Blue Screen Pioneer Passes Away

Written by Patrick Jong Taylor

Petro Vlahos, throughout a storied career, revolutionized our Industry with his refinements to matte and color difference compositing. He will be sorely missed.

The next time you open up your nonlinear editor or compositing application, you should take a moment to bow your head in deference to Petro Vlahos, who recently passed away at the ripe old age of 96. Vlahos is far from well-known; I’m sure this is the first time most of you are hearing the name. But if you’ve ever done any green or blue screen keying, then you’ve undoubtedly benefitted from his life’s work.

Real Influence

Vlahos dedicated his career to making the impossible possible, and the possible easier. When faced with a technical challenge, he didn’t just seek to solve the problem; he continually strived to discover a better way of doing things. The first use of blue screen technology occurred in the 1940 film The Thief of Bagdad, some twenty years before Vlahos’ initial experiments with the discipline. He sought to improve travelling matte systems, making the process more useful and reliable.

The holder of more than 35 patents on a wide range of movie tech, he won his first Oscar in 1964 for ‘Blue Screen Compositing Technology’, bookended by another win in 1994 for Ultimatte, the world’s first electronic blue screen compositing process. He introduced his color difference compositing system for Ben-Hur’s famed chariot race, and subsequently made Mary Poppins fly. Star Wars and Indiana Jones fans would find their cherished films unrecognizable without his innovations.

Debt of Gratitude

It is in fact the expiration of Vlahos’ original patents, coupled with the drastic increase in computing power over the last two decades, that paved the way for the inclusion of chroma keyers in your preferred software, as all modern keyers are rooted in Vlahos’ principles. While others have taken up the good fight, the world is lesser without his intelligence, talent, and dogged commitment to a higher standard.

Rest in peace, Petro Vlahos.

 

Tags: Technology

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