The art of music and sound Effects

First off I just want to say that I am by no means an expert in Sound Effects.  This is simply a quick blog on my experience and thus tips and tricks that I’ve learned work  to enhance a film.

One of my biggest discoveries over the past few years is how much visual impact sound brings to your film, yes that’s right I did say Visual.   It’s almost like sound is a nitro boost for your visuals. If done right it can take an average scene or dare I say even a boring scene and add so much feeling and depth to it.

I once heard someone say that sound is the soul to a film. It’s the emotions of the characters that the audience can’t see. I thought this was such a great way of summing up music and SFX. He’d hit the nail on the head. In a novel a writer can tell you what the character is thinking and feeling. In film we can’t do this.  Yes a good actor should be able to convey something through their gestures and camera angles can also convey a certain mood or empower a character but it’s music and sound that feeds us those vital clues.

I think a great example of how we as humans perceive things is the Kuleshov experiment.

If you haven’t heard of this then watch the movie below and think about the man’s reaction and what he may be thinking

You may be surprised to know that each reaction shot of the man was exactly the same shot.  What Kuleshov had discovered was that by showing the audience an image, for example that of the soup or the dead child, we as humans automatically perceive what we feel the character should be feeling.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kuleshov_Effect

That is the power of editing but of course we’re talking about sound here.  The reason why I’ve given this as an example is because it goes to show how easy we as an audience can be manipulated but how we can also misinterpret a scene.  Obviously most of the time you’d want the music or SFX to enhance the emotions the audience members believe the character is feeling. So in the example of the man looking at the coffin, some somber music would be quite fitting.  However music can also be used to create a juxtaposition.

For example if we took the imagery of him looking at the woman. Without sound we automatically feel like he’s lusting over the woman.  But what if we were to play some sinister music over the top?  How creepy would that be?  This is where music is really useful in bringing out the subtext of your script, the words not spoken.

They say that sound is 70% what you see on screen and I believe that.  How many times have you happened to catch a scary movie on TV but the sound was on mute. Did you find it scary?  But I bet if you turned the sound up and closed your eyes you’d actually feel a little fear when the creepy tense music started.

This doesn’t mean you should be adding music to everything. There is a time and a place.  This is one of the problems we have when creating out 22 days later films.  With only 22 days to make the films from script to screen it means we have no time to find a composer.  So we’ve been having to use free music and SFX for everything. We’re also not very good at composing so it’s quite hard to be able to blend the music in and out. It was better to let the music continue to play in till a good point to fade it out rather then just abruptly fading it out.

If you do need to end some music abruptly it’s worth hiding it under a sound effect. An example in our film was when the four characters enter the hall at the beginning.

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The music playing is fine up in till there’s a bang and they all turn to see what it is. By fading the music quickly under the bang sound effect it works quite well.

If you’re lucky you can also find tracks that blend together quite well and so go from one to the other.  But there will be many times when you just find that the music needs to fade out and it just doesn’t sit well.

This is why if you are going to make a film and you want it to be of the highest quality then hire a proper composer and sound mixer.  They’ll add so much to the production of your film. They’ll be able to take scenes that you thought were good to new levels. Bring out subtle acting cues and tense moments that just didn’t exist before.

A good example of this was the scene in the Great Spielron where Katie brings out the hat.

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I wanted this to be very tense with a sense of foreboding.  We managed to source a subtle low bass drum type sound.  Just adding this to the scene created a real sense of fear.

Or another example would be when the boy goes to take of Ludwick’s hat.

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This scene was a nightmare to film.  Nothing was going right on set and the shots I ended up with were poor and not at all what I’d imagined when I’d first written the scene.  But by adding the SFX and music, it brought it together.

Laying down music and sfx early can also really help you get a feel for your scene.  As long as you know the mood you’re aiming for it’s a good idea to find a piece of music that fits this well and just lay it down so you can pace your edit on it.

There was one particular part in The Great Spielron, part of the same scene as mentioned above where  the boy is entering the stage, Ludwik is laying down cards on the table.

