June 13, 2024

When Was Green Screen Invented? 


Green screen tech, or chroma keying, has become a staple in film and video production.

It allows filmmakers to stitch together different images to create scenes that look true to life. 

This tech has come a long way, evolving from basic camera tricks used over a century ago to the sophisticated digital effects we're familiar with today. 

When did green screens start being used?

Green screen technology was developed in the 1930s. It started being used more in movies in the 1940s, including those made by RKO Studios. By the 1970s and 1980s, as digital technology improved, it became widely used.

The early days of green screen

In the beginning, filmmakers used basic methods like double exposure to create special effects. This meant capturing two different images on the same piece of film to create an illusion. 

For example, George Albert Smith experimented with something known as parallel action in 1898 and Edwin S. Porter with cross-cutting in 1903’s The Great Train Robbery.

Both used these techniques to add new elements to their films, like creating the illusion of a moving train, as you can see below:

As these methods developed, new techniques were invented to improve the filmmaking process. In 1918, Frank Williams introduced black matting.

In the 1920s, Walt Disney began experimenting with filming on a white background and then adding animations later. These were steps toward what would become green screen tech.

Developing better techniques

Over the years, filmmakers created several methods to make combining images easier and more realistic:

  • Bi-pack Method: This early form of green screening involved filming an actor in front of a second, previously filmed background, like a castle or a landscape. It was a straightforward way to combine images but limited how the actor could interact with the background.

  • Williams Process: Invented in 1918, this technique used a blue screen to create a silhouette that could be filled in with other footage, allowing for more dynamic scenes.

  • Dunning Method: Developed in 1925, this method added a yellow light during filming to separate the actor from the background better.

  • Sodium Screen Process: Developed further by Disney and Petro Vlahos, this technique used a type of light that made it easier to separate the actor from the background. It was famously used in Disney’s Mary Poppins in 1964.

The move to digital

The shift to digital tech changed how green screens were used. By the 1980s, computers began to control the process, making it cheaper and more efficient. 

A great example of this is in Star Wars Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back.

The 1990s introduction of digital cameras made green screen tech more accessible to everyone, not just pro filmmakers. Today, green screens are used everywhere—from big blockbuster movies to daily TV news broadcasts.

With modern apps and editing software, anyone can use this tool. Software like Adobe After Effects and Final Cut Pro offer chroma keying features, making it easy to replace green backgrounds with any scene you want.

These days, even mobile apps come with these features, letting you create visual effects straight from your phone.

Why green screens instead of blue?

While blue screens were common in the past, green screens are more popular today. This is simply because green is easier to separate from the subject during editing. Green also works better with digital cameras, making the effects look cleaner.

Looking ahead

Green screen tech has changed how we make movies and videos. And, as tech moves forward, we can expect even more sophisticated tools that will make creating realistic visual effects even easier. 

If you make videos, you might want to try using Tella. It helps you easily edit and customize your videos, making everything from tutorials to product demos look great without a lot of hassle. Using tools like Tella can take your video projects to the next level.

Tella — Screen recording for entrepreneurs

Tella — Screen recording for entrepreneurs