Petro Vlahos, a two-time Academy Award winner who pioneered special effects for Hollywood films, with a blue- and green-screen technique on movies such as Mary Poppins and Ben Hur made the modern blockbuster possible, has died at 96, three days before this year’s Oscars.
His family said he died on Feb. 10, according to the Los Angeles Times. The Hollywood Reporter said Vlahos’ company, Ultimatte, also announced the death. No details were released although he was said to be in ill health.
The night before his death, Vlahos, who was ill, was on the minds of many at the Scientific and Technical Oscars ceremony, where he’d been a constant presence through the years and where his acolytes in so-called “composite photography” took home most of the trophies, the Associated Press reported.
“He created the whole of composite photography as we know it at this time,” visual effects supervisor and one of the night’s top winners Bill Taylor said of Vlahos, drawing a line from his early work to recent technical marvels like Life of Pi. Whenever you see Mary Poppins dancing with penguins, when you see Pi in a boat in the middle of the ocean … you are seeing … Vlahos’ genius at work.””
Others had tried “composite photography” before, combining separately filmed actors and sets into one shot, but results had been spotty, and actors often appeared with a halo of light around them that killed the effect.
When in subsequent decades sci-fi and fantasy films became dominant at the box office, Vlahos’ techniques became dominant in filmmaking, essential to movies such as Avatar and every film in the Star Wars saga. He and his collaborators won an Academy Award for their composite processes in 1965, and he and his son Paul Vlahos shared another Oscar in 1995 for the blue-screen advances made by Ultimatte.