Commentary on Movies and TV by Brian Holcomb

Tuesday, January 08, 2008


At Scott Kirsner's blog CINEMATECH yesterday, Kirsner wrote about the new Cinital system for real time greenscreening. As Scott points out the novelty of the company's approach is that, "the camera can move anywhere it wants -- or change focus -- and the background responds appropriately."

This makes the use of green screen more attractive in that filmmakers can no longer complain about the lack of spontaneity in the process. A filmmaker can now shoot actors in front of a simple greenscreen set up, place them anywhere in the world or beyond using a single background plate, and then just shoot it like it's a real location, going handheld, zooming in, out, panning around and the program deals with making the background change to fit the image.

This should have immense effects on low budget films and the television industry as pretty much anything that can be imagined can be effectively composited in real time on the set.

In many ways this could bring back the studio control employed by filmmakers like Alfred Hitchcock. In almost all of his films, scenes taking place outdoors or in crowded resturaunts were shot on rear screen projection stages with just the principal players sitting at a table or park bench. This way the actors and director could focus on getting the best performances and the cleanest sound recording since the crowd and outdoor ambience would be added later. Watch the following video to see how this effect worked then and how it could be done with much more precision now. Besides the opening shots of Bergman and Grant in the car where the use of rear screen is obvious, the scenes on the park bench and at the racetrack are very interesting, with the use of a handful of on set extras to fool the eye.

Notorious - Use of Rear Projection

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Stanley Kubrick also used this method for some shots in EYES WIDE SHUT particularly one in which Tom Cruise is seen walking in a tracking shot on a NYC street. Kubrick put Cruise on a treadmill while greenscreening a moving plate of the sidewalk and street behind him creating the impression of a perfect, smooth backwards track.

Of course this also allows a filmmaker to easily grab a reshoot since there is no need to build an elaborate set or bring a large crew on a location that must be blocked off or lit. I'm not suggesting that everyone turn into George Lucas and shoot their films on stages, but for certain scenes or for certain projects it may be just the right technique.

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