The special effects industry is paying tribute today to a man who revolutionized the blue and green-screen effects we see today. Vlahos was 96 years old and the announcement came via the company he founded, called, Ultimatte.
Color Difference Traveling Matte Scheme
The blue and green-screen systems allows filmmakers to superimpose actors or other objects against separately filmed backgrounds. Vlahos developed the technique for 1959′s Ben-Hur.
Vlahos is not actually credited with creating the blue-screen effect, it was used in a few films previously, including The 10 Commandments. He did however, improve on the technique, by minimizing a strange looking glow that would pop-up in a unusual side-effect.
He called his invention the color-difference traveling matte scheme. This matte scheme, involved filming a scene against an aquamarine blue-colored background. It then generated a transparent matte wherever the blue color featured on the original film and opaque everywhere else.
Effect Still Widely Used in the Industry
In retrospect, Vlahos made a breakthrough in creating a complicated laboratory procedure that involved separating the blue, green and red parts of each frame – then combined them back together in a certain order.
Today his invention is still widely used by the television, film, computer games and advertising industries.
Everett Burrell, who is a senior visual effects supervisor at Los Angeles based studio Look Effects told the BBC;
Our industry has lost a giant, it’s hard to even conceive how we would do what we do without the amazing number of processes and techniques he pioneered. All visual effects professionals and movie fans owe him a debt of gratitude.
Vlahos was responsible for many patents in the movie industry. He was awarded a patent for his work on a related technique called sodium vapor of illumination, which was developed for Disney. This technique involved filming actors scenes against a white backdrop using sodium – powered lamps. This caused a yellow glow to bounce off the background, and the camera used featured two film stocks shot simultaneously with a prism on its lens.
One of the biggest advantages of sodium vapor illumination was it created an even cleaner affect than the original blue screen effects. Disney used this version of the technique to make the movies Mary Poppins, Bed knobs and Broomsticks, and Pete’s Dragon – among many other movies that allowed the actors to appear and interact with cartoons.
Eventually Vlahos had up to 35 movie related patents and went on to cofound his company, Ultimatte Corp, with his son in 1976. The company today focuses on making AdvantEdge, which is a composting software plug-in.