Before the ubiquitous use and ease of green screen, the practices of both rear and front projection were used to great effect. While the practice is mostly seen as obsolete, with one of the most iconic use of front projection demonstrated in the ‘Dawn of Man’ scene of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey [Kubrick. 1968], it is still found in modern cinema, a recent example being Oblivion [Kosinski.2013]. In a world that embraces green screen to an extreme degree, notably demonstrated in the later Star Wars films, particularly Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith [Lucas.2005], it is important to take a step back and discover the methods we take for granted, that pioneered cinema effects. The effects of both rear and front projection, were most often used to give a footage a more focus depth as it played behind the actor, something that may not always be achievable while filming on location [Renee.2014]. There most notable uses can be seen particularly in driving sequences filmed before the 1970s, take, for example rear projection in the early Sean Connery Bond films, such as Dr. No [Young.1962] and Goldfinger [Hamilton.1964], or to provide the greater depth needed for particular scenes in Citizen Kane [Welles.1941] [Barber.2015].
Perhaps more interestingly, front projection provides its own benefits, as well as its notable setbacks. To light a screen from the front, you also run the risk of exposing your actors or established sets to unintended interference. Front projection was used, perhaps most famously, in the attempt to make you believe that a man could fly, with 1978s Superman [Donner.1978]. In order to give the appearance of Christopher Reeve flying through the skies of Metropolis, front projection was implemented, using “Scotchlite reflective fabric for the background that reflects 95% of the light back to the source” and a “one-way mirror set at a 45 degree angle to film through” [Renee.2014]. With all of this added preparation needed compared to rear projection, the question stands as to why would you use front projection over rear? In an interview with FXPhd, Zoran Perisic, creator of the Zoptic process, offered an explanation for the choice:
“In terms of lighting the front-projection is more suitable for back-lit and cross-lit scenes whereas colour separation approach is more suitable for flat, front-lit scenes. Interactive lighting is extremely important in compositing; it enables the DP to blend the foreground and background elements into one coherent image instead of two or more elements spliced together. With front-projection the DP has a complete control of the final image – what you see is what you get.” [Failes.2013].
- 2001: Space Odyssey (1968) Film. Directed by Stanley Kubrick. (Blu-ray) UK: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Productions.
- Adcock, J. (2015) Why Rear Projection was the Original Green Screen. [Online] November 20th. Den of Geek! Available from: http://www.denofgeek.com/movies/rear-projection/37299/why-rear-projection-was-the-original-greenscreen [Last Accessed: 17/01/2017]
- Barber, N. (2015) What’s so good about Citizen Kane? [Online]. July 20th. BBC. Available from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/culture/story/20150720-whats-so-good-about-citizen-kane [Last Accessed: 01/02/2016]
- Citizen Kane (1941) Film. Directed by Orson Welles. [Blu-ray] US: RKO Radio Pictures.
- Dr. No. (1962) Film. Directed by Terence Young. [Blu-Ray] UK: Eon Productions.
- Failes, I. (2013) Effects of Days Past: Making Superman Fly. [Online] August 5th. FXPhd. Available from: https://www.fxphd.com/blog/effects-of-days-past-making-superman-fly/ [Last Accessed: 17/01/2013]
- Goldfinger (1964) Film. Directed by Guy Hamilton. [Blu-Ray] UK: Eon Productions.
- Joey Shanks (2014) Front Projection Technique| SHANKS FX preview. [Online Video] January 10th. Available from: https://vimeo.com/83826142 [Last Accessed: 31/01/2017]
- Oblivion (2013) Film. Directed by Joseph Kosinski. (Blu-ray) US: Universal Pictures.
- Oliver Harper (2012) Zoran Perisic discussing the Zoptic process on Superman The Movie. [Online Video] October 11th. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mbXC16p8tNc [Last Accessed: 01/02/2017]
- Renee, V. (2014) Create In-Camera VFX the Old Fashioned (But Awesome) Way, Through Front Screen Projection. [Online] January 19th. No Film School. Available From: http://nofilmschool.com/2014/01/create-in-camera-vfx-through-front-screen-projection [Last Accessed: 17/01/2017]
- Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. (2005) Film. Directed by George Lucas. [Blu-Ray] US: Lucas Film.
- Shanks FX (2014) FRONT SCREEN PROJECTION| Shanks FX| PBS Digital Studios. [Online Video] YouTube. January 16th. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kqq63CSGMXY [Last Accessed: 31/01/2017]