Four B.C. key grips, David McIntosh, Steve Smith, Mike Branham and Mike Kirilenko will be presented with an Academy Award for technical achievement in Los Angeles on Saturday for inventing this inflatable green screen. (Photo: Aircover Inflatables/Facebook)
The airwall has quickly amassed a roll of credits since its debut. Some other major motion pictures that used the visual effects tool include "Tomorrowland," "Avengers: Age of Ultron," "Captain America: Civil War," "X-Men Apocalypse" and "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales." The invention was the brainchild of McIntosh, a key grip of 15 years who wanted to lessen the dangers of another device — an overhead frame — used by lighting and rigging technicians during filmmaking. They constructed one using air, and in the process realized the concept could be modified into a wall for visual effects. The inflatable green screen was born.
"We took a huge risk. We built these units without knowing if they'd ever work."
How it worksIts huge impact stems from a simple design. Giant, vinyl air mattresses that rapidly inflate to about 12 metres by seven metres by 2.5 metres are mounted on top of cargo containers. Multiple mattresses can be attached to meet the art director's specifications. Green or blue screen material is draped over the expanse. The apparatus is considered innovative because it replaces an earlier concept: constructed green walls that involved scaffolding, stacked cargo containers or a phalanx of telephone poles. "It's faster, more versatile," Smith said of the inflatable version. "We can do things you could never do with a solid structure."
For example, they easily deflated the airwall when the director sought more sky in a shot for Pirates of the Caribbean. And when high winds gusted through the "Game of Thones" production in Ireland, they released air until the stormy conditions subsided. "Dave describes it as a bouncy castle. It's his way of saying, 'Ah, no big deal,' " Smith said of his colleague. "But it is a big deal."
"We can do things you could never do with a solid structure."
'I look forward to having them on every film'Seamus McGarvey, the cinematographer for "Godzilla," said he believes the airwall will become the industry standard. "They are so quick to inflate and deflate when sections are not required and to minimize spill," he says in a testimonial posted on the company's website. "I look forward to having them on every film. " The team was elated upon learning of the academy's accolade, said Smith. He doesn't mind that technical achievement winners are only presented with a certificate. "I'm happy that we're able to do this as grips in the industry, to say to other grips, 'Keep going, keep innovating, keep doing this. Because you could win an Academy Award,'" he said. "I don't say (grips are) unsung heroes. But they're a huge contribution to the film industry and rarely get any recognition for it." — Follow @TamsynBurgmann on Twitter
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