January 19, 2014

Create In-Camera VFX the Old Fashioned (But Awesome) Way, Through Front Screen Projection

Front Screen ProjectionSince green screens and blue screens are so available and easy to use, the first method a filmmaker thinks of for obtaining visual effects isn't often front screen projection. But, we've actually seen some really incredible pieces of art come out of image projection recently, like Bot & Dolly's short film Box, as well as Private School Entertainment's work with projecting motion captured images (to name a few that we've covered). Now, practical effects guru Joey Shanks shows us how to use front screen projection, a process that has become quite dated, but still remains an excellent tool for in-camera visual effects.

The most iconic use of front screen projection is probably when it was used for Stanley Kubrick's "Dawn of Man" scene in 2001: A Space Odyssey in the late 1960s (as well as in his fake moon landing -- allegedly), but the process was utilized as recently as 2013 by cinematographer Claudio Miranda for Oblivion. So, sure -- it's a little antiquated, and there are probably easier ways to go about creating backgrounds for projects. But, as Shanks points out, front screen projection gives your shots a focus depth that "you could never achieve if filmed on location."

Shanks walks us through the whole process, from what materials you'll need to where to place it. He uses a Scotchlite reflective fabric for the background that reflects 95% of the light back to the source, which allows you to light your subject without affecting your background. He also uses a projector (naturally) and a one-way mirror set at a 45 degree angle to film through. There are a few important techniques, like placement and angling of the camera and projector, so check out the tutorial below to get a better idea on how to pull this off.

And here's the behind-the-scenes:

https://vimeo.com/83826142

Have you ever used front screen projection before? Do you have any tips on how to achieve the effect? Let us know in the comments.

[via Shanks FX & Indiewire]

Your Comment

19 Comments

Is this preferable to rear screen projection for any reason?

January 19, 2014 at 12:47AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Rear projection eats more of the projected light which is the biggest problem with these techniques.

January 23, 2014 at 3:58PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Keith

Rear screen projection also softens the image a bit due to the transmission through the screen material, plus it is harder to get a completely even brightness across the whole frame. I'd also like to point out that the Scotchlite retro-reflective screen is also one of the best ways to shoot chroma key backgrounds because you can project any color background you want by simply changing the color filter in the projector. Plus you get a very flat even color over the whole background with virtually no spill on the front subject. And there is no need to paint the back wall of your stage or flood the back wall with lighting to try to get an even light behind the subject, saving lots of time and money.

January 24, 2014 at 9:34AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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I have used this technique, although I used a 5" x 7" glass beamsplitter, mounted in front of the projector.
This is also a great way to add lights to a miniature. Stick pieces of Scotchlite to your model or matte painting and they become lights. You can get self adhesive Scotchlite at the hardware store for reflective markers and house numbers. Project white light from your projector instead of an image. I used this to add neon signs and street lights to a matte painting. Be sure to hang a piece of black felt or Duvetyne cloth to absorb the light from the projector off to the side. This is the same technique used in the original Star Wars for the light sabers, and in Tron for the glowing costumes.

January 19, 2014 at 2:48AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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The video cites Oblivion as front projection but I thought it was back projection?

January 19, 2014 at 3:52AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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JPS

Oblivion was some pretty fantastic front projection, which they used to completely light certain scenes:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=9DCkIuv82Q4

January 19, 2014 at 4:28AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Joe Marine
Camera Department

Thanks Joe, for this bts video which demonstrates the advantages of this technique. Its practical value is evident to anyone who has been struggling to remove the green spill of improperly lit green screen scenes ; )

January 19, 2014 at 4:55AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Richard

I've always been partial to projection techniques over anything added later. When it's done well there is something about it that feels more real to me. And obviously there's the green/blue spill you don't have to worry about, and actors like acting in front of things whenever they can.

This movie also used some pretty impressive projection: http://nofilmschool.com/2013/11/last-passenger-making-of-videos-crash-co...

January 19, 2014 at 5:57AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Joe Marine
Camera Department

Ok, thanks. I got a bit confused as the top video shows front projection from the camera's point of view whereas Oblivion projects from under the set. Bit different.

January 19, 2014 at 11:34AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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JPS

This is a different kind of front projection than the one shown in the tutorial, where you need perfect alignment of the camera.
As understand in Oblivion they set several projectors under the set, and the light bounces naturally on the screens and then onto the set, you don't need 3M reflective material. I think it looked awesome.

And as for greenscreen, I remember there was (or still is) a quite expensive product which basically consists of some sort of 3M reflective material as a "greenscreen" and then a ring light on the camera shooting light of the color you need for keying (blue or green) which is perfectly even and doesn't spill on the actors. I can't remember the name of the product, though.

