If you’re a video geek like myself, you probably watch all those special features on all the DVDs you rent. You drool over the “how to” special effects featurettes and think, “Wow! If only I could do that!” What if I told you that you can? Affordably. Well, I am about to do just that, so read on.
You and I both know that much of the key (no pun intended) to today’s visual effects in video and film comes down to the magic of chroma-key or “green screen.” Yes, you’ve watched the segments on the Lord of the Rings and the Spy Kids DVDs and you want to be the next Peter Jackson or Robert Rodriguez: you know you do. It looks so easy. But it can’t be, right? Wrong. It is. Let me tell you how.
Not long ago I attended the ShowBiz Expo in Los Angeles and had the opportunity to hobnob with some of the film industry giants. In one session I met with the visual effects supervisors for the films Independence Day and Godzilla. At the time they were working on a new independent film called Coronado and shared their special effects secrets. Their aim in creating the film was to cut their visual effects budget by 80% and show that the effects could all be processed in a home computer using off-the-shelf software.
Shooting with HD-DV 24 frame video (against green or blue screen) the dailies could be immediately downloaded to computer without the need to scan film frame by frame (a big cost savings right there). The “film” was then edited using Adobe Premiere and composited in AfterEffects. (Other standard “home” software was used for 3D modeling and virtual set design.) Well, they did just that.
That’s right, using Adobe products, stuff you can buy for a song that you probably have right now (the suite sells for around $1,000), they did Hollywood at home! To see Coronado and the special “making of” features rent the DVD from your favorite video store today. You will be amazed. Tackle the learning curve and Hollywood’s secrets are at your fingertips. It’s not all that difficult. But, it gets easier than that!
On the market by Visual Magic (visualmagic.com) are two easy-to-use products called Visual Communicator (VC) and Ultra. And, they are dirt cheap. Not only that, their customer service and tech support are the best.
Visual Communicator comes in three versions: Web, Professional, and Studio. The Web version is cheapest (about $150) and produces a low rez product designed for use on the Internet. (Quite good, really for most on-screen presentations.) The $300 Pro version’s output is for full-screen, high rez video and is “printable” to either tape or disk. The Studio version (close to $700) offers multi-camera input. These products are all designed primarily for real-time input/creation. You can jump in with the cheap version and upgrade at reasonable prices when you’re ready.
Here’s how VC works: Basically you hook your DV camera(s) or web cam(s) up to your computer, drag and drop in your graphics, lower-thirds, background stills or videos, sound bytes and music beds into a “timeline” and shoot your video in front of the (provided) green screen. Render, and the product is complete and ready to use. It’s that easy. VC also has a built in teleprompter and comes with a lav-type mic. It’s ready to go “out of the box” and works like a dream.
The plastic green screen comes folded in the box and is slightly problematic as one can never fully remove the creases, which means they show up in the final video. Serious Magic and I both recommend the purchase of a professional green screen. (They sell a five foot by seven foot fabric version that is excellent.) Another better option (for indoor studio use) is to paint a wall using Rosco’s chroma-key green paint. ($50/gallon at rosco.com or from your favorite video supply house.)
Imagine the stunning video you can create and the fun you will have with a few touches of your mouse!
Now Serious Magic’s Ultra is a different animal all-together. The amazing product ($800) uses a new technology called “vector keying.” In a nutshell this means that the green screen need not be lit to the usual high standards required by green screen keying. Bright, even, shadowless lighting, along with a flat screen, is usually essential to seamless green screen effects. But with Ultra you are able to “sample” various sectors of the green screen backdrop (the light and dark areas) and homogenize them into one even surface as if by magic.
Ultra also allows for cropping or “painting out” unwanted portions of the frame as well, and comes with a library of virtual sets that are truly first rate. Your talent can move about in 3D space and you can apply virtual camera moves, bring up additional video on virtual plasma screens and much more. One shot features a nine mile zoom-in from outer space into the window of a space station where your talent stands waiting to walk about the bridge or enter from the turbo-lift in the floor. Or you can shoot or create your own sets and add them in with ease. The finished product can be outputted to tape or DVD, downloaded to your favorite editor or compositing software for further manipulation.
Is that amazing or what? You have got to see it to believe it. Visit seriousmagic.com today and you’ll want these products by sunset.
Have I got you sold? Are you convinced? Why not take a few moments today and monkey with your Adobe products
, check out the Coronado DVD or visit Serious Magic online today and you will be. BTW: You can thank me (you will want to) or ask questions at firstname.lastname@example.org. Better yet, come to my seminar at Inspiration this May in Charlotte, NC. I’ll see you there.
*Note: I am not a Mac user, but my bet is you can do much the same thing with Final Cut Pro.