And Now You Know: Green Screens Revealed   Leave a comment

In between finalizing three different final projects for my UT classes this weekend, I took a much needed break and ventured out to the edge of my favorite Internet black hole o’ procrastination – reddit. Within seconds, I found this fantastic YouTube video (below) that will blow your mind.

Before you watch it, take a second to reflect on the television shows or movies that you watch. Got a mental list going? Okay, now you’re ready to watch the video…

Some of the above editing effects are pretty easy to spot, like the cruise ship from Grey’s Anatomy at 1:05, or the window-dangling action scene at 2:53 (extra points if you can figure out what show/movie it’s from), but would you necessarily have noticed the other scenes? I’m going to bet that you wouldn’t have. I worked in cable television production for six years, and I can’t figure out half of these shots.

Green screens are a funny little invention, and they make the movie and television worlds we know and love come to life in exceptional detail. After watching the above video, do you feel cheated by the production industry?

So how does it work?

The quick and dirty explanation: Once a green screen is in place, a scene is shot like it normally would be. Attention to lighting detail is really important. Shooting outside on a sunny day is perfect, because the sun distributes light evenly and naturally over all objects. High quality lighting kits are wicked expensive, so shooting outdoors is a cheaper, albeit highly weather-dependent alternative.

Once the footage magically appears* in the edit bay, the editor applies a Chroma Key color transition to each green screen shot. A Chroma Key is an editing software feature that basically allows two images to be sandwiched together. The color of one image is removed (the lime green around the subject), and is replaced by the desired image (the action or location surrounding the subject). The lime green of a green screen makes it a perfect color to use as a backdrop, because very few things in this world are naturally lime green. Editors don’t have to worry about the Chroma Key removing objects other than the green screen. Does that make sense? If not, think of what you would look like if you were wearing a lime green top infront of a green screen. In the edit bay, once the Chroma Key is implemented, all that would be left of you is your head and arms.

Good editing results in seamless scenes that make it essentially impossible for viewers to discern where a green screen is located. If you pay close attention the next time you watch a documentary or reality show, you might notice a weird glow around a person’s hair, fingers, or oddly shaped accessories (I’m thinking Carmen Miranda, who are you thinking?). Rest assured, you’re not seeing their natural aura. Items such as hair, fingers, and accessories can be unusually shaped and are difficult to key out perfectly, especially when a subject moves their hands fast, or runs their fingers through their hair.

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed the above video. The next time you notice a poorly edited or obvious green screen scene while watching TV or a movie, award yourself the Badge for Chroma Key Awareness!** You deserve it.

*Thousands of editors and media workflow specialists around the world just cringed simultaneously.

**Chroma Key Awareness badge is not a real badge and can only be unlocked/obtained by your imagination.

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