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back projection techniques


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#1 Rupe Whiteman

Rupe Whiteman
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Posted 06 April 2006 - 06:33 AM

I'm laid up at the moment with a broken foot and have been passing time going through a number of movies... Have just watched 'De Palma's Scarface, shot by John Alonzo and was taken by a scene between Pacino and Steven Bauer as they drive through the streets at night. Using back projection (I presume) it's been very cleverly and subtly done...

- The street backbround plate is a smooth , slightly soft, image of the road behind them. In the plate there are overhead signs/gangways from which halated lights hang (it looks like the plate was shot with classic soft type filtration - does anyone know what was used??). A soft top key seems to waft over the actors to simlate the gangway lights sweeping over their heads as they drive. This source looks like it is either a fixture being flagged or moved, or dimmed perhaps? There is the occasional lighting effect to simulate headlights from passing cars washing over them, but mainly the top source is the key element of the characters lighting. The third element is the image of the street reflected on the windscreen itself. If this plate was projected at them I'd expect to see the images projecting through the glass and hitting them but it doesn't so I'm presuming the plate has been projected on to a screen in front of the actors - and hence up and above the camera position. Again this has been expertly done and a lot of control has been used as the front plate does not spill over the windscreen onto the actor's faces (the car is a convertible) or onto the bonnet in front of the windscreen itself. Has this plate been flagged during projection? Or has front projection been used to control this shot? I'd be fascinated if anyone knows any more.

Although when it's bad, back projection can be pretty laughable but done well it can either just fool the audience into to taking it as real, or more interestingly it can enhance the mood of the film - as the above scene does so well. In Eyes Wide Shut there's a shot of Tom Cruises' character Bill Harford walking though the (studio) NY streets. There is one back-projection shot with the camera straight onto him with the street plate behind him. They spent a long time shooting it... They may perhaps have shot this because they needed the street fall-off they couldn't get from the 4 block set, but (and not forgetting it's a Kubrick film) more interestingly the projection is a little bit more obvious than the example above and has a surreal quality that plays off of the central dream theme of the picture. Clever clever.

Another film I just viewed again is John Frankenheimer's Walk the Line with Gregory Peck and Tuesday Weld. At the denoument, Peck's bewildered Sheriff confronts Weld and her father and brothers in a pick-up as they try to get away from the murder scene. Shot on Location, Peck pulls up his cop car, stops the pick-up, goes on to shoot the father then Tuesday Weld (his lover) stabs him from the pick-up with a meat hook. Peck is left bleeding by the road when the drive off. Intercut in this sequence are a couple of back-projected reaction shots of Weld and her small brother in the pick-up truck. They really stand out (for all the wrong reasons) against the rest of the location footage. This looks like a p/up due to ruined rushes or something - I can't believe that they didn't shoot her c/ups at the time so I'm presuming something went wrong somewhere on the initial location shoot... Anybody know anything about this??!!

Has anyone done interesting stuff with back projection and what were your techniques? I'd been interested to see any pictures...

Hope this stirs some thoughts...

Rupe Whiteman
UK
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