Ultimatte tips


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Having a Green-Screen Thumb

With cheap editing plug-ins becoming more affordable and available, more and more productions, particularly for the web, are utilizing Green Screen FX, sometimes called Ultimatte and Chroma-key, which are actually slightly different processes. Blue-Screen Ultimatte used to be more of the industry standard, but most of the editing software now favors Green Screen.

What it is for:
All these techniques are used to allow someone to film something in the foreground and then make the background something else, from a graphic or animated background, to a photo or moving video background. If shot properly, you can even film someone against a Green Screen and then make it look like they are standing on the White House lawn or any other location you have a shot of.

Types of Backgrounds:
While many studios have a large green screen wall, there are also portable green screen curtains, cloths and there are even collapsible polyester reflector-types. You can find these products from many reputable dealers online including Digital Juice, B&H Photo and even Amazon.

What the Professional Videographer Needs To Know:
An experienced videographer will bring a green screen that is in good condition, not too faded, and without creases and rips. Wrinkles on curtain material can often be smoothed out with an iron, steamer or just by hanging; the polyester variety should not be ironed or steamed!

Some cameras work better than others for this effect. HD cameras typically work best. Avoid standard definition DV cameras if at all possible.

Camera movement should be avoided! The perspective of the background will be all out of whack with any zooming. If you are filming wide shots and close-ups of the subject, you should just edit them together. More on this later. Even pans and tilts are best avoided.

An experienced videographer will also know how to light properly for Green Screen. This will include the usual 3-point lighting, but the backlight should be a little stronger than usual to make the subject “pop” out from the background. The camera aperature should be set and locked for proper exposure on the subject prior to lighting the background. The subject should be placed far enough away from the background so that the lighting for the background does not light the subject (and vice versa). The background should then be evenly lit from both sides so that it is a bright green (or blue) color with no shadows on it. One technique for even light distribution across the background is to focus the light on each side toward the opposite end of the background so that the light doesn’t start off bright on each side and get darker toward the middle.

What the Client and Subject Need to Know:
Firstly, hire a videographer with green screen experience!
Find a filming location that is not only out of the traffic flow and relatively quiet, but is also big enough to set up a green screen (small flex-fill types are at least 9’ wide; curtains are often 25’ wide). Additionally, the room should be deep enough so that you can place the subject at least 10’ away from the background and then the camera needs another 6’ – 12’ back from there depending on how wide a shot. Filming a person’s head & shoulders doesn’t require as much space as a full body shot, obviously. The further away from the green screen the subject is, the less green screen you will have to work with. However, if the subject is too close to the background, it cannot be lit properly as mentioned earlier. If the subject moves around, he or she may go outside the green screen background from the cameras’ vantage point. Always make sure to set up a nice monitor to view the shot. Also, if you are want to show a full body shot from head to toe, the floor will also need to be either painted or draped in the same green-screen material. This will require considerable more room to work with and care will need to be taken that the material on the floor does not rip or wrinkle. Everyone but the subject should avoid stepping on it and the soles of the shoes of the subject should be clean. Flats will work much better than heels if there is any walking.

Clothing, Hair and Make-Up:
People who are going to be recorded are often told what not to wear including white or black (contrast issues), bright red (“bleeding” issues), or thin stripes or patterns (wavy “moray” effects). For Green Screen or Blue Screen, you also must avoid wearing anything with green or blue in it (many blue colors have some green in them and vice-versa). Best to wear gray, yellow, gold brown, beige, pink or muted red. This includes make-up – avoid blue mascara, for instance. It is highly likely that the videographer may apply some transluscent powder to the subject’s face (males and females) because more light than usual is used in these applications and it is easier to appear shiny. Men who are balding may particularly need powder on the tops of their heads because of the strong backlight. People with long, wispy hair, particularly blondes, may need to pull their hair together. Blonde wispy strands of hair may be extremely difficult to matte or key around.

Background Images – Perspecitve:
Before you even begin setting up for your shoot, you should have an idea of what you want to eventually edit into the background. For example, if you want the whole White House behind someone you are shooting from head to toe, then they would appear to be a good hundred feet away from it and the White House background shot would be slightly out of focus to look realistic. If you cut to a close up of the person, the background image of the White House would then show only the small portion of the building around the person – not the whole White House – and the background would need to look a little more out of focus.

Background Images – Outdoor vs. Indoor:
If the video image is an outdoor location, that would require using daylight-balanced lighting on the subject, rather than tungsten that you may use for an interior.

