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Obit of the Day: Blue Screen Pioneer

It seems so simple. Place a blue or green screen behind an actor (or weatherman), film some activity, insert the appropriate background and voila! you have opened a world of possibilities whether its an alien planet, dancing penguins, bird attacks, or a cold front coming down from Canada. And this ubiquitous piece of movie magic is credited to Petro Vlahos, who passed away at the age of 96 on February 10, 2013.

Although he did not create the blue screen technique, he perfected it. By manipulating the red, green, and blue composition of individual film frames he was able to remove a “halo” that was visible around actors in these type of scenes. Mr. Vlahos’ technique was first put to use for the chariot race in the 1959 film Ben-Hur

Five years later he received an Academy Award for his work on the Disney  film, Mary Poppins. (Disney would be a regular customer using Mr. Vlahos’ technology for Bedknobs and BroomsticksPete’s Dragon, and The Love Bug, as well.) In 1965, Alfred Hitchock would use the technology to create the illusion of flocks of vicious fowl attacking Tippi Hedren in his film The Birds

Over his career Mr. Vlahos would own 35 different film patents. In 1976 opened his own company that capitalized on his technique, Ultimatte Corp., with his son as a partner. The company would win a 1978 Emmy for their contributions to television. 

In 1994 he received the Gordon E. Sawyer Award which “honors an individual in the motion picture industry whose technological contributions have brought credit to the industry.” 

Sources: NY TimesLA TimesBBCIMDB.com, and Oscars.org

(Video of some of Mr. Vlahos’ Academy Award-winning work in Mary Poppins featuring Dick Van Dyke and Julie Andrews is copyright of the Walt Disney Company and courtesy moviescenes4u on YouTube.com)

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