green screen

The 4 Most Epic VFX Moments That Owe It All to Green Screen Backgrounds

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The average person walks into their local theater and walks out mesmerized by the incredible visual effects. They talk with friends about how vivid a specific place looked or how lifelike a fictional creature appeared as it interacted with real actors. The legions of pleased moviegoers have show us that although there’s still room for special effects in the industry, it’s thanks to CGI and green screen that we’ve experienced cinematic moments that are otherwise impossible to share.

But perhaps you’re different than most moviegoers. As an aspiring animator or filmmaker, maybe you leave the theater wondering how they made the fake backdrops and monsters look real. Sometimes, it was clever use of a technique that’s almost as old as cinema itself — green screen. Below are some of the greatest uses of VFX that to this day look fantastic.

1. We Enter the Great Elven Realm

Film:  “Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship Of the Rings” (2001)

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It’s hard to believe that it’s already been 15 years since Peter Jackson’s 2001 film took the world by storm and made everyone a fan of elves, dwarfs, and, of course, hobbits. The later Hobbit trilogy was criticized for using too much CGI (so much that Ian McKellen had a breakdown on set), but the first three films set in Middle-earth used the perfect combination of green screen along with forced perspective, clever camera tricks, and even the use of miniatures

“Best Effects, Visual Effects” was one of the many Oscars this film won at the 2002 Academy Awards. And while there are plenty of great scenes to choose from, few are as breathtaking as the first reveal of Rivendell. The gorgeous waterfalls, glowing trees, and beautiful Elven architecture all work to make you feel like you’re really standing in an Elven sanctuary.

2. The Final Battle

Movie: “Avatar” (2009)

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James Cameron’s epic sci-fi film still stands as one of the most respected and critically praised films of all time and currently holds the record as the most financially successful film, with a worldwide gross of $2.7 billion dollars. The movie earned every dollar thanks to innovative new special effects that made the planet of Pandora a sight to behold.

With all the new tricks and technology at his disposal, Cameron often relied on the tried-and-true method of green screen. This allowed him to merge the characters and environments together, creating a captivating movie experience. There are few better examples of this than during the final battle of the movie where, despite the heavy use of VFX, the scene still feels intense and emotional.

3. Pretty Much Every Fight Scene

Film: “The Matrix” (1999)

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Show a young viewer today “The Matrix” for the first time, and they’ll probably see it as just another sci-fi action movie. Maybe they’ll comment on how cool the unrealistic kung fu and physics are, but that’s about it. Yet those of us who were there during its original release know just how big a deal these incredible special effects were.

While plenty of 3D computer models were used during certain sequences, most of the time it was real actors fighting in front of a green screen background. Whether they were hanging from wires or on flat ground, the awesome combat scenes revolutionized the filmmaking industry and helped evolve it into what we have now.

4. Welcome to Jurassic Park

Film: “Jurassic Park” (1993)

These days, the people in post-production have more work than ever before in the movie industry. Where before only a few dozen VFX shots were taken, today’s film averages around 200 shots. While there are benefits to ever-evolving technology, sometimes it’s all about quality — not quantity.

No movie is a better example than “Jurassic Park,” which used no more than 40 special effect shots. Arguably the most memorable scene in this acclaimed film is when Alan Grant and Ellie Sattler first set their eyes on a pair of Brachiosaurus making their way out of a lake. In the video above, you can see how this scene was put together in order to make the audience feel like they too are standing in John Hammond’s “promising” theme park.

The Best Sites for Green Screen Video Footage

Using green screen — or chroma keying — is a great way of reducing costs and making your film project fantastic, even if (or especially if) you’re on a budget. It can also make it possible to create footage and effects that wouldn’t normally be possible without an extensive amount of travel or costly set design.

best sites for green screen footage

We’ve previously covered the best practices of chroma keying as part of our broadcast journalism resources, but that leaves the question of where to actually get green screen footage from. Luckily, there are many companies out there that will provide you with whatever you need, from exotic locations to stock animal footage and beyond.

