One of the forefathers of the music video age was one of the first to use green screen technology. Attempts had been made to cross over to prime time TV with The Beatles and other more left-field acts, but it was not until 1981 that MTV would come into being.
Michael Jackson’s Don’t Stop ’Til You Get Enough, released in 1979, predated this phenomenon, albeit with some very dated special effects. Standing in front of a green screen with his tuxedo sleeves rolled up and a comically oversized bow tie, Jacko starts his shtick thrusting and sliding everywhere as behind him we see stars and planets whizz by. This background then transforms to orange jelly, which now and again changes colour. For a short while, MJ grooves in front of a sandscape, before finishing in front of a host of geometric shapes.
The 80s sailed by awash with green screen videos. Every now and then you’d get the likes of Duran Duran lording it up on yachts in the Caribbean, but the decade also saw a glut of innovative videos, most of which involved green screen.
One of the most famous videos of the 80s was A Ha’s Take On Me. Many of you will be familiar with the video, but for the uninitiated, it tells the tale of a girl who falls in love with a cartoon character in a comic strip, who then becomes real. The technique that was used to combine the footage of the girl and the cartoon boy is known as rotoscoping, which is very similar to green screen.
Another notable video from the early 80s was Devo’s Whip It. Wearing their iconic tiered red hats, they performed their hit record in front of a Wild West painted backdrop. Whether they consciously or not decided to shun green screen technology one can only guess, but the effect produced adds to the kooky feel of the song.
Skip forward to the nineties, and we see the birth of Britpop, as equally celebrated as detested, but certainly held front and centre for a good seven or eight years. Blur’s Girls and Boys was one of the era’s standout tracks, and the video was equally memorable, with the camera spinning around as if controlled by someone who’d had a few too many. The images projected behind the band were typical of your average 18-30 package holiday; lad rock was here, in all its tracksuited, beer-in-hand glory.
The 90’s was awash with talented concepts from directors like Anton Corbjin and Michel Gondry, and directors with million dollar budgets such as hip hop’s Hype Williams. There were some hilarious stinkers too - anyone needing a lift could do themselves a huge favour and watch David Hasslehoff snowboard down a perilous mountain and parade on top of a motorbike, all with the aid of green screen technology in his 1997 video for Hooked on a Feeling.
Moving into the noughties and indie bands embraced green screen, whether it was Franz Ferdinand rocking out in front of some Dadaesque projections or Hot Chip’s tongue in cheek mockery of all things green screen in the video for Over and Over.
It’s refreshing to see that artists now are still finding ways of using groundbreaking technological advancements in green screen technology; The Correspondents recently used multiple cameras in a round green screen space to create a kaleidoscopic effect on screen.
In nearly forty years, green screen technology has helped artists realise their visions and we, the audience, have been treated to some groundbreaking and breathtaking effects. Let’s all hope directors can continue to find inspiration in this charming, and quite simple technology.
Inspired? Come and shoot your own video on our green screen in Gallery 2 at FACT, open Tuesday - Sunday 11am - 6pm and totally free to use. Planning something special? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to book a slot.