How Much TV is Actually Green Screen?


A lot, it turns out! This corporate video from the "virtual backlot" magicians at Stargate Studios, reveals just how much of what we assume are TV location shoots are actually filmed in front of green screens. Why bother shooting Ugly Betty sidestepping a reporter and bumping into someone on the street when you can build a to-scale replica covered in green material, then digitally add an extra being jostled by a phantom Ugly Betty in post? Voila! The illusion is seamless! Watching this, I was reminded of an old sketch from Late Night with David Letterman in which Mark Hamill cracks an egg into a bowl; then a video spoofing those Star Wars making-of featurettes reveals that the egg was rigged with several tiny explosive charges, and Hamill had actually just mimed cracking it in front of a blue screen. Get it? It would have been easier just to shoot him cracking an egg! (But not as cool.) (And if anyone can find that video, I'd be much obliged.) Anyway, here's the video. Et tu, Hiro Nakamura? Et tu? [via Paul Scheer]


  • Anna says:

    Well, Ugly Betty isnt green screen anymore because they moved to New York in season 3 and use the exteriors a lot now. No more green screen!Make sure you dont miss the return of Ugly Betty, in it's new timeslot, Wednesday Jan 6th at 10 on ABC!

  • Emperor Joshua Norton says:

    These are the days of miracles and wonders! I once prided myself on being able to detect bluescreen, especially in crowd shots. But wow, this is fantastic tech.
    Just an aside: When, and why, did bluescreen change to green?
    Thanks for posting this. Excellent!

  • "David Webb" says:

    Link is gone.

  • SunnydaZe says:

    I predict that by 2011 youtube will be nothing but underage girls dancing to "Baby Got Back".....

  • animator says:

    @Emperor Joshua Norton
    "When, and why, did bluescreen change to green?"
    Bluescreen used to be essential because a chemical was used to remove blue pigment from the film stock, leaving a clear window for other imagery to be filmed through. But this always resulted in a perceptible shift in other colours in the frame as well, plus the ghosting effect as the background could be seen through the foreground images (see the original Empire Strikes Back snowspeeder scenes for a good example).
    Digital technology allows the use of other colours, bright green is popular as it is rarely found in clothing or eye colour (some old films have odd glitches when blue eyed actors appear in front of blue screens). However blue is still used today when green is considered inappropriate, because a character may be wearing a green costume for example.
    In principle any colour at all could be used, but it is generally considered best to standardise, which makes creating the tools to deal with the process much simpler as they can be tuned to the particular green and blue used for compositing.

  • AlienFan says:

    The link is dead, but you can just view the original .FLV file on Stargate Studios' website.

  • Marcus says:

    Green did not replace blue. It always depends on what you need to film, the objects or actors predominant color and how well it sets off from the blue / green so that it can be keyed properly. There are even more exotic colors around. Several parts of THE MATRIX were filmed before orange, I belive.

  • Yakko Warner says:

    Actually it was Letterman himself who cracked the egg, and the mini documentary about the special effects was narrated by Hamill.

  • Rick says:

    From what I've learned having dabbled a little in visual effects (I work as an editor), there is more blue in human skin color than there is green, also why red is rarely used as skin tone carries the most amount of red. Not a great deal, but somewhat enough to affect a key. Although on the other hand, when filming blonde hair, its easier to key if you use blue as its further away from green.
    Green is also preferred as blue is a much more popular color in costuming. Overall it really depends shoot to shoot and what variables are within. I definitely wouldn't have picked a bunch of those shows for being so dependent on chromakeying, except Heroes of course (its got some really obvious composites a lot of the time)

  • Tommy U says:

    So, in "On the Town" when we see Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, and Jules Munshin in Manhattan, it's green screen? Or back in 1949, did they have to use the primitive, inferior technique of actually being there?

  • Neil says:

    The really remarkable thing to realise here is not that the big studios are able to do this, but that *anyone* is able to do this.
    You need
    - A room set up to allow draping of blue/green/whatever colours everywhere easily
    - Any HD camcorder
    - Any desktop PC you can buy
    - A few programs like premiere and some FX apps
    That's all they used to make Sin City, where every scene was composed like this. There wasn't a single on-location shot in the entire film.
    Sure, big production companies will have render farms and exceptionally talented people to run them, they will have better cameras and sound equipment, but in the end it mostly means they can do it quicker, not cheaper and not necessarily better.
    No, you can't shoot cinema-size frames with a consumer HD camera, but for anything up to 1080p they are fine.
    It's an absolutely incredible democratization of film-creation. Right now there's still a lack of technical ability by most film-makers but that will change in the next 20 years.
    Amazing, really.