuff, can't wait to tap into that, but it's not as easy as it seems!

  21. Aimee Greeblemonkey December 30, 2009 at 1:53 pm #

    Right now feels like when I graduated college (91) with a graphic design degree – minor in photography – and things were just transferring over to computers, and everyone was moaning how Macs were going to ruin everything, blah blah blah. To me, the technology is all a just a tool to let imagination free. I love that the crazy intense technology that used to be reserved for big studio and big $$$ is now getting into the hands of truly imaginative people. I can't wait to see what they/we/you do with it.

  22. Cynthia Wood December 30, 2009 at 1:55 pm #

    The only "problem," perhaps, is that it will require even better acting. :)

  23. Chris Shepard December 30, 2009 at 3:22 pm #

    Pretty awesome! It's amazing how much is green screen these days without knowing it.

  24. Rick Lewis December 30, 2009 at 4:57 pm #

    Chase, another great post! I had to put the link on my Facebook page. Very cool!! Thanks.

  25. Kevin Blackburn Photography January 2, 2010 at 11:53 am #

    Very Cool I am sharing this with everyone…

  26. MH January 3, 2010 at 8:04 am #

    I am sorry but… no.

    Last thing film makers need is more technology and bad acting.

    If your scene relies on rendered space ship command rooms or strange planet backdrops with badly animated creatures then probably the best thing for your film is to delete the footage and start writing a proper script first.

    Yes, I'm looking at you Cameron and Lucas, your latest films are CGI circle jerk atrocities compared the the classics you made in the 80's.

  27. Margaret Lindsay Holton January 5, 2010 at 5:38 am #

    Afterthought, one element that can't be forgotten in this rush forward to consume 'bigger & better' technology is that fundamentally a 'story' is still a 'story'. If it FAILS as a story, no amount of technology will save it.

    A story is primarily shaped with words, with pictures augmenting the 'thought'. Take away the thought, take away the words and the 'picture' means nothing. Techno zapped or not.

  28. Bryan January 6, 2010 at 3:09 pm #

    Here's a video created by Alex Roman heavy on compositing except entirely CG. Amazing.

  29. Paulo Rodrigues January 10, 2010 at 1:38 am #

    Just imagine, this technology could be in consumer hands pretty quickly.

    How long before we see crowdsourced backdrops being comped into low budget movies?

    Or even two movies with the same stock backdrop comped in?

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