Petro Vlahos, the visual effects pioneer who created the green and blue-screen has passed away, aged 96. He was responsible developing the techniques used for the visual treats in MARY POPPINS and BEN HUR.

Although the process of blue-screen originally went back to 1940, but when Vlahos created the company Ulimatte with his son Paul, he changed the way it was used by inventing the colour-difference travelling matte scheme. It took the blue-screen technique from the likes of THE THIEF OF BAGDAD (1940) and changed to film scenes against an aquamarine blue-coloured background.

This is then used to generate a matte – which is transparent wherever the blue-colour features on the original film, and opaque elsewhere. This can then be used to superimpose a separately filmed scene or visual effects to create a composite. Mr Vlahos’s discovery was via a rather complicated lab process which separates the blue, green and red parts of each frame before putting them back together again in a specific order. Incredible stuff!

As well as MARY POPPINS, his handyw0rk would also eventually be found in Disney’s BEDKNOBS AND BROOMSTICKS, which also allowed actors to appear in scenes with animated characters. His legacy would continue into films like THE BIRDS, the original STAR WARS films and even INDIANA JONES.

Robin Shenfield, chief exec of visual effects studio The Mill, said of Petro’s work:

“It’s the absolute building block of all the visual effects that you see in television and movies, it’s significance is extraordinary. Everything people like us and others are still built on that fundamental ability to take lots of elements from lots of places and seamlessly mesh them into a new convincing reality. Mr Petro – and his family – were pioneers in our industry for which he should be remembered.”

R.I.P. Petro Vlahos, a true visual effects pioneer with a legacy that continues every day in the world of film.

Mary Poppins with Live Actors and Animation, thanks to Petro Vlahos
Mary Poppins with Live Actors and Animation, thanks to Petro Vlahos

Source: BBC