When It Comes to Film Production, Virtual is the New Real

In the early 90’s, I was the creative director on a series of futuristic ads for Bud Ice: a mostly forgotten product of a time of unchecked Budweiser line extensions (Dry, Draft, Clear…).  The campaign was a rather messy mash-up of unfortunate influences, nearly but not quite saved by it’s use of The Jesus and Mary Chain’s “Sugar Ray” as a themesong.  The only redeeming aspects of that shoot–aside from watching our whackjob French stylist present to our conservative clients while wearing a wire trashbasket as a hat–was that we used a glass matte painter.

Since the dawn of the cinema, visual technicians relied on painting mattes on glass to create spectacular locations.  When Dorothy and her friends woke up from their poppy field snooze and headed off toward the Emerald City , that was a matte painting.  When Indiana Jones’ Ark of the Covenant disappeared into a massive government warehouse, that was a matte painting too.

The effect amounts to little more than placing a pane of glass in front of the camera and painting your desired image on it, leaving a small window unpainted to film the actors moving in this fictional locale.  Even as we worked with this time-honored movie effect, we knew it’s days were numbered.

Which brings me to this video clip for Stargate Studios.  These days, the ability to use computers to cut moving mattes around actors in front of green screens means the need for things like expensive location shoots and travel budgets has plummeted significantly.  Watch this showreel and see if you aren’t amazed at how seamlessly many of these effects create the illusion of presence in totally foreign locales.  And not surprisingly, see how many television shows have adopted the technique in order to get big production values affordably.

Everything in the world of visual storytelling is changing.  Those that can adapt to the new possibilities fastest have the best chance of thriving through these changes.

In other words, start getting comfortable with green.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79