One of the most important decisions in starting a video studio is what material to use for green screen / chroma key work.
Nearly every studio uses some sort of green or blue screen work in their production workflow, so it is important to have this ability in any studio setting. Below, you will find our top 4 recommendations for materials that can be implemented in your studio. Each material has its pros and cons, so we decided to list these out to help you decide what will work best for your particular situation.
Cloth / Muslin
Cloth green screens are probably the most commonly used green screen material. They are generally made of a heavy duty cloth or muslin type material and many come with a looped end sewn on one side to enable the screen to be hung from a metal background stand system. The green screen can also be secured to a wall with pins or nails.
■ Cloth backgrounds are inexpensive, easily available and portable (as long as you don’t mind bringing your green screen stands and poles with you). You can find a wide variety of sizes and lengths online with included stand kits. Another pro for green screen cloth is it’s ability to be used to mask physical objects in the scene such as a desk or chair. In the example below, a green screen drapes across a desk allowing the editor to replace the physical desk with a virtual one
(example virtual studio and desk provided by Virtual Set Lab, www.virtual-studio-set.com)
■ There are a few drawbacks to using cloth or muslin green screens. The main drawback is wrinkles and uneven lighting caused by how the screen hangs. You can use a cloth steamer or iron to remove the wrinkles and you can also use clamps to pull your screen tight to the stands. However, if you are using your green screen for mobile work, you will need to fold it for mobility and will introduce wrinkles that might cause headaches in post. Cloth green screens can also pick up debris that need to be removed and require some sort of system to be hung and stretched tight.
■ Cloth green screens are great for studio and work where you need to key out a physical object in a scene, but might not be the best tool for mobile work.
Pop Up / Synthetic Fiber
Pop up green screens are generally made to collapse and expand easily for portability (although it may take a few tries to get the collapsing right the first time you try!) They are generally made of a light, highly reflective synthetic green screen material.
■ Most pop up screens are designed to be easily setup and broken down for mobile shoots. Think of a pop up beach tent or something similar and you can understand how these might work. Because of the reflective nature of these pop up screens, they are generally easy to light.
■ Most pop up screens are a bit smaller in size than their cloth counterparts, so you get less green screen area for your budget than cloth or paint. The screens still need to be hung, however, you don’t need an extensive stand system like you do with cloth screens. A couple of light stands and clamps will work just fine. Because these screens are so bright, they can cause reflection (especially on lighter colored clothing), so be sure to watch for color spill during your shoot.
■ If size isn’t an issue and you do a lot of mobile indoor/outdoor shoots on green screen, a Pop up green screen might be just the green screen you are looking for. If you need more green screen area/size, you might want to consider something else.
Chroma Key Paint
Specialised green screen paint can be applied to a wall and used for green screen work. This can be an economical way to implement a green screen in your studio.
■ Green screen paint has many positives, for one, it is fairly inexpensive for the size green screen you can create. Even a gallon of green screen chroma paint can be used to cover a pretty good sized area. It is also quickly and easily implemented and doesn’t require special technique or knowledge, just a paint roller and a wall.
■ Obviously, mobility is an issue with a green screen painted wall. It is more well suited for a dedicated studio space than mobile use. Additionally, the larger wall you have to use, the greater need for even lighting in the room. Green screen walls are also prone to scuff marks and need to be repainted periodically (so keep that leftover paint handy!)
■ If you have the space (and a blank wall), green screen paint can be a perfect solution. You can either use specialized green screen paint, or if your budget is lower, really bright super flat paint will also work. However, if you are doing more mobile shoots, you may want to consider one of the other options.
Reflective Media (made by ReflecMedia) is made of a highly specialized material which only reflects the green or blue light directly created from a green or blue light ring which is mounted to a camera.
■ Out of all our previous screen types, this material provides the cleanest most evenly lit key. It also causes no green screen spill on the presenter or subject. The material is also portable and comes in a variety of sizes.
■ This material can be fairly expensive, smaller in size and requires a specialized lite ring to be mounted to the camera lense. Also, while the cloth itself is easily moved, you will need some sort of mounting rig to hang the screen from.
■ If you have the budget, this material might be an excellent choice for your green screen needs. It also works well for beginner or inexperienced editors since your footage will contain no spill and the key will be more evenly lit.
Virtual Backgrounds used in this article provided by Virtual Set Lab (www.virtual-studio-set.com)
Robert is a video editor, animator and owner of Virtual Set Lab which serves educators and video editors worldwide with virtual sets and digital backdrops for green screen video productions . He has over 15 years experience working in video production and post production.