A Conversation with Petro Vlahos
Presented by the Academy’s Science and Technology Council
Hosted by Academy governor Bill Taylor with special guest Petro Vlahos.
A special evening on the life and accomplishments of special effects inventor and engineer Petro Vlahos, featuring an informal discussion with Vlahos and his friends and colleagues.
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.
Vlahos’s notable achievements include his work on sodium and color difference traveling matte systems. His version of the sodium system was used on dozens of Disney films, including “Mary Poppins” (1964), “The Love Bug” (1969) and “Bedknobs and Broomsticks” (1971), and was borrowed by Alfred Hitchcock for “The Birds” and Warren Beatty for “Dick Tracy.” He developed the color difference system (the perfected blue screen system) for “Ben-Hur” (1959); it was later used in hundreds of films, including the first “Star Wars” trilogy (1977-1983) and “Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes” (1984).
A member of the Academy’s original Motion Picture Research Council, Vlahos has been honored by the Academy many times, starting with a Scientific and Technical Award in 1960 for a camera flicker indicating device. He earned an Oscar statuette in 1964 for the conception and perfection of techniques for color traveling matte composite cinematography and another in 1994 for the conception and development of the Ultimatte electronic blue screen compositing process for motion pictures. He also received a Medal of Commendation in 1992 and the Gordon E. Sawyer Award, an Oscar statuette, in 1993.
- David Gray – Vice President, World Wide Production Services, Dolby Laboratories
- Paul Vlahos – Chairman, Chief Executive Officer, iMatte and Ultimatte
- Thursday, July 29, at 8 p.m.
- Linwood Dunn Theater
1313 Vine Street
Hollywood, CA 90028