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We spent ages trying to edit this piece together. I wanted to show Ludwik’s temperament  through the close up of his hands.  I wanted to cut between the cards being dealt and the boy getting closer,  adding an air of tension to the piece. But no matter what we tried we couldn’t seem to get this across. It was only when we placed down a foley sound of the cards being placed on the table that we realised it was this sound that added to the tension. Like a ticking clock…or bomb.

It gave us the road map we needed to structure the edit.  Things always work well in threes and we knew that having three cards slowly being placed with the flicking sound, cutting between hands and then boy, would really add to the tension.  Unfortunately we didn’t have enough coverage in the footage to get this across as well as I’d of liked. We still added the sound of the cards being placed,  you didn’t physically see them but it still added to the tension…just not as much as I’d of liked.

Sound and music can not only add emotion to your film but can also emphasis objects.  The perfect example of this and one that is probably way over used but still works, is the sound of a sword being drawn.  How many times in a movie do you hear the “Shink” sounds when a sword is pulled from its sheath? There’s no way a sword would make that sound in real life and yet we believe it on film. It adds to the danger, it’s like the filmmaker is saying “this sword is really, really sharp”.

And so we decided to do it in our film too. I must admit I was skeptical about this.  It’s the shot where Mike picks up his knife from the table to tell his story.

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He doesn’t even pull it from a sheath, he just picks it up.  We laid down the sound and it did sound comical.  But once we’d played around with the volume, added a bit of reverb and tweaked the high pass it actually worked.  Adding these subtle audio clues are a great way of emphasising items and clothing in your film.

One final tip is to not rely on all the sounds on set.  A lot of the time in films 90% what you hear is laid down afterwards.  Dialogue is probably the only sound that is used from the actual takes and even that sometimes has to be replaced afterwards. There are some scenes in The Great Spielron where we didn’t record any sound at all. All the scenes of Ludwick performing on stage were completely silent as I knew that it was going to consist of mainly Music and audience members laughing.

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So to sum up.  If you want your film to have that professional feel, then make sure your sound is top notch.  You can get away with boring camera moves and lighting to a certain extent but if your sound is bad, it’s really going to show…which is ironic really.

Till next time.

Peter

 

 

 

 

 

Ouch…not really

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In this blog I thought I’d continue on some of the techniques used in visual effects.

A lot of effects in movies are actually 2d mapped onto environments or 2d images used to hide unwanted items.  They’re also used to replace things like posters and number plates.

In my last blog I talked about the effects of creating the rabbit, the rabbit was one of the 3D effects in the film.  There aren’t that many 3D effects used in The Great Spielron but I had to use 3D for one of the more gruesome scenes where some of our characters get a knife in their heads.

I’ll break down one of these shots,  it’s where Katie throws the knife and it hits Mike square in the forehead.

When deciding the best approach for an effect I think it’s always best to ask the question “can this be done on set with real practical effects?” If the answer is yes then I always think this is the best approach as it doesn’t matter how good the effect is in CG, it’s never as good as a real prop.

Obviously for this particular shot that required a knife to be thrown, the answer was most definitely “no” we can’t use a real knife…well not unless we didn’t need our actor anymore, but we did so we decided it was best not to really kill him.   So the choice was to do it in CG (computer graphics).

This actually posed a problem when filming, as I realised we couldn’t even use a proxy object when Katie goes to stab Kevin in the head as even something soft like a foam knife would still hurt if it hit you in the eye.  So I had get them to act and react with nothing at all. It also didn’t help that it was about 12:00am and so we had about 10 minutes to wrap up the whole end scene. Everything in that last part of the movie was finished in about 15 minutes.  We just went handheld and tried to get as much shots as we could. Anyway I’m digressing.

Now on a big budget film there would be time set aside for the VFX supervisor to take measurements and measure lighting info, using things like a big chrome ball and a big grey ball.  You sometimes see these on the making of movies.  Basically what these do is allow the VFX artist to work out where the light is coming from and how intense it is.  By taking photos at different exposures they can then put this information into the computer and the lighting they get is pretty accurate to what was on set.  It also allows them to have reflections that match too, so the whole CG elements fit to the environment.

