Hollywood’s History of Faking It / The Evolution of Greenscreen Compositing


One of you left earlier on the Facebook Page a comment to say he understood a bit better the meaning of the name matte painting. It made me think about a video I’ve seen few months ago about the history of Compositing, which I wanted to share with you again today, just in case you missed it at the time.

In the early age of the cinema, matte painting and what we defined later as being compositing was working very closely together.
It’s easy to understand why we call glass painting this big painting made on glass that was directly put between the camera and the rest of the set. We didn’t any stage that could be called pre-compositing, at it was done live, and shot as it was. There was no post treatment, and if the time changed before the artist finished his matte painting, the painting and the set lighting were different, which was a problem…
This great and legendary technique was glass-painting, not matte painting.

Matte painting came later, when we started to use a cache which was basically a piece of black paper put in front of the camera in order to hide all the part of the set that we didn’t want to print on the film.
Then, by projecting the opposite of this cache onto a big canvas, a matte painter was able to paint exactly what was missing to the film.
We just had to shoot again, but only the part that were not impressed the first time, through another cache, and we had both the set and the matte painting of the same film. At this time, we had camera operator dedicated to this task, that were probably the first compositor in the history.

Then came the use of the proper black and white matte. And this is the beginning of the compositing as we know it today.
The evolution of all these techniques for matte painting followed the evolution of the use of matte in general in films. And it’s really interesting to see how we managed to assemble different sources together through the age. That’s what explains in this really cool video that I urge you to watch if you haven’t yet. You’ll learn a lot, I’m sure.