Lighting-test Polaroids and notes from the front-projection stage
Production photographs of the front-projection stage
The prologue of “2001: A Space Odyssey,” titled “The Dawn of Man,” is set in prehistoric times on a desert plateau. Shooting on location in Africa would have meant transporting all the film equipment, crew, and actors, and because of the constantly changing light, the actual shooting would have taken months. The conditions would have been impossible for the actors, who wore complicated masks and costumes, and there were live chimpanzee babies to consider. These were the practical reasons for shooting the sequences on a sound stage. “2001” was shot on Super Panavision 70mm format, which produces an extremely sharp and detailed picture. The traditional process of projecting a background photo with rear screen projection would not work with 70mm format.
Instead, Kubrick and his staff adapted a front projection system, which uses a screen made from millions of glass beads affixed to a cloth surface. The glass beads reflect light only in the direction from which it comes, making the image too faint to appear on the actors performing in front of the screen but rendering the background a clear and brilliant image. The combined image is transmitted via mirror and recorded by the camera.
Kubrick had a large format projector built which used 8-by-10 inch color transparencies. Images of the African plain were photographed especially for the film. The high resolution of the transparencies allowed fragments of the background images to be visible without loss of detail and sharpness.
Philip V. Palmquist invented front projection while working at 3M Corporation. The screens were made from the same material used for reflective traffic signs. He received a patent on the technology and also won an Academy Award for his invention.