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For centuries plays were the enterity of the theater world. Silent films burst onto the scene, but they only served as an alternative to live theater. It wasn’t until the origins of visual effects that film began to overtake live theater as the main form of entertainment. The 1902 film A Trip to the Moon is considered one of the early pioneers of visual effects. It introduced many techniques such as stop motion and matte painting that are still common in amateur films. With the dawn of the digital age, most of the classical techniques have fallen by the wayside, but that doesn’t mean that visual effects are any less prevalent. Modern cinema could not exist without some of these kinds of visual effects.
In the late 20th century, the green screen emerged. It allowed editors to digitally change a film without risking the recording of the actors. The technique works by setting part of your set or actors with a specific color of green. The recording is fed into a computer, and with the aide of editing software digital images are placed over the green parts of the film. Only green parts of the film are affected so entire backgrounds can be recreated, and the actors will look natural in the scene. Green screen started as a novelty in early films. The technique caused things not painted green to have an unattractive white border around them. In recent versions this has been fixed. Now entire movies are shot with only a green screen as the set.
Matte Painting is a technique that has existed since the early days of cinema and continues to be used today. Initially artists would paint a flat scene with the illusion of depth onto a screen to be placed in the back of a scene. The technique is now down with digital art programs, but it is still used for landscapes. The digital backdrops are placed in areas where the actors will not be going. They allow the studio to create locations that are impossible to use. Digital matte paintings have replaced the use of miniatures for most sprawling cities.
Some old parlor tricks have been re-purposed in the digital age. John Textor is an award winning visual effects artist who led the charge to bring Micheal Jackson back for a performance at the 2014 Billboard Music Awards. He talked to USA Today about the technique used to do this stunning visual effect. Most people think it was a hologram, but that technology simply isn’t up to the levels needed for practical usage yet. Instead Textor and his team projected an image onto a glass plane. They spent 8 months animating the song to make sure that every movement was as realistic as possible.