Ready to up your game stream presentation? Want to place yourself into the picture, but not in a box? Get your green screen on.
Though the debate over whether or not it should be done goes on, with strong supporters on either side, the opportunity to green screen your reaction shots into your video is a popular trend among gamers who record or live stream their gameplay. Achieving this effect is not entirely difficult, but just look around at these live streams and what becomes immediately apparent is that the actual hard part is getting it to look good. Your success or failure will come down to your equipment, your investment and your attention to detail.
Choosing a Screen
The effect is achieved when the software looks for a specific color — usually green — and removes it. In its place is displayed whatever video background you place behind it, in this case your game. If anything in front of your screen is also green, it too will disappear. Likewise, anything not your chosen color will remain.
To achieve the right effect, you’ll need a screen that is two to three times larger than the dimensions of your foreground. If you’re sitting down and all you want to ever project is your head and shoulders, you’ll need a screen that is about four to five feet wide. If you’re going to show your whole body head to toe, you’ll need something significantly larger.
Full body appropriate kits can be found for about $115. They should provide all you need to setup a consistent wash of mid-range green from an optimized cotton fabric. If you have lights and just need the green, consider a pop-up screen as it comes with its own framework. These are usually smaller, but would work for most gamers. If you still can’t afford that, you can certainly kitbash something on the cheap. A medium green slightly fuzzy cotton blanket, or even cardboard painted green, can be all that you need to get started. You’ll want a dull matte surface, not shiny or reflective.
Mount the green behind your performance area on a stable frame. It should be stretched tight so it doesn’t move, and so there are no wrinkles whatsoever. Shadows and loose fabric mean variation in color; that’s bad.
Controlling Light and Spill
The ultimate quality of your effect comes down to one key element: lighting. After you have your green screen in place, your next step is to light the backdrop as evenly as possible. To begin, try placing lights at 45-degree angles to your screen. Hotspots can destroy the effect as easily as a shadow, so you’ll need soft, diffuse light, as from Chinese lanterns or photo umbrellas. You’ll never achieve what you need with a naked bulb. Constantly check your lighting in your camera, as it will see things differently than your eyes do. What you’re ultimately looking for is a light that makes the surface lightly glow in a sort of neon effect.
Now the green light is being sent from your screen to the camera in a nice even wash. Unfortunately, it also means green light is heading towards your foreground object — you. To compensate, place your screen far enough back that only a minimal amount of this light hits the foreground. If the green light is too bright, it will spill on to you and ruin the effect. Remember, too, that this light may even travel past you and bounce off the wall in front of you, tinting you yet again from the front. Increasing distance between foreground and background will alleviate all these issues.
Next, you’ll want to light your foreground including yourself and your chair, if it has a high back. This should be a white light with the average intensity being about the same as your green screen. Light from 45-degree angles and do your best to not let any of it hit the screen behind you.
One final issue is your monitor screen itself. If it projects green onto you, your effect will diminish yet again. Lowering brightness, angling the monitor and shooting your facecam off-axis to the monitor can help eliminate issues.
Pulling the Key
If you’ve done your setup with care the final step will be a lot easier. Open Broadcaster Software (OBS) and other streaming programs include the system you need to create your color key. You’ll find the names are always different from program to program, but the method is generally the same. You’ll choose the value of the middle green on your screen and then adjust the rest of the sliders in turn to adjust how much lighter and darker green to include, and the overall tolerance of near-green colors.
If you’re having issues, go back and tweak your lighting.
Enthusiast and professional edit systems like Camtasia, Pinnacle, Movie Studio or Premiere Pro have excellent tools for key effects. As a general rule, the higher on the list a setting is, the more likely it is that you should adjust it first. Beware of the simpler systems, however, which have limited options or no adjustments at all. You’ll almost never achieve a quality result without some level of control.
If you’re having issues, go back and tweak your lighting. You’ll also notice that a high-quality webcam will make a big difference. Logitech’s C920 is a great web camera for green screen, and their C922 even comes with a limited subscription for Xsplit. If you understand how the system works and what it needs, your green screen will not only produce professional results; it will be a breeze to operate.
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