Monday, August 27, 2012

Working with Green Screen on a Budget

Last weekend I was supervising (in a kind of technical director/producer role) a little video shoot at Toitu, Otago Settlers Museum for Destination Content. It was a green screen job: shooting with an element of green in the background so we could create a composite shot later. It's a technique that can be handy for stills shooting too, so I thought I'd share a few of the details. Of course, I shot a few stills as we went, either with my 8mm Peleng fisheye lens or the Canon 10-22mm EF-S on the Canon 7D, to get  everything in in the tight space available.

The Tiger Tea Bus

We shot it on my recently purchased Canon XF305 HD video camera. Yeah, with the way business is going for Destination Content, I really am being pulled back to the dark side: Video. God forbid that I should end up back making television, but I've learned never to say never - especially to good opportunities. But anyway, our final goal with this project is to have a clip that can be projected inside the Museum's historic Tiger Tea Trolley Bus, recreating a 1970's era bus ride. We shot the action inside, with green screens in the windows that would be in vision, so we can pop footage shot from a filming vehicle into the green space.  Since the bus interior is so small, there was nowhere to hide lights, and there wasn't going to be much separation between our actors and the screen, so a simple, lit green background was out of the question.

The Tiger Tea Bus

However, since the green was to be in the windows, I was able to use a translucent green fabric and light from behind. The fabric had to give us a good bright green when lit so I finally settled on a few metres of Lime parka nylon from Spotlight, folded in a double layer so that the weave didn't create any odd interference pattern with the transmitted light. A few bits of gaffer tape to pull out the wrinkles, and we were in business.


For lights, we went ghetto-style, using a bunch of halogen work lights, the type you buy from Mitre 10, and white balanced accordingly.  You can see a couple of the standalone ones hanging from the hand rail of the bus in the shot above. We'll be giving the finished video an aged film colour treatment anyway, so colour balance wasn't crucial here. Shadows? Yeah, this isn't exactly the most realistic lighting scheme, the only way to get that would be with big soft light banks outside the bus recreating the outside daylight, but I still think we'd have contrast problems inside the bus, so would need on-axis fill anyway, so the two on-axis work lights were the simplest, cheapest option.

Inside the Tiger Tea Bus

The few snags we did meet were reflections of the screen from the painted surfaces inside the bus, and one of our passengers blonde hair picking up the green from the window behind her. A little shift in camera position and a dark wig solved those problems swiftly. Not bad for an oily rag budget, and our scene director Evelyn, below, was pretty happy when she saw what we'd captured on the monitor.

Inside the Tiger Tea Bus  Evelyn checks a take

Not exactly Lord of the Rings-scale effects, (did I mention we did a little video shoot at Weta workshop recently? That's another story) but not bad for some borrowed work lights and a few bucks worth of nylon!

Friday, August 17, 2012


I've just been asked to shoot the pictures for Fortune Theatre's annual catalogue again, a job I always look forward to.  Meanwhile, I thought I'd share a couple from this year's shows. If you're from Dunedin you'll recognise the finished work from posters around town.

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This set is from the shoot from "In The Next Room or The Vibrator Play".  We had in mind to photoshop the Victorian wallpaper background in later, so all I needed to deliver was a sexy looking bit of light on the lovely Elena and a shadow the graphic designer could work with. I decided to go with a very simple setup: using the Orbis ring flash for key and fill on Elena. It gives a beautiful sheen to bare skin as well as that distinctive halo-like shadow. Then to camera right I've got a bare 580 EXII flash providing the wall shadow and a bit of hair and rim lighting.

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From the beauty we went to... well let's just say character.  This set was for the play "Heroes" and the posters are popping up around town now. Again, we were shooting for a photoshop background. The play is about three old war veterans. I wanted to be fairly sympathetic so kept my key light big and soft. It's a Linkstar 1000w studio head in a 120cm octagonal softbox. The Orbis comes into play again for on-axis fill, an I've got a bare 580 EXII on either side for rim lights.

Elena was thoroughly professional, but these old rogues... well, no matter what their age, get three blokes together, and after a while, naughty schoolboys come out. Exactly what I was waiting for.