Features and Columns · Movies

To Split-Screens and Beyond: The Art of Creating Doubles

A look at one of the most common visual effects in all of cinema: duplicating a human being and having the two interact.
Dead Ringers
Twentieth Century Fox
By  · Published on November 13th, 2020

Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video about how filmmakers create the illusion of doubles, twins, and clones through various visual effects.

The gag of having one person appear on-screen as more than one character is almost as old as cinema itself. But actors playing multiple roles in a film is one thing. Having them share the screen and interact with each other is another matter altogether.

Over time, numerous techniques have been used to pull off the illusion of twins, clones, and duplicates. Some films are lucky enough to have actual twins at their disposal. Others simply rely on body doubles, avoiding the need for visual effects entirely. For everyone else, until the advent of computer-generated effects, pulling off a “doubling” was a matter of editing. And the oldest and most effective trick in the book was the split-screen, which goes at least as far back as the French illusionist Georges Méliès.

But, as the video essay below emphasizes, the real magic happens when filmmakers combine techniques. When optical mattes, body doubles, and motion-controlled cameras are intertwined and mixed-and-matched to sell us on the trick.

The video offers an impressively dense look at examples of different “doubling” techniques across cinema history and how their limitations led to creative solutions. So, if you’ve ever wanted to know the ins and outs of one of film’s longest-serving visual effects, you’ve come to the right place.

Watch “Creating Doubles: The Split-Screen and Beyond”:

Who made this?

This video is by RocketJump Film School, an ongoing series of online filmmaking tutorials and educational essays. You can subscribe to their YouTube page here. And you can follow them on Twitter here.

More Videos Like This

  • Kicking things off, here’s RocketJump Film School on why computer-generated visual effects get a bad rap because we only notice “bad” CG.
  • On theme with the special effect of doubling human beings, here’s RocketJump Film School on the subject of “movie magic” and how directors find creative solutions to sell engaging illusions.
  • This section from a WhatCulture SFX breakdown showcases one of my favorite “twin effects” in cinema. It’s from Terminator 2: Judgment Day. In it, Linda Hamilton‘s twin sister Leslie plays the actress’ mirror image. This allowed the filmmakers to give the impression of Sarah Connor operating on The Terminator’s noggin.
  • Want to clone yourself? Here’s a five-minute tutorial on how to clone yourself with VFX.

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Based in the Pacific North West, Meg enjoys long scrambles on cliff faces and cozying up with a good piece of 1960s eurotrash. As a senior contributor at FSR, Meg's objective is to spread the good word about the best of sleaze, genre, and practical effects.