Chromakey is everywhere

Alan sez, "A great, but slightly disturbing, look at how pervasive green-screening has become in simply every scene in television these days. Pretty much everything you think is outdoors is faked, at least to some degree. I particularly like the faked ferry fire..."

Stargate Studios Virtual Backlot Reel 2009 (Thanks, Alan!)


  1. Is there some processing they left out for this video?

    Because in several of the examples it’s obvious there’s a green screen involved, it has that “can’t quite put my finger on it” feeling that the character isn’t attached to the background.

    But I never notice this stuff when watching these shows on TV. Maybe it’s just because the video has me paying more attention to the background than I normally do?

  2. I think this is awesome, personally. I sort of feel for the actors, though – another thing to remember – what it is supposed to look like.

  3. Awesome! I had no idea, so I guess it doesn’t impact my enjoyment of these shows/movies at all. Bully for them. Now in a few years when computer animation gets even better, we can get rid of the actors too.

  4. Ok, we’ve officially crossed the divide on this one. I had no idea that green screening was so pervasive. Maybe I’m naive but I thought many of these shots actually took place in an -actual- place. The hero’s time square 360 shot looks, well, like it took place in new york.

    I always thought of green screen as the goofy looking fake scenery while people drove a car in an older TV show. I was -completely- unaware of just how far we’ve come with this technology. Many of those shots are absolutely seamless. The actors are running around in completely green studios and I never even realized it. Mind = blown.

    1. The bad images of street scenes in the movies you’re thinking of were the early predecessor to chroma-key technology. They were made by projecting the backdrop movie onto a screen behind the actors, and synchronizing the camera with the projector.

  5. @xzzy – they’re just REALLY good at lighting & stuff to avoid that “can’t put my finger on it” feeling.
    And I imagine dealing with the permits, weather, people, etc. in NYC must be a nightmare – greenscreening in Astoria or wherever must keep the budget for these shows manageable. That said, its rare that they aren’t shooting SOMETHING for Law & Order or Ugly Betty or something else around my office in Chelsea every few weeks.

  6. Why is this disturbing? That the scenes in a TV show or movie are not “real” shouldn’t be any more upsetting than the fact that the characters are protrayed by actors.

    I rather like what cheap chromakey makes possible for video entertainment. Shows don’t have to depend so much on transparently stock footage to establish a location. Events can be shown to happen in lots of “places”, instead of confining them to a 3 stage pre-fab set. Low cost and “quirky’ shows can be done, done better, and done with much less cost and risk, which makes them more likely to be produced.

    The way to get “good stuff” is to try lots of stuff, and the way to try lots of stuff is to get the cost of production and thus the cost of failure way way down. Chromakey does that.

    1. It’s disturbing in that this video demonstrates how difficult (impossible?) it is to determine whether something is real or fake. When used for entertainment (as it is here), there’s no harm but what if it was used to “augment” a news story? What if it was used to “show” Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction?

      1. I’m just going to say it Aleknevicus. It amazed me that someone high up -didn’t- order up some fake WMD’s.

        These guys used to be the unethical dreamers of dreams. Vomit-sickness bombs on Cuba? Sure! Giant images of ALLAH floating above some middle-east country? Good idea! Mind controlled super soldiers? Why not! Secret wiretaps of american citizens? Sounds great!

        When did the CIA grow a conscience? Think about how easy it could have been…. A concrete bunker in the desert, some enriched uranium, an anthrax lab, a handful of bodies, maybe even a small irradiated piece of desert in an uninhabited piece of Iraq from a “shot down” nuclear scud launch on Israel (thank god we had those patriot missiles in place). WMD proof would have been a piece-of-cake. Everyone thanks us for stopping the big bad guys and the world supports us 100%.

        Sure, there would be some conspiracy theories, but those people are just plain crazy, right?

        You wouldn’t have needed green screens. The sets were already there, all they needed was some imagination. History is written by the victor…..

        1. It amazed me that someone high up -didn’t- order up some fake WMD’s.

          Simply put, they wouldn’t have been able to. The WMD would have had traceable elements. The anthrax used just after 9/11, for example, was traced back to cultures held by the US. Anything found in Iraq would have to go through investigation by the IAEA, et al., and the investigation would reveal fakes.

        2. Well, maybe what we DID see was faked? The whole thing. I mean, does anyone actually KNOW anyone who’s been to Iraq?

          Oh, I do actually. Scratch that.

