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Actor playing 2 characters in the same scene


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#1 Godfrey Tait

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Posted 23 April 2008 - 12:45 AM

Hey everyone,

I just finished watching 'Coffee and Cigarettes' by Jim Jarmusch and started thinking after seeing the credits and noticing it was Cate Blanchett playing both characters in the short segment 'cousins'.

I've seen this before in films where the same actor/actress playing 2 or more characters but always figured the effect was created by using standins, lookalikes and strategic camera placement ... however in this a lot of the coverage was in a simple '2 shot' where it was definitly her playing both characters talking to each other.
I'm sure theres some simple explanation of how this is done but i'd be interested to hear how this sort of scene would be filmed.

I've read a little on the technique of blocking half of the frame then shooting and the blocking the other half and shooting, and also it being done digitally now ... but it is just so seamless, is this how its done??

In laymans terms ... how do they do that?!! :huh:

Thanks in advance
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#2 Jim Keller

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Posted 23 April 2008 - 04:13 PM

There are actually a *lot* of different approaches that can be done to get these sorts of shots, and a good film uses them all. Want to be astounded, rent an old film called "Big Business" and watch as Lily Tomlin and Bette Midler walk around themselves and cross through the same crowded spaces.

The simplest way to do the effect is with a stand-in and clever camera placement.

A simple two-shot can be done with a split screen. In the old days this was done by physically cutting two negatives down the middle and putting them back together (The Patty Duke show was done this way), but that technique leaves a visible seam that needs to be masked (usually along a vertical piece of architecture). Today a split screen can be done much more easily digitally -- you simply layer the two shots and put a mask over one of them. Since many post-production software packages let you animate masks, some simple interaction may be possible as long as the characters never obstruct one another.

More complicated shots are most easily accomplished by compositing. That allows the two characters to interact much more, but is an effect that requires someone with much more visual effects experience than I have. :)

But, ultimately, the best tool in your arsenal for getting shots like this is simple creativity. Know your tools, and then use them however you have to in order to get the effect you want.
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#3 Leo Anthony Vale

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Posted 24 April 2008 - 01:25 PM

A simple two-shot can be done with a split screen. In the old days this was done by physically cutting two negatives down the middle and putting them back together (The Patty Duke show was done this way), but that technique leaves a visible seam that needs to be masked (usually along a vertical piece of architecture). Today a split screen can be done much more easily digitally -- you simply layer the two shots and put a mask over one of them. Since many post-production software packages let you animate masks, some simple interaction may be possible as long as the characters never obstruct one another.


Are you talking razor blade and tape?

How about two passes through the camera with one side masked off in each pass?

Later the same was usually done in an optical printer.
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#4 Jim Keller

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Posted 29 April 2008 - 03:40 PM

Are you talking razor blade and tape?

How about two passes through the camera with one side masked off in each pass?

Later the same was usually done in an optical printer.


The traditional "split screen" was, in fact, razor blade and tape. Optical printers quickly replaced that technique, however.

People have done the effect with in-camera masking, but that works best on an infinity set, because it's hard to get the exposure right at the edges of the mask.

Today it would all be done digitally, of course.
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#5 Leo Anthony Vale

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Posted 29 April 2008 - 03:56 PM

The traditional "split screen" was, in fact, razor blade and tape. Optical printers quickly replaced that technique, however.


Cite your source.

How would horizontal or vertical splits have been handled?
& matte paintings?

Have you handled much 35mm neg?

Mylar splicing tape came out around 1960, prior to that film repairs were made my cementing blank film to the base of the the damaged film. Those repairs are very visible and can jump in the printer.

Taping the film together wasn't possible until long after optical printing became common place.

Look up Fielding's 'The Technique of Special Effects Cinematography' at the library.
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#6 Jim Keller

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Posted 29 April 2008 - 04:38 PM

Cite your source.

How would horizontal or vertical splits have been handled?
& matte paintings?

Have you handled much 35mm neg?

Mylar splicing tape came out around 1960, prior to that film repairs were made my cementing blank film to the base of the the damaged film. Those repairs are very visible and can jump in the printer.

Taping the film together wasn't possible until long after optical printing became common place.

Look up Fielding's 'The Technique of Special Effects Cinematography' at the library.


I'm afraid my knowledge comes from film classes many years ago. Only ever handled 8mm film personally, as I'm young enough that I primarily learned on tape and then computer (and, yes, I have done split screens on 8mm, with razor blade and editing glue -- the effect was atrocious. but it "worked" in the broadest sense of the word).

If you have more or more accurate information to provide, I'm sure the original poster would appreciate it. That's the whole purpose of these forums...
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#7 boy yniguez

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Posted 02 May 2008 - 03:03 AM

Hey everyone,

I just finished watching 'Coffee and Cigarettes' by Jim Jarmusch and started thinking after seeing the credits and noticing it was Cate Blanchett playing both characters in the short segment 'cousins'.

I've seen this before in films where the same actor/actress playing 2 or more characters but always figured the effect was created by using standins, lookalikes and strategic camera placement ... however in this a lot of the coverage was in a simple '2 shot' where it was definitly her playing both characters talking to each other.
I'm sure theres some simple explanation of how this is done but i'd be interested to hear how this sort of scene would be filmed.

I've read a little on the technique of blocking half of the frame then shooting and the blocking the other half and shooting, and also it being done digitally now ... but it is just so seamless, is this how its done??

In laymans terms ... how do they do that?!! :huh:

Thanks in advance



hi, one would normally shoot the scene with the actor playing the first role in the real set then shoot the scene again with the same actor playing the second role against green screen so that he can be keyed in the the scene. if it involves camera movement then a motion-control rig would be necessary to repeat the movement done in the first pass!
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#8 Kes Evergreen

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Posted 06 May 2008 - 10:51 AM

I actually do this pretty often in my own web series where I'm playing multiple characters. I find it better to be creative with framing and positioning rather than thinking about complicated technical solutions. If you watch any of the clips below in which I'm interacting with myself, you'll notice there's usually a vertical line in the background along which I can simply crop the two images together in post. I just shoot the scene a few times, playing the different roles, making sure I don't cross that vertical line, then in Final Cut I simply crop the left side of one clip and the right side of the other clip. People always seem to think I'm doing crazy work in After Effects, but I really just framed it properly and used a simply crop.

http://www.kesevergr...akfast_high.mov
http://www.kesevergr...yspace_high.mov
http://www.kesevergr...ressed_high.mov
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