Eighty-one-year-old comedy legend Dick Van Dyke is a visual effects hobbyist who has had his own green screen (that he regularly upgrades) at home for nearly four decades, as this feature by Sheigh Crabtree for the Times illustrates:
Van Dyke says he started dabbling in the medium four decades ago on Robert Stevenson's "Mary Poppins," in which he dances and sings with animated butterflies and penguins.
"When I wasn't filming I was hanging out with the animators," Van Dyke says. "I spent a lot of time working with cartoon characters, which is what gave me the appetite for effects in the beginning. Looking at 'Mary Poppins' today, it's amazing how well the technology does hold up and that was way before computers."
After starring in 1968's "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang," in which he drove a flying car thanks to the magic of green-screen technology, Van Dyke bought a used Ultimatte system a pre-digital device that allowed visual-effects pros to do green-screen shots photochemically and set it up at his house. He played around with it a bit, and then about 15 years ago a friend recommended that he buy an Amiga Toaster, one of the earliest desktop computer-animating systems.
"You could take 3-D objects and figures and photograph a background and fill it in and animate," Van Dyke recalls. "In those days, if you had 15 frames to render it took all weekend. It was very, very primitive but I just got hooked on it."
Van Dyke produced special effects for Diagnosis, Murder, tested out tricks at home for Night at the Museum and - memo to producers - would jump at an effects job.
"I haven't had a chance lately to do much visual effects work in a film, so I really loved working with the guys on Museum," Van Dyke says. "I would just give anything to be in a movie where I could have a hand in the visual effects."