Background Images – Infinite White
If you simply want a bright white background that is so popular today (also called “Infinite White”), it is much simpler to just use a white seamless backdrop or paper. This will save you a lot of time in the editing room. The white still needs to be shot and lit much like the Green/Blue Screen; in fact, more light is required on the white background so that it is over-exposed evenly (without over-exposing the subject).

Tips on aspect ratios – HD vs SD


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It is inevitable that there will always be new electronics and new technology which means more format options and confusion for many consumers. While High Definition has been around for decades it is only now starting to become the prevailing production mode. As consumers scramble to figure out what kind of monitor they should purchase and clients can’t figure out how they should have their production shot, it is important to clarify the terms in question.

Wide-screen vs. “Standard”

It is now common knowledge that major retailers are only selling wide-screen TV’s/monitors now. The “standard” monitors have a 4 by 3 aspect ratio, giving the picture an almost square shape only slightly wider than tall. Wide-screens have a 16 by 9 aspect ratio, the width and shape of most movie screens. “Letter Box” is a term referring to a 16:9 picture inset inside a 4:3 screen.

Since all new TV’s are going to be wide-screen, we believe it makes sense to shoot new productions in wide-screen. Some clients have hesitated doing this for different reasons. Some are comfortable with the 4:3 aspect ratio and fear other people won’t have wide-screen TV’s and they do not like the look of letterboxing. This opinion is dying as fast as the sales of 4:3 TV’s. Every public place with a screen is 16:9 these days and people are already so used to letterboxing on 4:3 screens that you see a letterbox-type frame around ads of all shapes and sizes now, making the ad look more “movie-esque” and at the same time providing convenient space above and below the picture for graphics.

Squeezed vs. Stretched

Sometimes you may see video on a wide screen that looks stretched – everyone looks fat – not how most people want to be photographed. This occurs when something shot in 4:3 is shown on a wide-screen – a very important reason to film in 16:9. This way, the picture will look good on wide-screen monitors and if it is shown on a 4:3 TV, it will be letterboxed, not “squeezed.” The only time you may see a squeezed picture is when you film in wide-screen and then display that image directly on a 4:3 monitor. Anything that has been edited properly will automatically format in a letterbox on a 4:3 monitor and not look “squeezed.” While we may all be on diets, a squeezed picture is not flattering either!

Letterboxing vs. Cropping

If you film a production in wide-screen you can edit it so that it will be shown in letterbox on a 4:3 screen as noted earlier. Or you can also crop the image so that it fills a 4:3 frame. When filming something that might be shown in 4:3, it is important to frame the essential action within the 4:3 frame. Most cameras have frame markers in the viewfinder, but it may be necessary to put some thin pieces of tape on a monitor the client is looking at to signify the 4:3 cut-off.

What are the options for a production that is utilizing existing 4:3 footage? Of course there are decades of valuable footage already shot in 4:3 and the options are not to throw that footage away or to stretch it. You can design a letterbox frame for this footage using either a graphic border or extending the background image digitally. You can also layer footage into smaller frames in a montage effect. When combining existing 4:3 footage with new wide-screen footage, we have often used the new wide-screen shots as a background image with the 4:3 shots inset. We used this to great effect on the City of Arlington video. We had a lot of existing standard definition 4:3 shots donated to us that we integrated with our new wide-screen HD footage.

High Definition vs. Standard Definition

Wide-screen does NOT automatically mean HD. High Definition relates to the greater number of lines of resolution of the image and not necessarily the shape. Standard Defintion can be filmed in either 4:3 or 16:9 and High Definition can be displayed wide or it can be cropped or letterboxed. When filming television ads, we film in High Definition regardless, to give the highest image quality. Then we often edit a High Definition master and standard definition master for stations that can broadcast both. Not every TV station currently has the capability to broadcast ads in HD, but more and more do. The HD versions are broadcast to people that have HD service and the SD version goes out to everyone else.

1080 vs. 720 HD

High Definition can have either 1080 or 720 lines of resolution. Our HVX-200 cameras can shoot either 1080 or 720, yet many of the most popular HD cameras such as the VariCam can only shoot 720. Down converted to standard definition, 1080 and 720 will look the same — the only way you can see a difference is if you compare 720 and 1080 HD on a 1080 screen that is over 50 inches.

p vs. i

Many people wonder what the “p” means in 1080p or 720p. “P” stands for progressive scan vs. “i” or interlaced. In progressive scan, all the even and odd lines of resolution in a frame are scanned sequentially and at the same time to give the footage a smoother image with more detail, sometimes described as “film look.” With interlaced, first the odd lines of resolution are scanned, followed by the even lines in twice the amount of time as progressive. This looks fine a cathode ray type of monitor, but on a computer monitor or digital screen, there sometimes appears to be a “flicker effect.” There are much more detailed, precise definitions available but the intent here is to be concise and not too confusing.

