Wednesday, October 12, 2011
ILM, The Optical Printer and a Lifelong Obsession
In 1999 I became obsessed with figuring out how bluescreen compositing works. I was 15 years old when I saw Star Wars Episode 1 - The Phantom Menace. When I walked out of the theater I was determined to know how such a thing was done. Enough has been said about the film itself so I won't get into that here.
For years I searched the internet, emailed professionals and read books on the subject. None of which I felt I fully understood. Finally, I happened upon a book called Photoshop Channel CHOPS that revealed how to perform a bluescreen comp in Photoshop using techniques similar to an optical printer. My results were disappointing. I didn't understand what I was doing.
Two years after The Phantom Menace and armed with an MiniDV camcorder, iMac, iMovie & Photoshop I made my first film. A (very short) short starring my brother and featuring one greenscreen shot. The poorly lit screen didn't key well at all so I set about rotoscoping the entire 316 frame shot. One TIFF image at a time in Photoshop 4.0. The rotoscope was taking forever so I opted to reshoot the shot with a better-lit screen.
11:37pm from Samuel Hall on Vimeo.
By then I'd started using Commotion. A once-great compositing application that's since been abandoned. With modern keying tools I no longer had to know the ins-and-outs of bluescreen compositing.
I moved on with my life.
Every so often I revisit this obsession. Trying to wrap my mind around optical, photochemical processes that gave way to this one visual trick that made possible so many of the spectacular images that have inspired me for as long as I can remember. This obsession with bluescreen shots led to an interest in visual effects of all kinds and to my current career in the moving images business.
Now, because of this video demonstration by FX Guide & Stu Maschwitz I finally understand how it worked then (the optical, pre-digital era) and now. I can't tell you what this means to me. Thank you FX Guide. Thank you Stu.
July11 Background Fundamentals Class 01 from fxguide on Vimeo.
fxguide: ILM and the Optical Printer