We didn’t have time to do this, I brought the chrome ball but we were so rushed that it never got used, I had to rely on my eyes to try and get the knife to match the real footage as best as possible.

One issue with using 3D elements is you can’t use the more basic technique of using 2D trackers to match the 3D element.  If you don’t know about 2D tracking you can view one of my latest blogs about it here https://22dayslater.com/2014/05/19/its-all-in-the-eyes-the-zombie-eyes/

Actually that’s not completely true.  If the camera isn’t moving around the object too much then you’d get away with this, which is something we did for out low budget one day horror that you can see here   Because the real footage was being seen from a pretty flat on view I knew that I could use a 2D track to basically “tack” the 3D animation to a point on the screen.

But for the shot of Matt, his head moves quite a bit and we see it from quite a few angles, so I knew the knife would be seen from many different angles as well.

This is where a different technique has to be used which is 3D tracking.  Like 2D tracking it uses points on the screen to work out how things are moving. But unlike 2D trackers it triangulates  using special algorithms to work out things like the Z depth of where things are in the scene. Although a lot of 3D trackers have automated settings, these usually only work on simple scenes. If a scene has a lot going on, with a lot of camera movement, it’s sometimes necessary to give the tracker more information, for example the focal length of the camera.  Sometimes you’ll see on the making of movies little markers, especially on green screen sets. These markers are a good way of showing the computer points to lock onto.  3D tracking is a real art in itself and something that can take many attempts to get a good result.

To track Matt’s head, I imported a 3D mesh that was similar to his head and scaled it to fit the real footage. The 3D tracker could use this as a way of marking where it needed to be in the footage.  You can see this in the video below.  Excuse the “Demo mode” I only have a demo version of the capture software

Now that I had the information I could map the real footage onto the 3D mesh and add a 3D knife. Below is an image of the 3D knife un-textured.

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It was then simply a case of animating the knife going into the 3D head.  I added lights that looked about right to where they would of been in the real set and also added shaders to the knife so it looked like its real life counterpart. Shaders are a way of telling the computer what material an object is made of, basically how it will react with light. So in this case it was a stainless steel knife so needed to be very reflective.

The last thing I needed to do was to add a trickle of blood that ran down Matt’s forehead. To do this I used some of the fake blood we’d made up for the scenes with Katie and the hat.  In case you’re interested, making fake blood is very easy and involves Syrup, red food dyes and coffee.I might do a blog on that at some point.

I shot various version of this fake blood pouring down a green screen as you can see below

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It was then a case of removing the green and cropping just one trickle of blood.  I used a 2D tracker so that it would stick to the movement of Matt. And as a final touch I used a tool in After Effects to bend it slightly so that it looked like it was following the contours of his face.

The last touch was to add a shadow to the area around the knife.

Here is a clip showing the different layers.

And here is the final result

The other knife shots were achieved in a similar way.  The only other thing worth mentioning is I added a slight blood burst when Kevin gets the knife yanked out of his head. This was a mixture of using stock footage and also a dust hit that I tinted red as I wanted to get that faint spray of blood you’d get if it was real.

So that’s that till next time.

 

Peter

 

 

 

 

 

Mutant rabbit

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I thought I’d show you an insight into the process of building one of the characters from the film, which in some ways is the star of the film, the mutant rabbit.

This post does contain small spoiler so if you haven’t seen the film yet then what are you waiting for? 🙂

You don’t actually get to see much of the rabbit in the film. There were two reason for this. One was simply following one of the golden rules of horror which is, never reveal the monster till the end. A classic example of this is Jaws, it’s more scary because you don’t see the monster till near the end.

And just like Jaws this rule was applied for another simple reason. The rabbit, as in the case with Spielbergs classic, looked like crap and so I had to to think of as many ways not to show it as possible or at least keep it in the dark.

To be fair the model wasn’t terrible although I didn’t have time to study any ref let alone the anatomy of the rabbit so I quickly sculpted a model using a piece of 3D software called Zbrush.