Digital vs. Analog

Progressive scan, wide screen and High Definition are all only available with with a digital signal. In February 2009, all tv signals will be digital and it will be necessary to either have a digital TV or to have an analog to digital converter (the government will be providing coupons for those unable to afford them). Digital signals do not have ghosting and do not become weaker or stronger depending on the circumstances – you either have an image or you do not. There is also a greater consistency of color and many other features such as surround sound, multiple language audio and text services in addition to much higher picture quality in the same or less bandwidth as analog.

Now that you have decided you want a new digital, wide screen tv (preferably HD) what kind should you get? There are brand names and sizes to consider and here consumers will go with what brands they are familiar with and sizes that work for their space and budget limitations. They will also choose between 720 vs. 1080, but keep in mind that the differences betwen 720 and 1080 are not discernable on screens under 50 inches.

DLP, Plasma and LCD

DLP is the rear-screen projection TV using “the thousands of tiny mirrors” we hear about in the Texas Instruments commercials. While the picture is great, these systems come in very large screens, large in depth and also very heavy, so they are not at all portable and you need more space than with a flat screen. Also, if you are not at eye level with the screen, it can look dark. Plasmas and LCD’s are flat screens, so they are light and can literally mount on your wall like a picture. The drawback to plasma screens is that they are made of glass and thus are highly reflective. In a room with lots of windows or lamps at the same angle as the screen, there are tons of reflections. LCD’s don’t have this problem, but like DLP’s they also must be viewed at the proper angle for optimal results. Prices between the three formats range widely based on brand, size, retailer, and day of the week.

What else do you need to see HD besides buying an HD TV? An HD TV does not automatically show you images in HD. In fact, you will notice that analog TV signals look much worse on an HD TV than an analog TV. Digital signals will look very nice, but you will need to make sure your cable, satellite or fiber provider has you equipped with HD service to see programs in full HD. Right now only certain networks and cable broadcast in HD; soon more and more will. Some of the HD broadcasts will come bundled into your plan and other premium HD networks may cost extra. To view DVD’s in HD you will need an HD TV, and HD DVD and an HD DVD player. While there was a strong fight between competing HD DVD formats it appears that Blu-Ray has won that fight, so that is one less decision you have to agonize over. The Internet can already broadcast High Definition and in time should become the predominant HD delivery system.

Tips on multi-media


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More and more video companies are having to answer the question for their clients: “Should all this be on the web? Or on a disc? CD, DVD or Blu-Ray?” The answer to this question can only be reached by first answering a series of other questions regarding the eventual end-use. Below is an essential “Top Ten List”.

1. What is the end-use purpose of the program? (i.e. training, education, marketing, etc.)
2. What will the end-use delivery platform be? (i.e. mail out, kiosk display, laptop presentation, etc.)
3. How many systems will be used? (i.e. a single kiosk, a small network of main-frames, a universal PC platform to be distributed widely, etc.)
4. What kinds of media should be on the program? (i.e. text screens, audio, still pictures, full motion video, animation, etc.) (Also, how important would full-screen, full motion video be, as opposed to video-in-a-window?)
5. How many different topics would be included and how complex the branching? (In other words, does the client envision different routes the user could take and how many?)
6. Would there be tests/quizzes?
7. Would there be a need for individual user log-on codes (For employee training, security, tracking and scoring of quizzes, etc.) 8. Would the disk need to be multi-lingual and if so, how many languages?
9. Approximate budget range and time frame. (Multi-Media is more expensive and time-intensive than linear video.)
10. How often would the program be updated? How many copies will be needed?

Keep in mind that the Internet has become a delivery system of interactive media. A website provides a fluid-ever changing, international presence and can be used to transact e-commerce. Visitors to the site can be tracked and the site can be a great point of contact and powerful communication tool. Video segments can be pre-produced and downloadable from your site, as can live webcast events we film and stream from remote locations. We suggest tying all of your media together to maximize its effectiveness. For example, a DVD or CD should offer a direct link to your website. And a visitor to your website should be able to download your most current and relevant corporate video or commercial in a variety of formats.

“On Location”


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All this talk about new locations and sound stages got us thinking about the very concept of location and what it means to be on-location. So in this issue of Tips and Points, we discuss the challenges of coordinating an out-of-town shoot.

Many projects require footage from other locations around the world. The first question that always arises is: Should people be sent to those locations or hired from those locations? In order to answer that question, first ask yourself the following:

Who is this project for, your site or the out-of-town site?

