Artists do GREEN SCREEN- notes and links from seminar


A Seminar/screening with Jennet Thomas

We looked at a number of artists who use green screen in their work – a ‘Keying’ technique used for inserting a new background or environment behind moving figures- touching on the history of this technique, and considering why this might be of contemporary relevance in debates around materiality, technology, and identity.


This project offers  a challenge to explore paradoxical ideas of collaging with space and time, the material and the immaterial – using negative and positive keying effects possible with Green Screen, and Green materials.

This technique is also referred to as Chroma key, color keying. The precursor to this, there was the static Matte (part of the film frame is black)

Mattes are a very old technique, going back to the Lumière brothers and George Melliers Originally, the matte shot was created by filmmakers obscuring their backgrounds with cut-out cards. When the live action portion of a scene was filmed, the background portion of the film wasn’t exposed. Once the live action was filmed, a different cut-out would be placed over the live action.

George Melliers indian rubber head ( 1901)


Then the Travelling Matte- a complex and time-consuming process was used.

The blue screen and traveling matte method were developed in the 1930’s and were used to create special effects for The Thief of Bagdad (1940) a British Technicolor fantasy film directed by Michael Powell and others – the first film to ambitiously use ‘blue screen’ effects.

An optical printer is a more sophisticated device consisting of one or more film projectors mechanically linked to a movie camera. It allows filmmakers to re-photograph one or more strips of film- re projecting and re filming inside this carefully syncrhonised device.

Digital Green screen

Green is currently used as a backdrop more than any other color because image sensors in digital video cameras are most sensitive to green, due to the bayer pattern allocating more pixels to the green channel, mimicking the human eye’s increased sensitivity to green light. Therefore, the green camera channel contains the least “noise” and can produce the cleanest key/matte/mask. Additionally, less light is needed to illuminate green, again because of the higher sensitivity to green in image sensors. Bright green has also become favored since a blue background may match a subject’s eye color or common items of clothing such as jeans.

BUT Artists often don’t have access to the latest technology, but manage to coax a different sense of meaning out of a more low-tech, hand crafted technology…

 VIDEOS SHOWN with LINKS ( if online) and  some questions from the seminar

Rachel Maclean

‘Lolcats’  5 mins from 15 minute film


Short interview

Inspired by the Britney Spears head shaving, I explore the moment at which unified, constructed identity throws it’s self up and tips into it’s opposite. The instant of self-consumption, when the signature white smile of the teen pop sensation begins to hungrily gnaw at it’s own image.”

The performance of identity, of one’s image, of femininity.. of acceptable and unacceptable aberrations…

Rachel represented Scotland in 2017 at the Venice biennale- here is another interview


Ed Atkins

‘Material Witness OR a Liquid Cop’ 2012, 19 minutes.1029766-1

A computer-generated figure sits in a television studio and invokes a-histories and immaterial indices; thick, warm surfaces and dramatic lighting states; a neural network and those eternal celestial bodies; a final broadcast and some overt tattoos; a map of its being and the space where the crime occurred… Material Witness OR A Liquid Cop was the pilot for a series of interviews with a witness to a crime, conducted as they, along with the crime, materialise and take shape.Seducing and shaking us out of a complacency with layers of simulation, of pseudo-materiality?.

Ed Atkins interviewed by Hans Ulrich Obrist

“There is the push in industrial cinema towards high definition and 3-D, and at the same time the body of cinema is falling away: there is no celluloid, no tape, no DVD. All you are left with are these reams of code, which, to a certain extent, simply haunt different media. So you have the hyper-materiality of the image itself, but in the body you have nothing — you have this apparent immaterial aspect, which to me provided an echo with the dead body, being both present and absolutely absent. Heavy, dense matter.”

