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Why Are Green Screens Green?

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There’s a scene in the Netflix sitcom Master of None where Aziz Ansari’s hapless commercial and B-movie actor Dev stands in front of a vast green backdrop in a film studio. “Honestly, most of this is going to be done in post [production],” the bored director of a hackneyed sci-fi film tells him. “It’s kind of meaningless. We really don’t even need you here. It’s going to be 99 percent CGI.”

The satire may have hit close to home for actors involved in Game of Thrones, the Marvel universe movies, or the countless other productions, both lavish and low-budget, that rely on a technique called chroma key for visual effects and fantastic scenery. Some actors spend hours in front of green backdrops, imagining the alien hoard, billowing fireball, or towering castle that special effects pros will later add digitally. “You kind of forget the plot a little,” said Idris Elba of working in front of a green screen on Thor, adding, “It’s a bit of, ‘Wait, what is this again? Oh, right, Frost Giant. Okay.'"

Out of all the colors on the spectrum, why green? Why does that particular hue work best for leaving a blank into which special effects can be painted?

The truth is, it doesn’t. Chroma-keying is the process of isolating a single color or brightness value in an electronic image and then making that value transparent in post-production, allowing another image or footage to be placed “beneath” the color that’s been blanked out. Although green is used so often that “green screen” and “chroma key” have become almost interchangeable, any color will work. Green is the go-to because it doesn’t match any natural skin tone or hair color, meaning no part of an actor will be edited out through chroma key.

When a green costume or prop is essential, a blue screen is often substituted. This caused a complication for the 2002 Spider-Man movie. Filmmakers had to use a blue screen for effects shots of the Green Goblin. But blue is an integral part of the web-slinger’s color scheme, so they switched to green screens for shots of the hero. Additional tricks and special effects were used to get the two characters in the same effects shot. Makers of the Justice League movie, which will inevitably feature Superman and Green Lantern side by side, take note.

While the technology might seem complex, Hollywood has been using chroma key since 1940’s The Thief of Baghdad, and local newscasts utilize it to put a meteorologist in front of a graphics outlining the forecast. This is one reason why weathermen (and weatherwomen) need to be mindful of what tie or dress they wear.

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Big Questions
What Are Curlers Yelling About?
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Curling is a sport that prides itself on civility—in fact, one of its key tenets is known as the “Spirit of Curling,” a term that illustrates the respect that the athletes have for both their own teammates and their opponents. But if you’re one of the millions of people who get absorbed by the sport once every four years, you probably noticed one quirk that is decidedly uncivilized: the yelling.

Watch any curling match and you’ll hear skips—or captains—on both sides barking and shouting as the 42-pound stone rumbles down the ice. This isn’t trash talk; it’s strategy. And, of course, curlers have their own jargon, so while their screams won’t make a whole lot of sense to the uninitiated, they could decide whether or not a team will have a spot on the podium once these Olympics are over.

For instance, when you hear a skip shouting “Whoa!” it means he or she needs their teammates to stop sweeping. Shouting “Hard!” means the others need to start sweeping faster. If that’s still not getting the job done, yelling “Hurry hard!” will likely drive the point home: pick up the intensity and sweep with downward pressure. A "Clean!" yell means put a brush on the ice but apply no pressure. This will clear the ice so the stone can glide more easily.

There's no regulation for the shouts, though—curler Erika Brown says she shouts “Right off!” and “Whoa!” to get her teammates to stop sweeping. And when it's time for the team to start sweeping, you might hear "Yes!" or "Sweep!" or "Get on it!" The actual terminology isn't as important as how the phrase is shouted. Curling is a sport predicated on feel, and it’s often the volume and urgency in the skip’s voice (and what shade of red they’re turning) that’s the most important aspect of the shouting.

If you need any more reason to make curling your favorite winter sport, once all that yelling is over and a winner is declared, it's not uncommon for both teams to go out for a round of drinks afterwards (with the winners picking up the tab, obviously). Find out how you can pick up a brush and learn the ins and outs of curling with our beginner's guide.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Why You Should Never Take Your Shoes Off On an Airplane
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What should be worn during takeoff?

Tony Luna:

If you are a frequent flyer, you may often notice that some passengers like to kick off their shoes the moment they've settled down into their seats.

As an ex-flight attendant, I'm here to tell you that it is a dangerous thing to do. Why?

Besides stinking up the whole cabin, footwear is essential during an airplane emergency, even though it is not part of the flight safety information.

During an emergency, all sorts of debris and unpleasant ground surfaces will block your way toward the exit, as well as outside the aircraft. If your feet aren't properly covered, you'll have a hard time making your way to safety.

Imagine destroying your bare feet as you run down the aisle covered with broken glass, fires, and metal shards. Kind of like John McClane in Die Hard, but worse. Ouch!

Bruce Willis stars in 'Die Hard' (1988)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

A mere couple of seconds delay during an emergency evacuation can be a matter of life and death, especially in an enclosed environment. Not to mention the entire aircraft will likely be engulfed in panic and chaos.

So, the next time you go on a plane trip, please keep your shoes on during takeoff, even if it is uncomfortable.

You can slip on a pair of bathroom slippers if you really need to let your toes breathe. They're pretty useless in a real emergency evacuation, but at least they're better than going barefoot.

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

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