Film and TV Studio in London - Broadley Studio
Film and TV Studio in London - Broadley Studio
Film and TV Studio in London - Broadley Studio

A Brief History of Green Screen

May 16, 2024 by Naz Foroodian

Green screen, also known as chroma keying, the less commonly used ‘colour separation overlay (CSO), is a technique in filmmaking and photography where actors or objects are filmed against a uniformly coloured background, typically green. As you can imagine, it has a long and fascinating history.

Green vs Blue Screen

When it comes to the history of green screen, blue screens were actually more common. This evolution from blue to green screens reflects advancements in technology and a deeper understanding of colour science in visual effects production.

During editing, the green (or blue) background is removed, allowing other images or videos to be seamlessly inserted behind the subjects. Green screens are preferred these days due to their higher luminance, resulting in better colour separation and easier removal during post-production.

They are also more compatible with modern digital camera sensors, facilitating clean and realistic composites, reflecting advancements in technology and a better understanding of colour science in visual effects production.

green screen history

Green Screen History: Early Pioneers

The matte effect in filmmaking has undergone a remarkable evolution since the early days of cinema, gradually unfolding through experimentation and technological advancements. Visionaries like Georges Méliès, known for his imaginative work such as "The Four Troublesome Heads", pioneered primitive matte techniques like multiple exposures.

This involved selectively shielding sections of the film strip from light by painting over a glass placed in front of the lens. Once removed, the previously obscured sections became the focal points of the scene upon reshooting, creating captivating illusions like multiple head removals. This breakthrough opened up boundless possibilities for storytelling within the film community.

The Four Troublesome Heads (1898) by Georges Méliès

Using Glass & Mattes

Building upon this innovation, filmmakers began using painted glass shots to enhance their compositions. A meticulously crafted piece of glass was positioned between the subject and the camera, allowing for the creation of intricate landscapes or the expansion of architectural scales.

While this technique added richness to cinematic scenes, it was labour-intensive and time-consuming. However, advancements allowed for the painting process to occur post-shooting, paving the way for more efficient production methods.

Additionally, the introduction of traveling mattes represented a significant leap forward in matte techniques, revolutionising filmmaking practices. These mattes enabled seamless integration of actors or objects into diverse backgrounds, propelling visual storytelling to new heights.

The Thief of Baghdad

Méliès' creative approach to matte effects paved the way for later filmmakers, inspiring them to explore new possibilities in visual storytelling.

Later filmmakers such as Norman Dawn and Willis O'Brien advanced the art in films like "The Lost World" (1925) and "King Kong" (1933), along with "The Thief of Bagdad" (1940), which won an Academy Award for Best Special Effects.

Renowned for its groundbreaking visuals, The Thief of Bagdad pushed the boundaries of matte techniques, showcasing innovative and imaginative use of special effects for its time. Over time, matte techniques have become more refined, leading to modern digital compositing methods in filmmaking.

This preference for green screens marks a significant evolution from the historical use of blue screens, reflecting advancements in technology and a better understanding of color science in visual effects production.

The Thief of Bagdad by Raul Walsh

Compositing & Chroma Keying

Compositing, which includes chroma keying, involves blending elements and footage together, often utilising green or blue screens as solid background colours. In its early history, it was originally prominent in Film and TV to economise on sets and locations, it has since become commonplace in various productions, including corporate videos, for enhancing depth and dimension.

Since its inception, chroma keying has undergone significant advancements, taking visual effects history into the modern age.

With the continuous improvement in computing power and the widespread use of high-resolution cameras capable of shooting in RAW format, post-production workflows have become more streamlined. The pioneering work of Larry Butler in films like "The Thief of Baghdad," blending it with the traveling matte technique for Technicolor films, laid the foundation for modern chroma keying.

Subsequent experiments with ultraviolet traveling matte further refined blue / green screen technology in the 1940s and 50s, shaping the techniques used today.

Green Screen Today

In contemporary green screen production, actors perform against a green screen, which is later digitally removed to isolate the subject. The subject is then composited onto the desired background footage, resulting in a seamless final product.

With the advent of even higher resolutions, such as 8k recording, and continued enhancements in editing software and workflows, achieving professional-grade results is more attainable than ever before, opening up new avenues for creative expression in post-production.

FAQ: What is the History of Green Screen?

Green screen has come a long way since its early 'blue' period. Today, it's used in everything from music videos to adverts to Hollywood blockbusters to transform storytelling and bring ideas and imaginations to life.

Remember, the potted history of green screen is:

1.  In the beginning, blue screens were more common than green
2.  Early innovators helped matte techniques and production to evolve
3.  This was further enhanced by the use of painted glass shots
4.  Travelling mattes revolutionsed filmmaking further
5.  Green screens steadily overtake blue screens as techniques advance
6.  Compositing and chroma keying developments paved the way for modern green screen techniques
7.  Better, faster computing power, cameras and editing software has made green screen what it is today - an essential part of filmmaking at all levels

Of course, to make the very best use of all that history and development, hire real green screen experts like Broadley Studio to make sure your shoot really does reach its potential...

Broadley Studio - THE Green Screen Experts

With over 25 years' experience, our green screen track record is second-to-none, our facilities are cutting-edge and we have our finger on the pulse with the latest technology. From live streaming keyed content to any platform to designing virtual sets and backgrounds to 360 virtual production, Broadley has got you and your production covered.

To get a flavour of what we can do for you, check out our latest showcase, case studies and studio specs. Or take a virtual tour of our studios.

To find out more about our studios and production services and how we can help you and your shoot, please call us on +442077255858 or email us at [email protected].

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