Some offer one off-sales while others run via a membership scheme, and there are even some sites which provide green screen footage free of charge. Introducing:

The Best Sites for Green Screen Video Footage

10. Shutterstock Video

With over 2 million royalty-free videos and one of the most popular names on this list, Shutterstock makes for a useful site to use when thinking about greenscreen. The company has a wide range of categories to chose from including aerial shots, celebrities and time-lapse footage.

best sites for green screen video footage

You can either chose to download a single video at a time or, if you want to use multiple clips, there is also the option to select a bundle:

Low definition starts from $79 for 5 videos, standard definition starts from $299 and HD videos starts from $369.

The site does offer 4k quality videos, but these are not currently included in a bundle and cost $299 per video.

9. Hollywood Camera Work

This site provides some free VFX Plates to download and test. It’s especially useful for film school students as there are some interesting shots which can be used to hone your skills, such as an embassy shoot out or an F15 fly over. It also has different effects like sunglasses reflections.

Hollywood camera works

There are some caveats for allowing you to use the clips like linking back to the website rather than the video page and not hosting the videos yourself, but other than that, they are free to use.

The videos have been uploaded in HD at 1080p and 720p and the aspect ratios are given as well. The site also confirms what ratio has been used so you can get your shot perfect first time.

8. Green Screen Films

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Green Screen Films offers an alternative if you are looking to use the footage for a commercial. It provides you with stock footage that can be used with the background of your choice, and there’s a range of options to filter through (including business, touch screen and animals.) There is even the option for the site to create a video of your choosing.

Prices range from $19 for web quality to $129 for HD Broadcast.

7. Video Blocks

Video Blocks offers backgrounds as well as allowing you to provide the background to the footage provided. The stock green screen footage ranges from live dancers to studio sets, with clips being 100% royalty-free (and there are no hidden fees.)

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Users have unlimited downloads and the videos are regularly updated. In addition, there is long term contract so you can keep the downloaded content indefinitely.

6. Dissolve

This site is for the more professional outfit given that it provides high-quality footage that can be used in advertising, corporate videos and much more alongside green screen footage. The site also provides some great usage ideas to help you along.

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At $50 per clip, this site may not be for the budget filmmaker but the quality of the clips is outstanding.

5. iStock

iStock is a popular site now run by Getty Images, and with that provides the type of quality you would expect from the stock conglomerate. It allows first time users to download one video for free, but thereafter charges for each download.

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You can either chose to purchase credits from $30 for 3 credits or you can subscribe for a monthly discount. While fairly pricey, the videos you purchase are provided royalty-free.

4. Pond 5

Pond 5 offers all sorts of stock photography and green screen footage. Like some of the entries above, it provides the video for you to add the background to. Look out for the Skeleton dancing to music.

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The downloads are all royalty-free and you can search for the video you want using filters to whittle down the options. Prices are on a video by video basis but at $69 per download, the downside is that Pond 5 is fairly expensive.  

3. Green Screen Animals

Green Screen Animals offers what it says on the tin – videos of animals that you can superimpose onto any background you wish. Whether it be a roaring lion or an American bullfrog, this site can provide you with all your exotic animal requirements.

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Pricing varies quite a bit, but as an example the cost of using the bullfrog video for an advertisement is a fairly eye-watering $2,700 (which reflects the uniqueness of the footage which is hard to emulate by other means).

2. Dreamstime

This site provides a wide variety of professional SD and HD royalty free footage including 2 and 3d animation, travel and animal footage. The pricing is based on a credit system, with SD quality costing 15 credits and 4k resolution costing 90 credits.

green screen stock footage

Although this is a British site, you can buy credit packages through PayPal from as little as $15.73 for 11 credits.

1. Footage Island

Footage Island is a YouTube channel which provides totally free footage for various projects, both personal and professional – perfect for those creating projects at film school. The uploader provides a wide range of handy green screen essentials such as flag animation, logo animation, surveillance security camera overlays and things of that ilk.