This wasn’t the main issue, the biggest problem was the rig for the rabbit was awful. A rig is the controls that allow you to move the model around, very much like a stringed puppet. I’m not very good at this process, especially when I’ve only got an evening to do it. So the model had a lot of issues when trying to animated in that some of the limbs didn’t move very well and would distort strangely. So I was very limited in what I could do with it. Which is one of the reasons why when you see the silhouetted version of the rabbit jumping out of Ludwik’s head it looks a little strange.

The only other animation you see of the rabbit is when it hops out from under the sofa. Which again I made sure was very subtle and hidden in shadow.

So because of this I thought it worth sharing this video of the rabbit in all it’s ugly glory. I hope you enjoy the time lapse videos. I think in total it took about 4 – 5 hours to create the model.

Let me know if you enjoy these sort of behind the scene vids and I’ll post more.

Till next time,

Peter

It’s all in the eyes…the zombie eyes

Right well now that the film is finished I feel I can share some of the techniques we used in the VFX process.

There was a hell of a lot of VFX in this short which is why it took so much time to complete. Although I can’t say that any of the effects were of amazing quality I am still proud of how it all came together.

One of the more time consuming effects was the eye replacement for both Ludwik and Katie.  I did toy with the idea of using 3D eyeballs to create the whited out look but decided to try a much simpler approach which worked surprisingly well.

The technique was to use 2D imagery tracked onto their faces.

Here is a close up of one the  more complex eye replacements.

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Now I’m going to try and keep the techniques to how to achieve this as simple as possible but if you want a more in depth tutorial video co-pilot have got a great tutorial here http://www.videocopilot.net/tutorial/eye_replacement/

The basic idea is you take photo reference of a whited out eye.  If you need to create one the best way to do this is take a few photos of your eye.  The idea is to get as much of the whites of your eyes as possible.  To do this take one photo looking as far left as you can. Then take another looking as far right as you can. You can also do looking up and down as well.  You then use an image editing package to cut out the areas of the eye that are white and combine them so that appears to be one white eye. Like this

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The next bit you will have to do is to track your footage.  I’ve explained tracking in one of my earlier posts https://22dayslater.com/2014/01/09/behind-the-scenes-of-episode-2-part-2/ But to sum up tracking is a technique where by you tell the computer to track a point on the image.  Once the point or points have been tracked you can use this information on another piece of footage or image and it will mimic the movement from source.

When tracking you have to make sure you track an area near the eye but it’s likely that you won’t be able to track the eye itself as people either move their eyes or blink which will throw the track off. The brow or the nose is usually a good place to track or the cheeks if they’re not talking.

I would grab a still from the footage that I’m replacing and load it into photoshop. Then adding a new layer  I would place my white eyes over the originals and colour correct them to match the lighting as shown here

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I would then overlay this comped still image over the matching frame in After Effects.  Using the masking tools I could cut out just the eyes.  If I was to then scrub through the timeline I’d get a problem of the eyes getting left behind, like the example below.

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This is where the tracking information comes into use.  If you look at the image above you should also notice a red square by his nose.  This is called a Null in After Effects and I applied the tracking date I had acquired earlier to this.  This now means that the Null will follow his head movement exactly.  I then parented the still images of the eyes to this Null and Voila! He now has evil zombie eyes.

If you’re wondering why I didn’t just add the tracking data to the images of his eyes instead of the Null? Well I could of and it would of worked just as well. The reason I use a Null is that it gives me that extra flexibility should I need to move or rotate the eyes slightly on top of the tracked data. I sometimes find that the tracking data although good may just stray in one place or another. By having the Null contain all the Tracking data it means I can tweak the eyes without messing with that data.

Now the trick isn’t quite finished although for some of the longer shots this would be fine, for the close ups the eyes still looked too flat.  They lack all the moving reflections and specular you get off a real eye because after all we are just looking a flat image of the eye.

This was one of the reasons why I was thinking of going the 3D route. Using 3D eye replacement would mean I could get the computer to do all the clever stuff with the reflections, refractions, sub subsuface scattering. But I realised I really didn’t need it. If I just added some simple specular highlights it was enough to sell the illusion.

So all I did was to look at the original highlights in his eyes and add some simple colours that matched the shapes of those original highlights.

