What Are Screen Graphics

So just what are screen graphics?


What we call screen graphics is also called a myriad of different names. Interactive motion graphics, 24 frame playback, computer effects, computer playback and a bunch more of them. But I still get the question regularly of what EXACTLY is it.

Generally I use the Matrix example the most. “You know how that guy that has the screens with code dribbling down it and then he types some stuff and touches of few monitors that surround him and then the dudes inside the matrix get downloaded programs straight in to their heads? Well we make all those screens work.”


Most people think that it is all done in post production so it’s all just green screen on the day, but in most cases it is the other way around. Compositing a single monitor in a static frame can cost over $1000 and the cost of the artwork to actually go on the screen is additional to that. Move that kind of information in to a room with 5 – 50 monitors and you are looking at a huge cost for each and every shot that has a computer monitor in it. Especially if it is a moving shot where the compositor is going to have to track the motion of each screen across the frame. Now we are talking long hours and big bucks.


So it works out more cost effective for the films to actually have someone put the graphics on the screens for real. It also greatly enhances the performance of the actors. You only have to watch any of the Star Wars Eps 1-3 to see how wooden acting is when you don’t actually know what is in front of you. Actors love to be able push buttons and bang touch screens during their scenes. Having to actually do it in a certain order can stretch their capabilities mind you, and I am pretty gob smacked at how absolutely computer illiterate some of them are. Don’t they use email?


Anyway, due to this diminished ability to hit and bang things in any certain order, it is our job to make it impossible to mess things up. That’s why they are all genius typers. We make it so they can type any old thing and the letters still come out the way they are meant to each time. We also put little locking codes into our programming so they can’t accidentally escape the graphic mid job. It’s amazing how many of them can type the Esc button when they are meant to be spelling LOGIN.


It is also our job to design the graphics that go on the screens and this is where the real fun begins. With direction given from the Director, the Production Designer or both, we take their ideas and turn them in to real images. This can be the fun part as on some jobs the imagination is allowed to run free, but other times is just as simple as making some moving wallpaper for the screens in the background. Moving numbers is the most common and where would NCIS be if there wasn’t a weather map or 2.


There are a myriad of different locations in films that might need our kind of services. Cockpits are common along with the mission control that goes with the flight. Hacking in to computer systems is another common one and then of course there is the ubiquitous “life signs” for the hospital. I reckon we have made these thing 100 times over, but each time they have to be that little bit different.


It’s an odd job to have, but I think you’ll find most of the people who do it really enjoy it. There is a certain freedom that you get in the design area and provided that you stay inside the brief most the time you just get comments like “that’s perfect” and “that’s fantastic” because the Director only had a rough idea of what he actually wanted in the first place. When you put the product in front of them, they are happy that there is one less thing that they have to worry about. The tricky complexities and headaches normally lay in the hardware dept and building of the set, but I’ll leave that until next time. In the mean time I hope this clears up a bit what “screen graphics” are and, yes, there are people who do that for a living.