Green screen state of the art

This jaw-dropping green-screen mashup reveals the how-to (or at least the what) behind a lot of relatively normal-looking location shots. The key, of course, is the quality of the background plates…. these shots demonstrate that you can focus on your foreground action with your actors, and then assemble the other elements in a virtual world, offline.

Adding snow, helicopters, explosions, reflections, background traffic, sky shots, etc. can all be done days before or months later… although the most common scenario will simply be to shorten the day by reducing the complexity of each shot. This allows smaller tech crews to get background plates while the talent can be spared from having to do retakes simply because a car in the deep background missed its cue.

By doing some tough action shots first, directors can make note of background action that occurs just before a closeup, and be able to cut to the closeup with the action still tailing out in the background of the closeup shot. By dedicating one of the cameras to the upcoming closeup shot, the background action can thus be compressed in screen time, while the talent enjoys a much better chance of getting their take right. They don’t have to be “on” at precisely the instant something happens behind them. Safer actors, more relaxed directors, more intense time-compression in editing. (Although the whole process just makes the “authenticity” bar that much higher).

Green screen for “normal” shots also means that setups involving kids can focus on the kid shots to meet stricter day length restrictions, then embellish the action afterwards.

One particular challenge, which also has a special effects solution, is the thickness of the air or apparent sharpness between the foreground elements and background. The eye of the effects house is critical here. I felt like the Times Square shot had a little too much contrast between the foreground guy and the background… and the actor’s performance seemed a little disconnected from the “reality” that was superimposed after the fact. But these were probably first takes, and no doubt the final print was a lot more believable.

By the way, I always keep a green screen 8 foot flex backdrop in my van so that any interview we do can be superimposed over any background plate we’d like to envision.

Thanks to Jeff Morin who told @GarryTan who put it on his Posterous blog, which I follow!