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By then keying them to match the position and shape of the original highlights I could give the illusion that his eyes were moving. It even made them look wet and slightly translucent. It’s amazing how some simple highlights can make things look real.

I did this same technique for the shot where Katie looks across the hall to where Laura has just run.

One final technique I used to really sell the look was on the shadow that fall across his left eye.  The still image of his eye was colour corrected to match the original plate while that eye was in shadow. But the problem was that as he tilted his head up that eye then had light case upon it as you can see in the image below

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So to create this same look over the fake white eye I simply added a negative mask that matched the movement and shape of this light shaft that would cut into the image of his eye to reveal a brighter version underneath.

 

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So I hope this has been some help and if there’s anything else you’d like to know just drop me a mail or comment below.

Next time I’ll be looking at how I achieved some of the rabbit effects.

See ya soon!

 

Peter

 

 

 

 

 

Coming soon…honestly it really is.

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Ok so this has been said a few times now and I’m sure most people are sick of hearing it. But honestly we really are nearly finished on The Great Spielron.  And if the Great in the title refers to the amount of time and energy this film is taking then it really is quite fitting.

I actually realised the other day that the film almost has as many effects shot in it as the orginal Jurassic park. Ok so they may not be on the same par but I still think that’s pretty impressive. Even if most of the effects are invisible ones, for example removing lights or modern day appliances that you didn’t find in the early 20th century.  Anyhow all the effects are finished. I keep spotting bits that need work but I think the film will never get released so I calling the VFX done.

Stuart and I are now just going through and finishing off Foley, SFX and Music. I really enjoy this part as it really helps bring the scenes to life and fit everything together. There were a number of scenes that I was really worried about but adding these Music and SFX has really lifted them. Don’t get me wrong it’s far from perfect but considering we wrote, shot and edited the film in 5 weeks I think it’s pretty impressive. What’s not impressive is the fact that it took me another 4 months to colour grade and add all the VFX, SFX and music.

So again really sorry for the massive delay. I’m not going to tie myself to a release date but what I can say is that it will DEFINITELY be in the next two weeks…maybe I should make that the next 22 days 🙂

I will also be doing LOADS of behind the scenes stuff on this.  All about how we did the VFX, SFX and the problems.

In till next time!

Black Magic URSA.

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I’m not one to usually get excited about camera technology, well not since I realised that I was wasting so much of my time waiting from the perfect camera that I wasn’t actually going out an shooting. And you really can’t beat experience no matter how good the technology you’re using is.

But I have to say if I was going to get a new camera the new Black Magic URSA looks amazing. There’s a lot of nice camera out there these days but they all seem to something that lets them down. If the price is good it usually means they’re not full sensor or you have to spend another £5000 just to make the useable on a set.
If they have everything you need they’re also usually way out of my price range and most other Indie filmmakers.
Plus a lot of the time it just feels like the manufacture doesn’t really listen to the customer and is all about profit and not usability.

When the first Black Magic camera came out I thought it’s specs looked great and the price was amazing. But it had so many of the key functions that I need missing. For example ND filters, XLR’s even the body wasn’t very user friendly.

However with this new camera it really seems like they’ve listened to what people actually want and even going beyond that. And for £5000 I have to say it really does seem like a dream camera.

Having said all that I’ll go back to my original point. If you’re audience is moaning that your film isn’t in 4k or that the dynamic range in the shadows doesn’t look great than you have serious problems with your story. Plus 4K really isn’t needed at the moment unless you you’re going for a theatrical release, even then you don’t need it…look at the Blair Witch project or one of my favorites 28 days later. Neither of these shot on high res cameras.

In other news. I’m adding foley and and music to The Great Spielron at the moment. It’s nearly there and is actually coming together quite nicely. So I promise I will have it released soon 🙂

Even big budget movies seem amature without post production

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I watched these B-roll clips of The Hobbit The Desolation of Smaug and it struck me on how without sound, music and VFX it actually made it almost seem comical.

Seeing elves, orcs and wizards running around, trying to talk seriously without all the music and effects, really made me realise how much these other elements add to the overall film.

