It’s almost impossible to watch a movie these days without some form of visual effects. Whether it’s action sequences, dogfights in outer space, spectacular car chases or breathtaking scenes from a world that doesn’t exist, we’ve become extremely used to seeing the unbelievable in film and television. The number one technology that brings us these possibilities? Chroma Key. That’s right, green and blue screens across the world bring us to worlds that aren’t real. There’s some extremely time and budget consuming aspects to doing this kind of shooting, however. Let’s quickly take a look at standard green screen:
The first thing you notice is how many lights there are. This diagram depicts a pretty basic set-up, and yet there are 5 light sources. Two for the backdrop, 3 for the subject. Depending on the width of the shot and the size of the backdrop curtain, this might even be cutting it close: The real challenge with chroma key work is ensuring that the backdrop is well and evenly lit. Differences in luminance against the backdrop will create havoc later when attempting to key the shot.
Once you’ve got your background hung and is well lit, now you add the subject, and must light them properly with key, fill and hair light, etc. Now you have another problem: if the subject gets too close to the background, you will see that green or blue bleed over onto the subject: the light bouncing off the backdrop will shine that color onto your talent. If the camera is too far away, you could begin to see shadows cast on the backdrop as well, which requires adjustments to the background lights or adjustments to the placement of your talent.
Next, you have the heat. If we go with the minimalist set up of 5 lights, unless all of those lights are LED (much more expensive), they’re going to generate a lot of heat. This could add to your costs in a couple of ways: Air conditioning a large studio to counteract the heat would be very costly. Allowing the room to heat up could cause your subject to sweat and need make-up consistently, or more frequent breaks.
Long story short: there’s a lot of things to consider when going for shots like this.
Enter Reflecmedia. This name isn’t new to many people, as they’ve been around for some time now. What Reflecmedia introduced was the concept that the screen itself didn’t have to be green or blue, so long as the camera sees it as green or blue. They created a super reflective fabric called Chromatte, which features thousands of tiny satellite-shaped beads, and paired it with an LED ring light that shines green or blue at the fabric, and the fabric returns that light directly back to its source.
Basically, you attach their LED LiteRing to your camera’s lens, turn it on, and it shines light at the backdrop in perfect chroma key green or blue, and the backdrop only shines that light back on-axis with the LiteRing. Your camera sees green or blue, while anyone looking from a few feet away even would still only see a grey curtain for a backdrop.
So the initial benefits are somewhat obvious to measure: you no longer need half of the lights you would use for a standard green screen shoot. You no longer need the space required by them, and your talent can now be right up against the backdrop without any light bleeding over onto them. You get a brilliant luminance across the entire backdrop without the lights, and you save time setting up and tearing down scenes. These are points Reflecmedia has been raising for years, though.
What’s the news, then?
The guys at Reflecmedia have introduced some incredible new functionality to their system. The first and most impressive of which is the dual LiteRing: the ring you attach to your camera’s lens can now been green or blue by the flick of a switch. If your subject shows up to a shoot and looks far better in their green shirt than their other options, you can simply flip the switch and shoot them with brilliant blue behind them instead of green. Very nice.
The LiteRing also features a new diffusion plate over the LEDs, which allows the LEDs to provide maxium light to the entire background without being too intense in your subject’s eyes.
Next is the controller: The new LiteRing control unit has been completely overhauled, with an LCD display showing the current intensity level of the color you’re on. It also stores that level for each color individually, so if you find the sweet spot for green light, when you switch to blue and decide to adjust it, your green will retain it’s last setting. Very nice for users who have their studio totally dialed-in.
It also features a new battery plate on the back. If you’re using this gear on the road, you no longer need to tie up one of your precious AC outlets for Reflecmedia if you find yourself limited. Just pop a Sony DV battery onto the battery plate, and you can run the LiteRing for hours. This makes it a great option for shooters who might be traveling in a bus or van and doing shoots within the bus during stops.
Additionally, Reflecmedia has increased the spectrum of the intensity controller. You now have the ability to have the LiteRing be a lot softer and less bright, or crank it up more intense than before; even enough to be used with strobe lighting for still photography!
Recently I was traveling for about a week doing some training, and I was able to fit EVERYTHING I needed to produce a brilliant green and blue screen, a Canon 5D Markii plus a 4 channel video mixer all into my carry-on luggage. Not my check baggage, my carry-on: That’s versatility you simply can’t do with traditional green screen systems.
So, there’s got to be drawbacks, right?
Well, there’s definitely aspects that make it a less than optimal option for certain types of shoots. It’s difficult to use teleprompting hardware with this set up, as most prompters use a series of glass and mirrors to project the words so a subject can read them, and with a light shining directly through that, the text would disappear. You can easily mount a teleprompter just above or to the side of the LiteRing, but some shoots demand on-axis text, and for those shoots it’s a little unfavorable.
If you’re doing a multi-camera shoot, using this technology means you’ll need a separate LiteRing for each camera in use. The light from each ring only reflects back on axis with it’s source, so any other cameras (or the naked eye) will only see the backdrop as grey. The initial investment for this set up can get a bit costly with multiple cameras, but easily pays for itself in saved set up and tear down time, as well as no longer needing certain lights for the backdrop, etc.
So, when you add it all up?
If you’re already in the trenches with dedicated chroma-key set ups or studios, then you’re probably not going to decide to switch over, unless your set-up and tear-down times are very high. If you’re looking to start (or improve) doing chroma-key work, Reflecmedia is a great system to consider: It limits the additional lighting you will need, drastically reduces the amount of space you’ll need, and lowers the time taken to set up, change scenes, counter the heat from the additional lights, and many other considerations that do end up covering the initial investment. If you have limited space to work with, there’s really no other way to do it: this IS your solution.