If the project is being made for the latter, it is best to have someone from that location coordinate the people and events to be shot and to interface with the camera crew. If the project is for you, you may want to be there or you will need to send someone there whom is experienced with video in order to get the shots and/or sound-bites that you need. Ideally, there is upfront planning and communication about the objectives of the shoot with point-people from both locations.

Who is putting the piece together?

Presumably, you have already determined who is writing the script and editing the video. That production entity should be able to help you make a decision about the out-of-town shoot. Since the scripting and editing processes can be extensive, it is important that those resources are near you.

Once you have determined your client point-person and your main production entity, discuss the following with each of them: How much screen time is devoted to the out-of-town location? If only short references are made in the video to this location, the issues involved with producing these shoots are not as critical. For example, your video may only require an exterior building shot, in which case a local videographer can be contracted and sent to get the footage without a great deal of consultation and instruction. An existing photo or broadcast-quality video may also serve the purpose. If the footage needs to be more extensive or specific, the video crew will need more guidance and the shoot will require more coordination.

How many locations are involved?

With multiple out-of-town locations, it becomes even more imperative to have at least one person responsible for the overall message of the video to go to each location in order to maintain consistency. The project should ideally be shot with the same kind of camera and with similar lighting styles, etc.

Once you have answered these questions, you can weigh the pros and cons of hiring locally versus sending a crew.

Finding and hiring an out-of-town production resource

Keep in mind that production company rates may vary from city to city, as may the levels of service and quality they can provide. In certain remote areas, it is simply not an option to hire a local crew. Again consult with the video production company in your area. If the production company chooses to subcontract the shoot to a local resource they use, then they are responsible for the quality and for payment.

If you are searching these capabilities yourself, the Net is an excellent resource for locating resources as are production manuals available from State Film Commissions (many of which also offer web-sites). Look well ahead of the shoot date if possible, so you can review references and demo materials from prospects, just as you would for a turn-key job. A post-production facility may also be able to recommend to you locals crews they are familiar with. Keep in mind that hiring an out-of-town production resource will most likely entail paying C.O.D.

Arranging Crew Travel

Shoot day rates may already be covered in the original budget, but travel expenses are subject to so much change, that they are best left off the production company’s proposal. Let them worry about the video and call a travel agent to get an approximation of average air fares and the advance purchase requirements. If you make the reservations yourself, you do not face the risk of paying for a mark-up, plus most production companies would prefer that the client handles this.

Similarly, hotel accommodations and rent-cars can be reserved in advance on the client’s credit card, even though the persons traveling may be required to produce their own credit cards by certain establishments. Meals, parking, transfers, tips and tolls are all reimbursable travel expenses that should be accounted for. These costs do add up, but keep in mind that you may be getting certain volume discounts from hiring one supplier to turn-key produce the entire project as opposed to hiring several different contractors in each city. It is even possible to fly a crew to more than one location in a day, but pushing a crew too hard will meet with diminished results.

Consider the travel time involved for the crew as part of the shoot day. Some companies will bill for the time sitting on an airplane at a reduced rate; some will not bill at all, but it should be factored into the total hours worked for the day. Also allow for time-zone changes and the time needed to adjust to them. For long distances, it is best to fly-out the evening before the shoot, if possible. Most production companies will not charge for their time if it allows them a good night’s sleep before a shoot.

Travel tips


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In keeping with the honey vs. vinegar approach, it’s important to remember that travel can be hectic and it is always harder work on the road than it is at home. The easier you can make the logistics of the travel, the more production time you can get out of a day. For example, try to book hotels near the job site, this is much more important to the crew than deluxe accommodations. However, they do want their own separate rooms. 5-Star Dining is not necessary, but dinner should at least be a step above airport food, they’ll get plenty of that anyway.

Allow for additional time getting in and out of airports. Book direct flights, preferably to airports closest to the shoot locations. Remember that at least two crew members are needed to go on an out-of-town shoot, for safety and security reasons. A two-person crew should be able to hand-carry onto a plane enough production equipment to get started, even if baggage was lost. This would include: camera/deck, monitor, battery, tape, microphone and cables. Typically, the crew will send as baggage a tripod, lighting kit, battery charger/AC adapter and additional cables, tape and batteries.

The videocamera/deck should be hand-checked and not sent through the x-ray. You should also avoid passing film or shot videotapes through the x-ray, no matter what they tell you. The hand-checking can take time, so allow at least another 45 minutes.

Tips for airport baggage handlers and hotel valets are good insurance on valuable equipment that is needed or cart rentals may also be used.