January 19, 2014 at 11:42AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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It's called Chromatte from Reflecmedia

January 19, 2014 at 12:58PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Brian

I used rear projection to provide the location for a short shot in 2012. It was for the Vancouver 24 hour film race so the ability to create whatever setting we came up with to match the theme of the competition was a huge bonus, Also given the upredictable weather in Vancouver being able to set up an outdoor shoot indoors was really handy.
A key point to remember when planning a rear projection shoot is to allow for sufficient throw space behind the screen so that you can fill the full screen dimensions.
You can check out the results below...
http://vimeo.com/benjaminjamesturner/sisi

January 19, 2014 at 8:19AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Ben

There are short-throw and even ultra-short-throw projectors these days that can cover a large wall (though, if you want to do it in 4K, Sony will charge you $40K for the pleasure) from fewer than two feet away. There are also several "blending" programs where one can rig several projector for one united, seamless giant image. I think that's what they used on "Oblivion" (which, IMO, looked horrible).
.
And, here, the front screen shooting techniques are made fun of ... a clip from the "Airplane" :
[ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MrktxWUgcyA ]

January 20, 2014 at 1:06AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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DLD

That's true although in my experience short throw lens's are prone to vignetting if not positioned perpendicular to the screen. This means you must have adequate hardware to mount the projector high enough and even then you will quite often see a noticable hotspot in the center of the screen.

January 20, 2014 at 2:01AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Ben

We built and successfully used a front screen matte system in the late 60's and early 70's at school to produce full length features. We shot on 16mm using a blimped Mitchell on a large Worrall gearhead on a heavy McAlister crab dolly.

The rig was tied together on a plywood platform so that the blimped Mitchell-16, the Kodak Ektagraphic 35mm slide projector (also blimped so we could record sync sound, positioned 90 degrees to the camera axis) and semi-silvered mirror (which was about 12" square, as I recall and positioned 45 degrees between the camera an projector) could move as together. This allowed the camera to pan and tilt somewhat.

The front screen was Scotchlite fabric about 12 feet wide or more. Do not recall precise size, but it was big. Set pieces could be placed in front of the screen and if sized and positioned just right, actors could walk behind and around them and they would appear as if part of the background image. One scene was a colonnade that was originally shot in a Spanish castle. We added some actual columns in the foreground and it really sold the gag.

The beauty of front screen is that there is no matte involved. In 16mm, you simply can't afford to go down a generation like you can with 35mm film. And in those days, the emulsions were not what they are today. We shot in ECO reversal that was pretty low contrast, but if you made a copy as part of a matte process, the contrast jumped up remarkable, as did grain. If you could do in-camera effects, you were done in one generation.

(We also did "glass shots" for the same reason -- to make it look like it was done in one pass, because it was. A "glass shot" is where a large pane of plate glass is placed several hundred feet away from the outdoor set, whose walls were only built partially high, the rest being supplied by a photographically accurate painting on the glass. The artist would spend days looking through a locked down camera and painting the upper parts of the set walls onto the glass. Still can't believe they did it.)

If the setup was right, the actors' shadows were self-mating (the camera could not see any shadows cast by actors or set pieces), the high gain Scotchlite would reflect the slide projector's image back into the camera lens and set lighting was adjusted so the projector image and actor/live set lighting were balanced.

A lot of work, to be sure, but if it worked, you were done in one pass, held the quality and the look was amazing. Quite ingenious, actually.

You wouldn't think a tiny 35mm projector lamp would be bright enough to expose camera film, but the Scotchlite fabric works like the reflective tape on a stop sign or any other box reflector: light is reflected back to its source. If you looked directly into a projector's lens, you would see how bright the beam is. The screen simply catches all the light and sends it back.

January 21, 2014 at 10:54PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Dan

Amazing. Any effects done before the late 80's blow my mind. So complicated that geniuses were required to do it, now it's just idiots like me!

January 23, 2014 at 6:06AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Andy

I would like to try out front projection technique and would like to know what type of window tint material was used on the glass?

January 23, 2014 at 6:22PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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James Emm

Loved reading this! Thanks for sharing!!

May 25, 2014 at 9:50PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Jeff Macpherson

Thanks for the great post and useful discussion from everyone.
Has anyone here ever purchased or rented the Scotchlight reflective screen recommended in the video? The 3M website has a whole line of Scotchlight products (http://solutions.3m.com/wps/portal/3M/en_US/ScotchliteReflectiveMaterial...) and it's no clear which would be the right thing to get. Is this type of screen something that could be rented from larger A/V companies?
If the real stuff is too costly, Is there a cheaper DIY way to get similar results?

August 19, 2014 at 12:46PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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