  7. This is partly so directors don’t need to annoy everyone and waste budget and lose a shooting day because some stupid accident in the background screwed up a perfectly good performance in the foreground. It’s the “Hollywood Style” concept of over-control taken to its extreme limits.

    And, like the indie films of the past, it’s leaving the door wide open for some indie filmmaker to make everything look raw, gritty, and well-acted by UNDER-controlling things.

  8. The fantastic is expensive. Real is cheap, at least from the perspective of CGI. If its real, you don’t need effects – just a good DP, lighting, dialogue and acting.

  9. Nice reel. It shows how green-screen can expand the scope of the shoot, saving time, money & aggravation. While it’s always better to get it in-camera, sometimes it makes sense (logistically or creatively) to do it in post.

  10. Where are the stock images coming from? Are they CC licensed, or do they get nicked from StreetView, or is somebody’s Flickr stream showing up in every police procedural on tv?

  11. Man, I’m with ncinerate… I thought I could tell when effects were being employed. And it’s not disturbing that it’s fake, it’s disturbing for people when they thought they could tell but can’t.

  12. it’s disturbing when this crosses over to being used to fake news events… you cannot believe anything you see on TV anymore…

  13. I am amazed at how far chromakey has come. Far cry from the 70s and 80s when I could tell there was a green screen. But now..damn!

  14. I’m a visual effects compositor (and I have friends at Stargate) and when I tell people what shows I work on, the next question is always “what effects are in that show?” It’s almost always stuff like this. EVERY show has visual effects.

  15. I don’t buy it, I think the green screens were faked for this video. I mean, next you’re gonna try to tell me they didn’t film Battlestar Galactica in space! Yeah, huh, sure, then where’d they film it? Canada? LOL!

  16. It’s not just keying that makes this so much more pervasive and believable. Advances in motion tracking, motion capture etc move this from the static world of a decade ago to today’s world of complex action and camera movement.

  17. When we have augmented reality contact lenses, life will be great!
    We just spray paint all the homeless people green and they disappear!

  18. I used to do chroma key when I did teeny-tiny (audience of 3,000) newscasts in the military. We used blue back then. Now it’s usually green. Not sure why. But the effect is 1000% better.

    I remember when hair was the big indicator of chroma key effects: look at the edges of the actors’ hair, it never looks right in older movies that do this.

    No longer.

    And I am especially impressed by use of reflections!

    1. They use Green, and that shade in particular for a bunch of reasons.

      • Computers can see it easier so they can get rid of it easier.

      • People rarely wear that shade of green, and it’s not something that occurs naturally.

      • If the LD sucked and there’s a green tint on the talent, it’s easier to color correct in post (just add red) than blue (add yellow) and it looks more natural with skin tones.

      • They still do use blue just not nearly as often.

    2. We used blue back then. Now it’s usually green. Not sure why.

      Mostly because bright electric green is far less common color in the real world than bright sky blue.

      Patches of color in the background that match the effects-screen color can cause bleed-through. That can be fixed in post, of course – but using green means less fixing.

      Folks, Hollywood has been doing this kind of fakery for a long, long time. Long before green/blue-screen was invented.

      Matte paintings, glass shots, optical composites, miniatures, rear-projection, traveling mattes – the only real difference today is that hi-def video, digital ‘film’, and computer compositing make it all faster, easier, cheaper, and more seamless.

      You constantly amaze me – you don’t go to movies – what are you, a communist? What were those handcuffs – some sort of decoy; disguise? Did you not know that King Kong the First was just three foot six inches tall? He only came up to Fay Wray’s belly button!
      If God could do the tricks that we can do, he’d be a happy man!

      –Peter O’Toole, as film director Eli Cross, in The Stunt Man

      1. Seriously, I knew that old time TV had a bunch of sets, even for outdoor shots, etc. They looked obvious in old TV shows though.

        I figured that when people were in obvious outdoor street surroundings, that we were looking at the real thing. I thought TV was trying to go for more authenticity, or they could afford it better now.

    3. It’s trivially easy to digitally remove all traces of green-ness from an image and use the same info for a transparency layer instead … I imagine. Back in the day they had to use some complicated process in the real world with, like, chemicals, and multiple layers of actual film, and if those speckles weren’t quite the right shade of blue to trigger the process then too bad.

      Why green instead of blue, though?