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If you above sites are too expensive then you can always learn How To Create a Green Screen on a Budget. Know of any great sites for green screen video footage that we might have missed out? Help out the filmmaking community by letting us know in the comments below.

Interested in upping your game in the film industry? Check out New York Film Academy’s Film School to learn more about the world’s most hands-on, intensive film programs.

Improving A Broadcast Journalism Project With Chroma Keying

Far from being a special effect reserved for high-budget broadcasting, carefully-implemented chroma keys can help add a professional layer of polish to any production, both studio and amateur. Chroma key compositing is both inexpensive and easy to do, but there is art to getting the best out of it.

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Chroma keying is more popularly known as ‘green screening’, since by nature it incorporates a block color green sheet or card screen in the background of the shot. Broadcasters will typically stand in front of the green screen, and either static or animated graphics will be added in place of the green screen in post production.

As a result, one of the most crucial pieces of advice to apply when working with a chroma key is to hire a superb video editor, ideally one with experience in this area or one with a broadcast journalism MA. The quality of the final product hinges solely on their work and expertise, so having someone on board who is comfortable with the graphic design elements of the process is tantamount.

That all said, it always pays dividends to make sure everyone on the team is up to speed with the fundamentals of how green screens work. With this in mind, let’s take a look at the basics before moving on to some best practices for pre-production.

What’s In a Name?

The term ‘green screening’ is something of a misnomer given that the screen in question doesn’t necessarily have to be green.

blue green screen

While it’s rare to come across anything other than either green or blue, in theory it can be any color as long as it contrasts against every element that will be in shot (screens that are skin-toned don’t work for obvious reasons).

Prepping the Team

But whether you’re using green or blue, it’s very important to let any journalists which will appear on film know which it’ll be ahead of time. It’s not uncommon for people to absent-mindedly turn up on the day wearing a green shirt. They may also fall afoul of the assumption that the green screen really will be green and turn up wearing a blue shirt, only to find out that your screen is blue.

Choosing Between Cloth or Card

In an odd way, the word ‘screen’ is also a bit of a misnomer – your ‘green screen’ neither has to be green or a screen.

Chroma keying can either be accomplished using stiff sheets of card, heavy cloth, or by simply painting or sticking paper to a wall. Which is the best option for your project?

green screen cloth

Anything that results in a consistent, smooth color will be perfect for chroma key compositing, and most of that comes down to even lighting. As for what material will be most suitable depends entirely on the space you’re working with. A large, flat wall that you can permanently color is ideal, but colored boards which can be moved around the broadcasting set as required give you an element of versatility.

Using a green or blue cloth is more versatile still. The material is inexpensive, can be folded away in between sessions, and can even be wrapped around stage elements such as broadcasting desks or uneven walls. The only downsides to using cloth is that any creases or wrinkles can cause shadows, and the resulting uneven color tones can be harder to work around in the editing suite.

Chroma Key Software Settings

As mentioned, a good video editor will know their way around his or her software of choice like the back of their hand, and most editing suites come with compositing features (many of them these days are exceptionally intuitive.)

While it is outside the scope of this article to cover them all, some settings are fairly universal:

Color: Naturally, the software needs to know which color you’d like to remove from the shot. For most editing suites, this is achieved using an eye dropper tool to select the green screen in the background of the shot, followed by a little ‘fine tuning’ to get it spot on.

Tolerance: This governs how ‘aggressive’ the cropping is. Too much will result in spotty, transparent patches intermittently appearing on your journalists, and you won’t remove all of the color if you apply too little tolerance.

Choking/Softening: You may notice a slight green outline around the journalist, which is often more noticeable around their hair if they wear it long. This can be tuned up using the choke and soften settings until the edge of the journalist and the background is seamless.

