This guide is designed to cover the basics of how to set up a green screen studio and some tips and tricks we have learned along the way. We generally try and avoid filming on a green screen because our preference is real environments, but there are times when the best choice is a virtual background.
Why use a green screen
It sounds obvious, but the purpose of filming on a green or blue screen is to place the character in a specific environment. For movies the environments are CG, but what about corporate video projects? Our approach is to only film on a green screen when we are not able to film in a natural environment, or the story calls for a virtual background.
A few years ago one of our manufacturing customers needed to film the introduction to a safety video on the shop floor. The main problem with doing this, as you can guess, is that manufacturing shop floors are noisy. The other problem was that our spokesperson couldn’t make it to the manufacturing facility.
Filming in a green screen studio was the best solution to our problem. We started by filming our background in the manufacturing facility. One of our crew stood in as the talent and we made a special note of our focal distance, f-stop, ISO, light direction, camera height, and distance from the talent to the camera. When we set up the green screen studio at the customer’s office we had to make sure to use a room that would allow us to match the shop floor set up and have room for all the gear.
What kind of green screen background to use
The four main types of backgrounds for green screen studios are: painted, paper, drape, or pop-up. We use Savage Widetone Seamless Background paper from BH Photo. We don’t shoot in a studio very often and have found paper works great. If you are in a studio with a cyclorama wall or “cyc wall” for short, you can have it painted green. When we first started we tried the pop-up kind but had a problem with the wrinkles. Wrinkles will make your chroma key job way more difficult. Trust me!
how to set up the studio
You need space. A lot of space; especially if you need to video a head-to-toe shot. In the example above, the camera was around 10′ from the talent and the talent was around 6′ from the background. The further away the talent is from the background the better. The reason is that it prevents the inevitable spill. If you plan to use a 10′ paper roll, as we do, the entire paper doesn’t have to fit in the frame, but it does need to fully surround the talent.
One trick to help make sure your green screen paper fully surrounds them is to shoot on a longer lens because it compresses the space. If you are not sure what this means, experiment with framing your talent at 35mm vs 70mm or 85mm and you will see what I am talking about.
The image above shows our typical set-up, minus the backlight. You will want to use a backlight to help isolate your talent away from the green. Also, you can try the trick of warming up your backlight with a gel to help it neutralize the green spill.
Our set-up for waist shots includes five lights
- Two Aputure 300Ds to evenly light the paper
- Two Aputure 120D’s as key and fill lights
- One Aputure 120D as a backlight
For head-to-toe shots, you will need to arrange your green screen studio a little differently. You will need to roll the paper all the way out and create a cyc wall. If you are setting up on the carpet, it will be helpful to have some solid surface to put under the paper for the talent to stand on. This avoids wrinkles around the feet.
The next common question is how bright should you lite the background. If you have a monitor like a SmallHD or Atomos, or if you have a waveform monitor on your camera start with 60 IRE and adjust to taste. We start by lighting the background first, and then lighting the talent.
I hope this helps as you set up your first green screen studio. If you want to learn more about our video production services, you can read more here.