WHAT IS CHROMA KEY?
Chroma-key technique (commonly called green screen) is a way to put you on the planet Mars if that’s what your video script calls for.
Chroma-key is cheap and easy if you have the right equipment. Chroma key is probably the single most popular digital video effect because it lets your imagination rule your video production, not your budget or location restraints.
Green screen can transport you from Mars to the American Revolution in the punch of a button.
- Chroma means color.
- In video, key means to put one image on top of another and make them one.
Chroma key means you remove any one color from your image and replace it with any image you want. A still shot of the planet Mars downloaded from NASA, or a video with gruesome battle scenes on the Potomac.
WHAT COLORS ARE USED?
Bright lime green and bright turquoise blue are the most commonly used colors for chroma-key, which is where the common name green screen comes from. If you stand a person in front of a lime green background, all of the green can be removed and replaced with whatever image you want.
Because green and blue are so commonly used, many people think those are the ONLY colors that can be used. Not true. Any color will work with chroma key. Blue and green are chosen often because they are furthest away on the color spectrum from face tones.
YOUR WEATHER CASTER USES GREEN SCREEN
One of the main uses for chroma-key in television that you’re no doubt familiar with is the weather report. Next time you watch a TV weather report, you’ll know that the different maps, satellite and radar images appear behind the weather caster because of chroma-key technique.
The image of the weather caster is captured with one camera and in that shot, you can see the green screen. If you were to stand in the studio, you would easily see the weather caster standing in front of the green screen, perhaps the walls and floor are painted green so the weather caster i’s walking right on top of the green.
The weather radar, satellite or other maps are all separate video inputs that the director will insert to replace the solid green behind the weathercaster. The weathercaster is watching where he is by looking at a monitor that’s placed slightly off camera and shows the blending of the two images. The viewer never sees this monitor.
A good weather caster will shift his head toward the green screen but his eyes go toward the monitor. This way, it looks he’s looking intently at his map but he’s really checking to see if he needs to take baby steps or big daddy steps to reach California on the map.
Lots of weathercasters doze and think they’re talking about snow in Milwaukee when the viewer is seeing them on top of a radar image of Miami. The weathercaster never knows the difference if he doesn’t check his off-camera monitor, but the viewers think he flunked geography.
You’d be amazed at how often chroma key is used. It’s not just for the weather report. When taking a tour of the ABC studios in New York with my high school students after we won our Emmy, we watched a news update go live. The anchor person was actually in a TINY green screen room, smashed up against the wall. But on the air, they looked like they were in a HUGE, elaborate studio. It was seamless. There was NO indication in the final shot that it was a chroma key. (You can tell by looking at the edges of the person against the background. You can often see a green tinge or reflection.) I was blown away by how realistic it looked and I’m not easily impressed.
HOW DO YOU DO GREEN SCREEN?
In a studio, most green screen is done live through a video switcher. But green screen can also be done with advanced computer editing programs. Most advanced programs have the capacity to use any color, not just green. You can use brown if that’s what works for you.
Lime green and bright blue are the preferred colors because they’re on the opposite side of the light spectrum from skin tones. You don’t want someone’s face being replaced with the weather map! But if you want to chroma key a green alien onto Mars, a brown screen instead of a green screen may be the way to go.
Whatever color you decide, videotape your subject in front of a flat wall that’s solid with that color. Light your video so there are no shadows. Any variation of the color behind your subject will be difficult to work with. Any shadow falling on the background creates a slightly darker color which might confuse your edit system.
Once you get a solid even colored background, your switcher or edit computer completely remove that color and you supply a substitute. The precise mechanism by which to accomplish this will vary from system to system.
Thanks for reading video production tips.
Internet Video Gal