Drop Shadow: As it sounds, the drop shadow feature adds an artificial shadow into the background from the journalist (with additional settings allowing you to specify the direction). This can look odd in some chroma key features, but it can also make the scene more natural – as with all chroma key settings, there’s no harm in playing around until you gain optimal results.

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Finally, double and triple check your footage before rendering it as a finished product just to make sure the universal chroma key settings work consistently throughout the entire footage.

How To Create A Green Screen On A Budget

Green Screen

When you’re an amateur filmmaker or just starting out as a film student, budget often guides your decisions. For instance, unless you have substantial financial backing, flying across the world to film is not likely an option. Fortunately, it’s possible to give your film a professional look without leaving your living room.

Consider some big-name movies like The Day After Tomorrow, 300, Sin City and Avatar. What do all of these huge blockbusters have in common? They were all filmed in front of a green screen, a technique you can easily replicate.

In this guide, we will look at how a green screen works, how you can create your own, and provide some tips on how to make the most of it.

To understand how this process works, let’s look briefly at its history. Chroma key, or green screen, has become increasingly popular in recent years, but it’s a fairly old process. The earliest forms of this technology were created in the 1930s, when film compositing was done painstakingly by hand. Once computers became popular, chroma keying became much easier.

Today, many movies and television shows are filmed entirely in front of a green screen, allowing the filmmaker tremendous artistic control while cutting down filming times and production costs. In addition, it’s frequently used during film school projects to allow those on a budget to explore environments which would otherwise be out of their reach.

How a Green Screen Works

Chroma keying is called “green screening” because it involves filming an actor in front of a solid-colored background, usually in a lurid shade of either green or blue. The color chosen does not matter, but it’s important to use a color that can be safely removed from the final product. Shades that are repeated in the actor’s clothing or skin tone will not work.

Once the footage has been filmed, the colored background is removed digitally in post-production. It’s then replaced with other footage, such as an exotic destination. Using this technique, you can place your actor in any setting you wish.

You can also add other effects, like adding animated characters or changing the appearance of the actor. A green screen allows you to seamlessly blend animation with live action footage, which erases many of the limitations posed by low-budget films.

How to Make Your Own Green Screen

While a professional green screen can be purchased for as little as $50, if your production is on a tight budget, it is just as easy to create your own green screen.

If you have solid color fabric sheets lying around the house in the appropriate color, you can simply use that to film against. A king-size sheet might be sufficient for your needs.

Or, if a sheet isn’t available at home, simply go to a fabric store and buy an appropriate-size piece of fabric for as little as $10. One thing to keep in mind is to keep an eye for lint collecting on the fabric, which can be easily removed.

One more inexpensive option is if you have a studio or room in your home where you can paint the walls, you can quickly create a green screen.

Once you have the green screen in place, all you need in order to get started is software that supports chroma keying. Most film editing programs like Final Cut and Adobe After Effects will make it simple to remove and replace the background from chroma keyed footage.

Tips for Success

• Be sure to use proper lighting. Three-point lighting is the industry standard. This involves placing lights in a triangle around the subject, providing illumination from the sides and rear. The purpose of this is to reduce the amount of shadows cast against the green screen.

• Touch up the subject to fit the background. You may need to add highlights or shadows digitally to make the subject seem more at place in the new surroundings. It helps to know what the final scene will look like while filming so that you can match the lighting of the background imagery you plan to use.

• If you’re going to use any CGI graphics in the finished product, spend the money to ensure you’ll get high-quality animation. The quality of the background imagery will make or break a chroma keyed film, so either study animation or plan for effects that will be within your budget rather than trying and failing to achieve something more ambitious.

• Don’t forget stock footage. A surprising amount of stock footage is available for free or at very low prices online, and video editing software makes it easy to modify this footage to suit your needs.

A shoestring budget doesn’t need to cripple your filmmaking and by following the steps above, you now know how you can achieve impressive and inexpensive effects through using a green screen. A small investment and some creativity can enable you to achieve nearly any effect you desire.