Raise the Bar: Shooting and Editing Green-Screen Video
November 30, 2016 • Mark Lassoff • Video
Green-screen video has been around for years. The local weather forecaster has been standing in front of the green screen gesturing into space for about as long as I can remember. However, many in educational video aren’t using green screen, and there seems to be a false belief that it is either too expensive or too difficult to do.
In this column, you’re going to learn exactly what tools you’ll need to produce green-screen video—and that they’re surprisingly inexpensive. I’ll also go over some basic techniques to get you started.
Figure 1: An inexpensive green-screen setup
The tools of the green-screen trade
One of the good things about green-screen work is that you can start very inexpensively and purchase more durable tools later.
I’m going to assume you already have some type of video camera and computer for editing; I’ll discuss only those tools you need specifically for green-screen production.
To start out, you need a few items:
Green screen or green-screen paint—You’ve seen the lime-green screen used in many productions. Sometimes a deep aqua color is used as well. Regardless, you can purchase a fabric green screen from Amazon.com for as little as $30. Usually, the more expensive the screen, the more durable the fabric used. There are several shapes, and they are usually attached to included posts with clips. The screens are often sold as a kit. I recommend the screen set if you’re going to be moving the green screen around.
However, if you’re going to be shooting in only one dedicated location, I’d suggest you use green-screen paint. (Here’s one option.) You’re going to want a consistent green, and a flat wall will be more consistent than a fabric with folds and creases.
Purchase the biggest screen or paint the biggest wall you can afford. You’ll find that a larger green-screen studio will provide you with more options down the road.
Lighting—A standard three-point lighting solution will work best. There are three-point lighting kits available from Amazon for under $100. You want to light your subject so you don’t cast shadows on the green screen, but you must also highlight well. We’ve augmented our in-studio lighting with a hair light and a ring light. The hair light (obviously) lights the subject’s hair from above. The ring light is a circular light around the camera that evenly lights our subject well.
Figure 2: The traditional standard three-point lighting setup
When actually completing a shoot, your time spent arranging lights is well invested. You’ll want to run several tests to see what positions give you a bright, cheery image, while keeping the green screen even. You might want to try lighting your green screen from above with additional lights if you find it difficult to light the green screen evenly.
As you become more proficient, and if you have dedicated studio space, you may want to consider permanently hanging your lights from either a ceiling rail system or mounts made specifically for drop ceilings.
Figure 3: Inexpensive studio with green screen and three-point lighting setup
iPad teleprompter—Studio teleprompters can cost thousands of dollars. We use a four-year-old iPad, some free software, and a mount we purchased from Amazon. (We use this one. There are many others to choose from.)
We have found that scripting content and using the teleprompter during our actual recordings makes production much quicker. This isn’t necessarily unique to the green-screen environment, but I wanted to share this with you.
Shooting green screen isn’t all that different from shooting other types of video. Once you have your lighting and teleprompter set up, you’re ready to roll. Normally, I’d advise you to utilize the rule of thirds in your shot composition. You’d shoot your subject about one third of the distance from either side. For a green-screen shot, however, I’d recommend shooting your subject dead center. You’ll be compositing your final shot in post-production, and shooting in the middle will leave margin for error.
Remember that you can’t do jump cuts here, at least not without the final video looking weird, so your subject has to be able to make it all the way through the text without error. Try to keep your individual sections short to increase the chance of a good take. As always, keep all of your footage and diary each shot. You’ll be thankful you did when you get to post-production.
I am going to be discussing post (that is, the post-production process) using Camtasia 9. There is a similar process in just about any contemporary video-editing software, such as Adobe Premiere. You’ll need your footage and some type of virtual background (discussed below). The first thing you’ll do is import your footage and background into your editing software (Figure 4).
Figure 4: The green-screen stand-up video and the video that will serve as the background appear in the Media Bin in Camtasia
Once you’ve imported your content videos, drag your background video onto the bottom layer or track in your editor. Drag the green-screen video onto the track on top (Figure 5).
Figure 5: The green-screen track appears on top, and the video track I will run behind it appears on the track below
Next, using the Visual Effects menu in Camtasia, I’ll choose “Remove a Color.” In the subsequent menu that pops up on the right, I’ll use the eyedropper to choose the green color I’d like to remove. Next I’ll adjust the tolerance, softness, hue, and defringe settings to get a crisp green-screen effect (Figure 6). Test the video by playing the clip using the space bar.
Figure 6: Once you’ve removed the green color, you’ll need to adjust the tolerance to take out more of the green screen. Remove as much green as you can directly around your subject.
Your goal is to take out all the green without removing any of your subject (Figure 7).
Figure 7: The result of successful green-screen removal
Finally, using the Move and Crop tools, position your subject using the rule of thirds (Figure 8).
Figure 8: With the subject properly positioned and any additional green on the edges cropped out, we’re ready to render this video
We work a lot with virtual backgrounds. These are backgrounds specifically designed to give your green-screen production a studio feel. You can purchase virtual backgrounds online if you wish; or, if you have a designer, you can design your own. Ideally, virtual backgrounds should look somewhat realistic so you don’t have a video of your subject in a cartoonish landscape.
The key to “selling” the virtual background effect is correctly proportioning the subjects within the virtual background. If they appear too big or small, or are positioned too close or far within the composited video, they will look unrealistic and incorrect. Pay careful attention to the size of your subjects and the size of the surrounding objects. One trick I use is to watch television news and proportion the same way the newscasters are shown in their real studio (Figure 9).
Figure 9: Virtual background with subject correctly proportioned
As you’ve seen, green screen is not a tool only for advanced videographers. With some practice, you can expect results that look outstanding in no time!