Orphan Black and the Twinning Effect

Orphan Black strangling scene

The TV series Orphan Black tells the story of a woman who encounters several cloned versions of herself and becomes caught up in a deadly conspiracy. It uses state of the art visual effects to create duplicates of Golden Globe-nominated Tatiana Maslany – sometimes putting as many as three versions of the actress on screen at any one time.

The visual effects of Orphan Black are created by Intelligent Creatures; according to visual effects producer Che Spencer, their mandate was “to push the effect and not settle for what was easy.” I’ll talk in more depth about the visual effects of Orphan Black later in this article, but first, let’s wind the clock back.

“Twinning” has been around in the movies for a long time. A good early example is the 1944 Bing Crosby musical Here Come The Waves, in which Betty Hutton stars as identical twins Susan and Rosemary Allison. The film uses a fairly standard range of twinning tricks including a body double with her back to the camera, and judiciously-placed split screens.

In many of the shots in Here Come The Waves, it’s easy to spot where split line is (the binary Betties are generally positioned on opposite sides of the screen, with plenty of empty set gaping between). Some shots – such as the one where both characters leave the stage after a dance number – make effective use of a moving split, allowing the twins to occupy the same physical space, albeit after a small but convenient time interval … continues

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