Anniversary Post: Tom Howard

Tom Howard - 2001 - Front Projection

On this day, 27 March, in 1910, the special effects artist Tom Howard was born. He worked in the world of practical effects. He received two Academy Awards for his work on Blithe Spirit and Tom Thumb.

Howard was best-known for his use of front projection. In fact, Howard even invented a special process of this.

Front Projection

Let me go over front projection. I think most people are familiar with rear projection. An image is projected on to a screen which allows light through, which can be seen from the front.

I most associate this technique with Alfred Hitchcock and it is thanks to him that I have a low opinion of it. He over-used it and did so poorly. Today, people use this as a reason to hold him up as a hero, “He demanded so much control that he had to use rear projection!” I really think it was more that he didn’t care.

Front projection is the opposite. An image is projected onto a screen via a two-way mirror. The camera is positioned behind the two-way mirror.

The screen behind the actors is highly reflective so that the image is seen as the background to the camera. And the image displayed on the actors in front of the screen is not noticeable because the actors aren’t highly reflective.

Tom Howard was part of the team that worked on 2001: A Space Odyssey (along with titans of the field Douglas Trumbull and Wally Veevers). In particular, the “Dawn of Man” scenes used front projection. Like all the effects in that film, it still looks great:

Tom Howard worked on a ton of other films including The Haunting and Where Eagles Dare.

Also on 27 March

I didn’t find any significant film releases on this day.

Actors born today: Gloria Swanson (Sunset Boulevard) in 1899, Richard Denning (Target Earth) in 1914, David Janssen (The Fugitive) in 1931, Austin Pendleton (My Cousin Vinny) in 1940, Michael York (The Three Musketeers) in 1942, and Nathan Fillion (Serenity) in 1971.

The screenwriter of the classics On the Waterfront and A Face in the Crowd Budd Schulberg was born in 1914

Quentin Tarantino is 57 today. Read more about him, A Pair of Pliers and a Blowtorch.

Image cropped from 2001: A Space Odyssey under Fair Use.

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