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Book Review: The Green Screen Handbook: Real-World Production Techniques by Jeff Foster

The Green Screen Handbook, as its name implies, is a comprehensive how-to guide for working with green screen compositing technology. Its aim is to provide you with professional production techniques, step-by-step instruction, and tips that can save you both time and money while not only showing you how to do something, but also why you would want to do it this way.

The goal of The Green Screen Handbook is to show you how the pros operate in real-world professional studios to get fantastic results even when shooting on a tight budget. It covers the range of green and blue screen production workflows of big screen studios, live TV broadcasts, independent filmmakers, and small budget student projects. This book is 384 pages divided into 19 chapters.

Chapter 1, “Mattes and Compositing Defined,” begins with a look back at the history of the traveling matte – the early days before it was introduced as well as how the process evolved to what it is today. Chapter 2, “Digital Matting Methods and Tools,” starts off by defining the difference between using green screen as opposed to blue screen. Then you will explore hardware compositors, as well as software and plugins that you can use to create your production.

Chapter 3, “Basic Shooting Setups,” looks at the foundational elements that are needed for green screen setups that include the materials, lighting of both background and foreground as well as how they are positioned in relation to each other. Chapter 4, “Basic Compositing Techniques,” now examines matting compositing techniques through the use of software solutions. Here you will examine various techniques of software chroma keying in Apple Final Cut Pro and Adobe After Effects.

Chapter 5, “Simple Setups on a Budget,” examines how you can reasonable results without all the expensive gear and high-end video camera. Here you will see how to use the same principles that are used in a professional studio, but with low cost lighting solutions. Chapter 6, “Green Screens in Live Broadcasts,” now takes a look at how the typical newsroom does green screen, here the author takes a trip to a local news station to see how green screen is used in the real world for live broadcasts.

Chapter 7, “How the Pros Do It,” investigates what it is like to work at a large visual effects (VFX) studio. In this chapter you will take a tour of one of the top VFX studios in California and see some of the making of HBO’s John Adams. You will also see how Indie filmmakers accomplish things when they don’t have big budgets, and how Tim Hines produced effects for his indie version of War of the Worlds.

Chapter 8, “Choosing the Right Matting Process for Your Project,” Starts off by examining when and where you should you use hardware software solutions for your matting/composting. Here you will look at planning your project, determining the kind of shots that you will need, and what to do when you need to be creative with your lighting for effect. Chapter 9, “Proper Lighting Techniques,” are important when doing green screen work because if it isn’t lit well, then, the matte won’t look right. This chapter will look at several methods for lighting in various conditions for both background and foreground.

Chapter 10, “Matching Your Subject to the Background,” sometimes means that you are not always in control and you have to work with what you have – especially when footage was handed to you and you still have to make a great composite. This chapter looks at matching, lighting angles, compositing tips, and motion tracking. Chapter 11, “Digital Cameras and Camcorders,” looks at cameras and what you need to get clean footage when shooting green or blue screen projects. Here you will learn the basics of how digital cameras and camcorders work, and what to look out for when selecting one.

Chapter 12, “Storyboarding and Directing Your Talent,” examines how to get the idea that is in your head and get it down on paper so that you can properly communicate to those you will be directing. You will look at a couple case studies as well as what it takes to act in sets that are non-existent. Chapter 13, “Interacting with the Background and Objects,” takes planning, the right lighting, and prop preparation to create a believable scene. In this chapter you will learn about color-keyed props, compositing the shots with a virtual set, using secondary key colors, and how to shoot to retain wanted shadows.

Chapter 14, “Getting a Great Matte,” requires a lot of things to come together. The more time you prepare, the better your matting will turn out. Here you will be taken through some best practices for software matte making. Chapter 15, “Color Balancing the Subject and Background,” is necessary when the color of the foreground subjects don’t blend well with the background. This chapter will discuss what you can do to make things look right.

Chapter 16, “Fixing Problem Green Screen Shots,” can crop up when you didn’t follow all the steps, something unusual happens, or when someone hands you lousy footage and wants you to make something with it. Here you will look at some common problems with poor shots and how to fix them. Chapter 17, “Working with Virtual Sets,” has become much more common place over the course of the past decade and this chapter will show you how they can be used on just about any budget. You will also see how big productions are done with a studio setup for live broadcast television.

Chapter 18, “Motion Tracking and Matchmoving,” now looks at what you need to do to incorporate your green screen subjects into an environment that is moving. This can occur because of camera shake or a panning/zooming shot as well as other situations. Here you will look at hardware and software tips as well as how to fake it visually. Chapter 19, “Complex Composites,” looks at situations where you need to use both green and blue screen for different levels of matting. This chapter looks at this and other complexities such as particle generation and simulated camera motion to add depth, scale and realism.

The Green Screen Handbook works on several levels. First it is well written, easy to read, and is easy to understand. It does go into some pretty technical elements, but the author makes it all really understandable. Second, is in all the detail that is provided. Each chapter is filled with photos and software screen shots that examine and detail the techniques being described.

At the end of each chapter is a listing of the products as well as the footage being used in the chapter so that you can find out more about these products and footage. Finally there is a DVD that contains all of the HD footage and support files used in the book organized by chapter.

The Green Screen Handbook is truly an extensive book on all things green screen that provides information ranging from low budget to major film techniques. If you shoot video, green screen, or want to get into green screen production then I can very highly recommend this book.

About T. Michael Testi

Photographer, writer, software engineer, educator, and maker of fine images.

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