Exposing the truth about green screen use in your favourite TV shows

I stumbled upon this great montage video today that shows a whole bunch of shots from some of the top TV shows, that used green screen visual effects. The interesting thing about most of these shots is that you would never know about them or pick them as VFX shots. They’re just shots you’d think were filmed on location.

Some are obviously digital, like the boat on fire from Grays Anatomy. But the only reason you’d know it was digital is that it’s kind of obvious it would cost way too much to actually have a real boat all smashed up and on fire just for a TV show. And of course, the spacewalk on another planet had to be digital because, unless we’ve had some serious technological advancements in the last twelve months that I’m unaware of, I know we can’t just pick up a camera and crew and head off to another world.

Have a look at this awesome video from Stargate Studios.

So why are they using digital compositing on green screenshots on what appear to be simple location shoots in the cities?

Well, more often than not it comes down to two factors. Budget and time. Possibly the two biggest influencers of any film project, big or small. Quite often a TV show is not filmed in the city that it is set as it would take up way too much time to actually go and get those shots that take place out on the streets. Also, the logistics involved in shooting on location in a city (or almost anywhere these days) is nightmarish. The endless red tape that needs to be sorted through, the officials that need bribing (Oops, I meant location shooting fees that need to be paid…) and then if you have the time, money and patience to push through all of that, you then have to deal with keeping members of the public out of the frame and avoid showing trademarked logos and signs that you don’t have permission to use…

Sometimes it’s just easier, cheaper and quicker to build a small section of shop fronts, throw up a green screen, get a few extras, shoot the scene in a controlled environment, and then get some digital compositing whizz to throw it all together in post-production. Not to mention when done that way, you have complete control over the weather, lighting conditions, the time of day and so on.

So did you ever think that so much planning and work went into seemingly straightforward shots, or were you putting some dinner into your mouth at that moment and missed the shot altogether?

Being a visual effects artist is an interesting job that plays havoc with our egos and emotions. At first, it’s a great feeling to be a visual effects artist and have your work on display for everyone to see. But then if someone from the audience states “they were some great effects” and then comes up to congratulate us, we know that we’ve failed. An audience should never be aware that a  great effects shot has just happened right in front of them.

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