Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Blue Screen

Acting with blue screen mattes is a part of filming that is thought to be especially difficult, since the thing that you are looking at is just a cross on a wall or a stick with a blob on top. Whether you are supposed to be reacting to the majesty of a nineteenth century Brazilian opera house or your beloved being thrown from a parapet, an alien making pancakes in your parent's kitchen or a unicorn guiding you through an enchanted forest, the blue screen stays pretty much the same; a big blue backdrop, just hanging there. Lately it is more likely to be green, but still, it doesn't emote much. Of course, neither does the camera lens or the theatrical backcloth, but you will still spend many hours staring at bits of Gaffa tape stuck to the inside of a lens hood or gazing out of a window frame at a third of a tree stump stuck in a bucket in front of a painting of a forest. (On one film I was in the director was so in love with the other actress that he couldn't bear to have a shot without her in it. Thus, all my close-ups were organised with her reflection over my shoulder while I would talk to a light stand. As she was both incredibly beautiful and disconcertingly lovely, I only minded a bit.)
When we were filming 'Dinotopia', there was an enormous amount of green screen work, and one of the sound stages was entirely painted the requisite shade of green. There were flight sequences and mountain top scenes and machines developed to simulate the stride of different dinosaurs, so that when you sat in the saddle (very high up) and the right programme was set, you could be on a larger or smaller dinosaur, walking or running. If the wrong programme was set it was not unlike riding a mechanical bull. (Yes, I have, once with a lot of tequila.) A great deal of thought had gone into the dinosaur-riding machine, but you couldn't stay on it for very long without throwing up, dinosaurs are an awkward taxi. But the main problem with dinosaur filming was the great variety of heights. In a scene with a triceratops, a couple of diplodocus (diplodoci?) and some veloceraptors, there were only so many sticks with blobs on that could be set up. The amazing special effects team at Framestore must have had a terrible time fixing the eye lines in editing.
My earliest memory of filming with blue screen was the 'Chester Mystery Cycle Plays' for the BBC. I was 10 and playing a type of seraph and spent some days milling around the studio at Woodlane with a pair of wings and a halo. As I remember there were a lot of set pieces and plenty of time to observe the surroundings. When I came home my parents asked how it was all going. "God was lovely." I said, "And Mary gave me a cup of tea. But I don't like the Devil much." "No" said my dad, "I know what you mean."


  1. Everything you are writing is so interesting! You can`t imagine how much I`m enjoying it :-)I`m learning lots of things. I didn`t even know that "Blue Screens" existed! :")

  2. I'm so glad you're enjoying it Niki. As you can probably tell, I secretly really like working with blue screens. The only problem is that you can't wear anything blue for the scenes that you will film in front of the blue screen as they will become part of whatever the screen is supposed to be. In the case of the Harry Potter films, for instance, his cloak will become invisible (and everything underneath it). So it was a shame on one film, which was almost entirely set within the time frame of only day, that I spent a lot of time chosing a pale green shirt for the character only to find out that we had a huge green screen sequence in the middle of the shoot. That is one of the many reasons why I am not in charge of costumes.

  3. Hello Sophie.
    I just saw a great film, with you and our character Elisabeth, my god you are beautiful!
    It’s something with your eyes and secret smile that is so sensual.
    Of course i had to search the internet. That film was a long time ago but still...wow.
    I hope i was not to forward but i am an swedish actor, and i know that you cant fake or train that kind of mysterious beauty. I live in Stockholm City, have done a lot of TV and radio plus voice over jobs, and recently i had a part as the character Leif, in director Roy Anderssons new film You - the living. I tried to overact, to show to much feelings in one take, but the director said on and on not to. It’s not easy to show sorrow or happiness or any kind of mood, but when i started… not try to act in the "park scene", it became perfect. Everything in the film is hand built in studio 24, Stockholm, sometimes i wish we would have used a blue screen =) take care and a big hug from your swedish friend Jugge (Yagge) in Stockholm. P.S Write to me anytime.

  4. Hi Jugge,
    Good to hear from you. Thank you for you kind comments but remember that film you saw was made a long time ago!
    It sounds like you had a very good director, I have not seen Roy Anderson's films, but I look foward to finding them now, Songs From the Second Floor especially. You, the Living has not come out here yet.
    It is always difficult getting the balance right between expressing enough emotion to convey feelings and showing too much. Some wonderful actors often overact but are compelling to watch and others, equally talented, seem very blank and allow the audience to project what they want on to the character. There are no easy answers.
    The sudio sounds wonderful and Sweden produces such extraordinary cinema and actors. I am a huge fan of Lukas Moodysson, and Together is one of my favourite films. Lucky you to be working there now. I once did a film with Liv Ulman and wish I had heard her talk about her experiences with Bergman.