  19. Usually chroma-keys video is disturbing when/because the light angles and shadows of the two merged scenes don’t match. This can often be fixed prior to compositing but sometimes things get sloppy or the source material can’t be matched. Consciously you may not notice this but subconsciously you often do so it creates some cognitive dissonance that makes it unreal.

  20. What amazes me is that they are calling themselves Stargate studios – now law suits from Warner Brothers or something?

    Its like calling yourself Coca Cola studios *g*

    1. What amazes me is that they are calling themselves Stargate studios – now law suits from Warner Brothers or something?

      Their website states that they were founded in 1989. I think that lawsuit would have gone the other way.

  21. The sequel to the arcade game Defender was also originally called Stargate; at some point they started relabeling it Defender II.

    Neat to see this, it’s something that makes perfect sense but that I never thought about, or thought to think about. The Ugly Betty one in particular was interesting.

  22. Another reason that I can think of, for not faking the WMDs, is because it could be found out fairly easily.

    Many here are shocked at how invisible the techniques have become, saying they used to be able to tell. That’s mostly because you knew the visual cues to watch out for, your eye picked them up naturally. There’s no denying it’s a million times better now, but if you know the signs, and have kept up with the technology, there is rarely a shot that will stand up to examination (let alone the kind of intense examination WMD footage would have received).

    I realize that what I’m saying boils down to “I can tell from some of the pixels and from seeing quite a few shops in my time.” But really, it would be way too risky to hinge the reputation of the whole war on possibly-provable fakery.

    I mean, have you seen what they can do with simple digital forensics these days? As a pixel fiddler, that’s what made my jaw drop. Imagine what kind of driven, meticulous inspection WMD footage would have gotten.. There really are people and tools that can “tell from the pixels”.

    In my book, a better use of this kind of political fakery/propaganda would be smaller/seemingly-insignificant things, that people are unlikely to look too closely at, but sell an important lie. Like increasing the size of crowds at political rallies and protests, or adding flags and banners to sell a particular poiltical angle.

  23. Supposedly the pro ‘digital paint’ covers more consistently,
    but here’s the magic code: Pantone 354.

    Unless they’ve patented that shade..

    The trick is to get even lighting on the green ‘screen’ while lighting your subject appropriately. A distance needs to be maintained or you end up with 70’s weatherman green tinted hair.

  24. Fakes, fakeness, and fake-ism! But it’s still awesome. Maybe someday I’ll be able to do my “Call of Cthulhu” movie properly!

  25. This post was of special interest to me, as I work on the Paramount lot, where about a third of the examples used in thie piece were shot, about 100 feet from where I type now. So that is what they’ve been up to! I know our “New York” set very well after years working here, and it is astonishing to see all the ways they have gimmicked it.

  26. I thought it was interesting in the Red Square shot that you could actually see the edge of the screen, on the ground. They just used it as the edge of the sidewalk.

  27. What do they do if they can’t go somewhere to film the background, like with the moon landings?

    1. Well, of course if they can’t go somewhere, they let computers simulate the environment.

      As someone else said, it’s pretty mind-blowing. On the other hand, the story about Christian Bale wanting to stand on the edge of a skyscraper in Hong Kong wearing the Dark Knight costume just became even more amazing. Christopher Nolan (the director) even wanted to do Batman’s jump from that skyscraper to the next for real, without special effects. Woah! Too bad the bureaucracy wouldn’t let him do that.

  28. I think Cory is surprised because they are using it to replicate real-world scenes that previously would entail a location shoot or a look-alike.

    Not really any different than building sets though, except maybe a little harder for the actors to interact with if necessary.

    1. Well, probably it is. But real people are also using it. Real rain falls on it. Real dark falls and they lose the light. The amount of time and money and sheer amount of bloody *hassle* they’re saving this way must be staggering. That’s money that can be freed up to be spent on the talent.

  29. The Venus clip is from the tv series Defying Gravity. (to answer my own question, in case anyone else was curious)

  30. I suspect one of the reasons we don’t spot that this is being done is that we are used to unrealistic lighting on TV even in shots with no background substitution. Filming is seldom done without some kind of extra lighting so we’re used to seeing people in real surroundings but with slightly unreal lighting – fill lights, rim lights etc. As a result when we see that kind of lighting used on subjects inserted into other backgrounds we don’t notice it if the lighting doesn’t match the environmental lighting because all the extra lighting we’re used to is the same.

  31. The Green screening in this video certainly has the WOW factor for me but I want to know about the wonderful background music. Who performed and wrote it.

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