The Masters of Compositing Series – Part 1: Petro Vlahos (1917-2013)

Inventor of the Sodium Vapor Compositor and the Blue Screen Color Difference Traveling Matte & Multiple Oscar recipient

*REPOSTED: This is the first in a series of interviews with the pioneers and masters in the compositing/VFX film & television industry. I originally recorded these interviews for my published book “The Green Screen Handbook” (Sybex/Wiley, pub) and had intended to produce one full-length documentary from the materials. But after a couple of years past now, I thought they would be better served as individual parts of a series to help educate and inform people about these historic times from the early days of VFX compositing through modern-day techniques.



*UPDATED: Visual Effects Innovator Petro Vlahos Dies at 96 – Hollywood Reporter (links to article)

In honor of the passing of one of Hollywood's most important and influential technology pioneers, I'm updating this post for my interview with Petro Vlahos from 2009.


The Masters of Compositing Series – Part 1: Petro Vlahos

Inventor of the Sodium Vapor Compositor and the Blue Screen Color Difference Traveling Matte & Multiple Oscar recipient

Since receiving his engineering degree from the University of California at Berkeley in 1941, Vlahos has served the motion picture industry as a design engineer, field engineer, systems engineer and as the Chief Scientist for the Association of Motion Picture and Television Producers' Research Center.

Considered to be one of the leading scientific and technical innovators in the motion picture and television industries, Vlahos consistently devised solutions for problems that had resisted years of well-funded and concerted effort by his predecessors and peers.

Vlahos has more than 35 wide-ranging patents for camera crane motor controls, screen brightness meters, safe squib systems, cabling designs and junction boxes, projection screens, optical sound tracks and even sonar. He also created analog and digital hardware and software versions of Ultimatte, the first high quality electronic compositing system.

As the original patents ran out, many other present-day digital blue screen and green screen compositing systems were derived from Ultimatte and joined it in the marketplace. As a result, every green screen or blue screen shot in innumerable films (including every blockbuster fantasy film of recent times) employs variants of the original Vlahos techniques.

I was fortunate enough to sit down and interview Petro in 2009, after spending a great deal of time researching his work at the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences Herrick Library. The original interview was over an hour long but I've edited it down to the key points in just under 30 minutes for this series. *This is the last-known video interview that Petro gave at age 92.

I hope you enjoy this wonderful historic storyteller, as he recalls the glory days of film and visual effects.

View Part 1 (runtime: 29 min)


CONTINUING in this series:

Part 2: Paul Vlahos
Part 3: John Galt


Jeff Foster is a published author of several how-to books and training videos in the motion graphics, animation and video production industries and is an award-winning video producer and artist. Visit his web site to learn more about his training methods, tips & tricks at PixelPainter.com

Learn more about compositing, motion tracking, roto, green screen and more with Jeff's video workshops!

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Jeff Foster has written and contributed to several books and magazines, and has been producing motion graphics, photography and creative design for major corporations, television and film for more than 25 years. See his full…

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