Monday, 18 March 2013

Chroma Key Filming

Another name for the day is the Moment of Truth, or the day that I've been working towards since I signed up for this amateur production.
Orang utan - Singapore Zoo
Orang utan - the spoke-ape of Singapore Zoo
Remember from my last posts, especially this one, where I mentioned Salesman 4 - my role - sells one of Singapore Zoo's unique service to public: Breakfast with Orang Utans.

Initially, we planned to shoot this scene live in the zoo. After writing in to get permission from the zoo for the shooting, we were asked to pay a sum of money that are far well above our group's budget, even though the money is going into a fund for the animal conservation cause.

So the solution to our problem would be to film my scene with chroma key technique. Better known to layman like me as the green screen shooting. Chroma key is a more accurate term because the backdrop doesn't have to be green. It could be any colour. Since most human don't have green body parts, green is generally safe to use. Blue, for example, isn't a good idea because some people have blue eyes. But among us Asian, blue screen is quite safe. If an actor has green hair (either because he/she has dyed hair or an ET decides to join our humble production for the unique experience on earth), we can use blue screen instead.

Chroma key is very useful techniques for situation that are impossible or implausible to shoot in real life. Take Forrest Gump as an example. In the shrimp boat scene, we can see Gary Sinise showing his legs with the missing lower parts. One solution is to saw off his lower legs, but I don't think his agent would agree to that (negotiation takes place between director and agent, usually not directly between actor and director. Besides, if his legs were to saw off, he won't get any role in the future that require legs. I know for a fact that his latest project require the use of his legs. I think most roles require legs. So cutting off his legs is cutting off his career). So one simplest - and the only solution that I can see with current technology - is the use of chroma keying.

He would be shot in front of a green screen with his lower legs covered in green paint/materials that matched the colour of green backdrop (most likely a green boot). And another shooting are done of an actual shrimp boat without the presence of any actor. The 2 filming are combined in post production. Any green area - including his lower legs - in the chroma key scene would be replaced by the shrimp boat scene. This gives the effect that his lower legs being missing.

Another obvious example could be found in Death Becomes Her (1992) where the hole in Goldie Hawn's stomach could be easily created with the same green screen magic. Simply shot her against the green screen with a round green cloth sewn onto her dress (or a dress with a green circle) at a location where the hole is supposed to be.

Both movies won Oscar in the category of Best Effects, Visual Effects. I suspect one of the memorable things about these 2 movies are their special effects.

Of course, both examples of the use of green screen above involving the removing of body parts: legs and stomach in this case. You can remove the whole body if you cover the whole actor in green, and becomes invisible as in such film as Hollow Man (2000) where Kevin Bacon plays the part, invisibly.

Sometimes, green screen can produce the opposite effect. I.e. it doesn't subtract, it adds. A clone of an actor, who plays a twin for example, could be achieved with chroma keying. The actor is first shot against the green screen, and then he's shot in an actual location where the 'twin' both going to appear the same time. Combine the two film clips in post production, and 2 images of the same actor appearing on our screen the same time. Piece of cake! (Or multiple pieces of cakes).

Many think of chroma keying is used for this kinda requirement that are impossible to carry out in real life. In fact, they're mostly done for a variety of reasons, and the top of that reason is to reduce cost, and ease of shooting (which ultimately translates into cost saving).

If you watch this youtube footage, most of the uses of green screen aren't for the dramatic or critical reasons such as those I pointed out in Forrest Gump, Death Becomes Her, or Hollow Man. In fact, most of the reasons for doing so is quite pedestrian (pun intended). Several of the pedestrian scenes in Ugly Betty in this youtube clip are just actors appearing in the sidewalks, walking and talking. Nothing really spectacular, and yet it's done for all kinds of valid reasons.

Chroma Key filmingAnd so we've decided to shoot my scene (and several others) using the green screen. If it's good enough for the much bigger budget productions, it's good enough for us.

This way we can create the illusion of being in the zoo without having me actually anywhere remotely close to the zoo.

We haven't decided exactly what the backdrop of this scene going to be. It could be either an actual scene outside the zoo (we consulted the legality of including film footage shot outside the zoo into our film. It's legit, and free) or some kind of animation. It seems likely that it's going to be animations.

With the latter choice, the backdrop couldn't be anything else but the green screen.

While the filming is long with lots of wait. As far as my previous experience of being an extra is concerned, the day's wait is a breeze when your set up a high expectation of a very long waiting time.

The waiting was made even breezier when you know most of the crew and cast well. Think of it as a weekend get together with your mates, then your time would pass rather quickly. Ok, I don't know them well. Maybe it's the writer in me talking, getting to know people is as much an enjoyable activity as shooting movies. And film making is such a elaborate collaborative enterprise that having the right rapport with other crew and cast makes the whole process smoother and more life enhancing. I'm not just here to make films, I'm here to make friends as well. They aren't mutually excusive. They should be mutually inclusive.

Anyone who isn't prepared for very long waits is a newbie to film making. Shooting and acting is a very tedious process. Don't let the glamour fool you. The glamour of movie making is as real as the illusion of chroma keying. Having said that, at the end of the day, I'm glad to be part of it. I couldn't imagine a better way to spend my weekend with creative activities and people, socialising, and in helping to produce a film.

Couldn't wait to see how it turns out in the final cut, and you know all that hard works, and commitment pays off.

And cut! That's a wrap for me.

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