Green Screens and Cbeebies (Digital Compositing Project)

This semester at Salford University I’ve been taking a course in Digital Compositing – using programmes like After Effects to create visual effects for film and video. For my I was given the brief to create a short promotional film for Cbeebies. I did some research on the Cbeebies brand, and picked up on the little yellow blobs, (which I believe are called bugs, at least this is how they are referred to in the picture files on their website.)

(Picture from http://www.bbc.co.uk/cbeebies/)

Since the short would need to finish with the Cbeebies logo against a white background, I came up with the idea of the bugs taking the words of the logo to the studio. This would involve live action shots in a montage with 2-D characters superimposed on the top. (I’ll make a post going into more detail about this soon)

Yesterday I got some time in the a Greenscreen TV studio at MediaCityUK to shoot a few elements of the film.


(Picture from http://www.salford.ac.uk/mediacityuk/venue/creative-studio-spaces)

One is from the first scene is the film, when the bugs are gathered on a grassy lawn, and a football bounces through. This could have been achieved in the real life shoot if I had had extra people helping me when I filmed the lawn, but this wasn’t possible, and it also gave me the opportunity to show certain compositing effects.

The ball used was slightly shiny and reflected some of the green on the floor, but this isn’t a problem as it will be bouncing off grass in the actual film and instead actually made the shot look more realistic.

The other prop I needed to be greenscreened was a ladder, which the animated bugs need to climb to put up the letters of the logo. Unlike the ball, which was easily picked up in Tescos, this needed to be custom built.

The next few paragraphs are basically about woodworking – I wanted to talk about how I built the props. While prop sourcing and building is a very important part of film making it’s not terribly relevant to the rest of my blog, so feel free to skip ahead three paragraphs to where I talk about filming again.

I decided the the ladder didn’t need to be very big – only big enough that the camera could pick out the detail on it, so I built a prop ladder about eight inches tall, using some pieces of silk stretching frame (made of pine wood) for the vertical pieces, craft sticks (pieces of wood like small lollipop sticks) for the rungs and sides, and a square of balsa wood for the seat at the top

The vertical pieces were cut down to size using a small hacksaw and shaped diagonally at the top and bottom using a craft knife, then the laid down whilst the rungs were glued in place using strong wood adhesive.


(Gluing together the ladder)


(Warning: Sharp objects and fingers should not mix.)

When the rungs were dry, the top diagonal pieces were glued together with both sides clamped in place, then the side pieces were added separately. Finally, I cut a piece of balsa wood down to size and glued it to the top two rungs to create a top step.

(The Robert Jordan novels make good makeshift clamps!)

This Monday, I finally got into the green screen studio to shoot. The film was shot on a 1080 HD camera, against a green screen approximately 15 foot across, with a green floor extending out about 12 foot. The ball required a few attempts to film and as needed to bounce in a straight line – two of us spent about ten minutes bouncing it in and out of shot!

The model ladder was much easier as it essentially involved stills in three different position. There was some concern among the group of people in the studio that because the camera was zoomed in quite far, it was showing up problems with the Green screen floor such as tape, although I am confident that these can be resolved in post by masking in After Effects.

So at this point my next step is to drop the green screened items into the live footage. The ladder will be quite easy, as it will be placed against a white ‘virtual studio’ background – it will only need a shadow to make it convincing. The ball will be harder, not just because it’s shadow will need to move with it and change in size/opacity, but because it needs to look as it is disturbing the grass in the scene slightly. There are several small effects that could possibly be added to achieve this. One is deforming the ball as it hits the ground, a other is to use careful masking to make the ball appear to sink into the grass slightly. I’m mostly going to be experimenting from here on out, and I’ll try to remember to do updates on this project.

Digital Residency

For years, it’s been an accepted idea, that some people are simply more comfortable with the mysterious inner workings of the Internet, and some are not. It’s often regarded as a generational thing, those who have grown up with an online culture already intact, and easy access to it at everything from desktops to phones. This was known as the Digital Immigrants and Digital Natives theory – the idea that there was an inherent gap between people who had grown up online, and those who have had to use it later in life. This idea has been around for a while, since 2001, but it starts to seem too generalised after a while, after all, there are an increasing number of older people with income to spend on technology who are spending time online, while clearly not all teenagers are facebook obsessives.

In 2008, David S. White and Alison Le Cornu proposed a new theory on why the divide exists in their paper ‘ Not ‘Natives’ & ‘Immigrants’ but ‘Visitors’ & ‘Residents’ ‘, it is a matter of perspective.

To some people, the Internet is regarded as a tool, a way of connecting to others, finding out information etc. Yet an increasing number of people regard it as almost a place, a virtual space that they inhabit, and this has become far more prevalent in the age of the of ‘always on’ lifestyle, where to quote Danah Boyd, ‘It’s about living in a world where being networked to people and information wherever and whenever you need it is just assumed.’*

Some have suggested that its reaching the point where there is little distinction between online and not – Internet culture and gaming blogger Jerry Holkins recently commented (referring to conversation’s with his co-worker’s children, ‘These are people for whom “online” is a meaningless term.

I have had discussions with various people over the last few months who have mostly given me a similar opinion of the always on lifestyle, this is a BAD THING. This is because they feel that those who spend too much time online and not participating enough in the ‘real world’. Note, both real world and IRL are phrases I have been trying to avoid ever since a meeting with MIT lecturer Michael Joroff (designer of MediaCityUK and all-round cool person,) who pointed out to me what a misleading term this is, since this both implies that that one is less real than the other. He’s completely right. The things we do in one world affect the other – there have have been several stories in the news recently about people being arrested for comments on twitter, and articles on how this could change the way we communicate online.

So, is this melding of real and virtual damaging or enhancing society? With such differing opinions, maybe it’s doing neither. Society hasn’t changed for the better or for the worse, we just do things differently now.

* Boyd, D. “Participating in the Always-On Lifestyle” in Mandiberg, M. (ed.) The Social Media Reader (New York University Press, 2012)

Technique Workshop Installation at Contact, Manchester

This video comes from an installation created at Contact (a theatre in Manchester) as part of Technique, their course in technical theatre. The installation was designed as a show piece of theatre lighting, sound and scenic design, created jointly by the attendees with help from Contact’s technicians. The set followed a narrative based on the Science Fiction novel Vurt by Jeff Noon, which describes a chase scene between teenagers in rival gangs through a fictional area of future Manchester called Bottletown. I don’t know where the author intended it to be, but in my head, it sounds like a really run down version of Castlefield, which is why the booms (the scaffolding-esque sections) covered in plastic to resemble flats.

Vurt is mostly about drugs, and the set needed to give that impression – with disorientating lights and reflections. We had a lot of fun with the plastic sheeting and the glow from the various bottles hanging up or strewn around the set. I particularly liked having the plastic on the floor so that people could feel as if they were walking across broken glass. We actually discussed having microphones under the plastic so that the crunching of footsteps could be amplified back, perhaps with reverb or distortion added, but we didn’t have time to set it up (The whole installation was constructed in about an hour and a half.)

It was designed for people to walk through – through the path of bottles at the entrance, up onto the platform and off again. The different areas corresponded with three different scene designs: ‘Beauty in Ugliness’, ‘Crime and Decay’ and ‘Carnage.’ You can hear the changes fairly clearly in the music.

This happened last November, and there has been another Technique course since then that I also attended, which I’ll hopefully be posting about soon!