Shana Moulton ‘excerpts’ 12.20 minutes

this extended series of excerpts demonstrate her many different ways of using chroma-key

but some of the most effective aspects of her work are how she performs inside the projection during her live works- there are plenty of interviews with her and documents of her work on line such as


Heather Phillipson ‘Splashy Phasings’ 2.39 minutes

Phillipson is a multi faceted artist who is also a poet, and makes huge installations.

Jennet Thomas- yes! Me! I showed you a trailer for my latest finished work that premiered here

here is the trailer to one of the works- made using the Wimbledon Green screen studio! (and that is Paul Tarragó in all the costumes…)


TANGO-  by Zbig Rybcynski – 8:10 – (1983 Poland)

We did not screen this film but I maybe discussed it in relation to film makers pioneering work with DIY special effects exploring space and time…

Shot on film not video but by may hand made multiple animated matts.

“Thirty-six characters from different stages of life – representations of different times – interact in one room, moving in loops, observed by a static camera. I had to draw and paint about 16.000 cell-mattes, and make several hundred thousand exposures on an optical printer. It took a full seven months, sixteen hours per day, to make the piece. The miracle is that the negative got through the process with only minor damage, and I made less than one hundred mathematical mistakes out of several hundred thousand possibilities. In the final result, there are plenty of flaws – black lines are visible around humans, jitters caused by the instability of film material resulting from film perforation and elasticity of celluloid, changes of colour caused by the fluctuation in colour temperature of the projector bulb and, inevitably, dirt, grain and scratches.”

– Zbig Rybczynski –Looking to the Future – Imagining the Truth,” in Fran Ðois Penz, Maureen Thomas, Cinema& Architecture. Mþliús, Mallet-Stevens, Multimedia, BFI, London, 1997


What do the artists mean using this technology? is it to be kitsch, or to signal failure?  to comment on the meaning of technology in relation to the human?

To show the gaps- to highlight the Simulation- the falseness of the trick?

To do this with a different, more ambiguous tone of voice than a comedic trick?

WHAT DOES THE  OBVIOUSLY ARTIFICIAL SPACE OF GREEN SCREEN SIGNAL in an age when films like ‘Gravity’ can create an almost perfect illusion?


Consider ways you can explore altered reality, and full blown fantasy with Green Screen

REPETITION (Rachel Maclean)

With Green screen, you can make multiple layers that you can use to repeat elements many times, these don’t have to be performers, (though that is fun) but could be other kinds of things – moving or non moving. You could film things on quite a small scale (e.g. an army of multiple giant ladybirds- but just film one on some well lit green paper) Think about the possibilities. ..

Negative space-

The green can act as a hole, (Green paint on the face, a piece of green card held up in a room etc) a view onto another place. Or, even a portal through which objects/performers could disappear through (if they are also green screened)

You can make things simply disappear ( e.g. in Shana Moulton’s video- making a body disappear, but the clothes remain- by wearing a Green Body suit)

Convincing simulations.

If you take care with lighting, you can make your figures (or objects or whatever you put on the green screen) appear to be convincingly in another place. You could take any picture of a room ( or palace or battlefield) and have your character seem navigate this space. It is best to know what you background is first, so they can respond to it. This also works best will photos that are evenly lit.

Try filming an outdoor place you want to put your subject into-

BUT MAKE SURE YOU USE A TRIPOD! Otherwise the movement of the background will be out of syc with the object… unless you want to try a whole other set of special effects. (tracking the motion of the background)


Unless you want a ‘point of view shot’ of a :

Scene incorporating moving vehicle/point of view.

If your subject is moving, flying, riding etc you could try filming the point of view of their journey, and then layer the back of their head plus parts of the vehicle (flying carpet?)

Play with Scale

You could make your subject seem tiny by filming scenes of everyday reality in macro! ( close up!)

Or, vice versa, make them giants…

Explore filming interesting /abstract textures close up that your subjects/things could interact with

Moving in and out of environments.

You could build, or find a model set, and choose elements of it to be in the foreground, by layering them on top of your subject afterwards in post production (After Effects)