Now of course having made a couple of short films I’ve seen first hand how these elements can really take a scene that, when on set I was worried wouldn’t come across in the finished version as I’d imagined. Only to see it come alive in post and actually be better than I’d hoped.

But it’s nice to see that even the big budget movies have that same problem. Even with great actors they really do lack so much.

Of course music and VFX are a huge part of this but I think this really demonstrates how even the little foley sound effects that you wouldn’t normally think would make much of a difference really can help to tell the story.

For example at around 2:46 of this video one of the dwarfs shuts someone in what looks like a prison (I haven’t seen the movie yet). My first thought was, he hasn’t locked that the guy could just get out. But of course by simply adding a sound of a latch going in post the audience has a key story element that wasn’t ever told on set.

Or another example is the fight scenes. Ignoring the fact that a lot of the times they’re hitting each other with green batons. These scenes still appear and sound funny because there’s no sounds to back up the power of the weapons they’re meant to be using. Just adding metal clashing sounds and thuds would add so much more dramas to this piece.

The other great thing about watching these videos is it really goes to show how much has to be added in post in terms of VFX.

The Hobbit and LOTR were known for shooting a lot on real sets and trying to keep as much stuff in camera as possible. I really believe this is the best approach. One only has to watch things like The Phantom Menace to realise the difference in an actors performance.

But no matter how much is shot on set, there’s still so much to do in post. There’s the obvious stuff like adding vast vistas to the background. Or adding a dragon to the pile of gold. These all take a hell of a lot of work and a hell of a lot of very talented artists.
But these are actually just a small part of the visual effects. There’s so many bits that people don’t realise need to be added or replaced. So many things that are invisible in the final film (as they should be) but are a vital part of creating the illusion.
For example when Legolas is being pulled along by wires to make him look like he’s sliding. Some one has to paint those wires out.
Or the real swords reflecting the green screen. I wouldn’t be surprised if they just ended up replacing those swords with CG versions.
Even removing an extra because the director felt that one was distracting from the main action. It’s these bits that make up 70% of the VFX.

Without these artists these films wouldn’t be half as grand as they are and it’s a real shame that so many great artists are out of work at the moment due to studios closing their doors through bankruptcy.

Till next time.

Need a crowd for your film but don’t have enough extras? Fake it!

Hello everyone.

I thought today I’d do a little tutorial on how to use VFX to add crowds or in this case audiences to your scenes.

For The Great Spielron we had certain shots whereby The Great Spielron is performing on stage.  Although a lot of the shots we kept tight to avoid having to show an audience. We did feel that for some shots, especially the establishing shot needed some sort of audience.

Now because of the nature of these shorts there is really no time to plan out shots beforehand. All I knew was that I was going to have to somehow make the hall we were using look full to the brim with an audience.

There are three ways I could think of off the top of my head that could achieve this.

The first was to get around 40 extras to fill the front rows of the hall.  This wasn’t going to be possible due to the fact we’d had three days to find all the actors and with such a short deadline there was no way we could get everyone together in time. Plus it’s set in the 1920’s so to find enough costumes would of been a nightmare.

Another option would be to use a computer generated crowd. There’s a few pieces of software that can do this very well but they cost a lot of money and also take some time to learn.  Plus you still have to animate your crowd and render them which also takes up valuable time.

So the third option and one that I was a little skeptical about was to shoot the few people we did have against green screen.

This was the option we went with.

So lets have a look at the original plate without any of the crowd.

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And here is the finished shot

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Now we only had about five people to act as crowd, this actually included our main actor as well, we just put some different clothes on him.  Because the atmosphere is so dim I knew we could get away with a lot.

I took a number of different shots, each time with two actors sitting next to each other like this.

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We would get them to perform certain actions like laughing, clapping or talking to each other. Then we would get the next group to sit there.

We also shot some from the front as I knew I needed some close ups of the audience laughing or talking to each other.

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I then took the different shots I had into a program called After Effects. This program allows me to take out the green background, very similar to rotoscoping which I talked about here https://22dayslater.com/2014/01/11/behind-the-scenes-of-episode-2-part-3/

So once I’d cut them out they looked like this

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It was then simply a case of shrinking them down and positioning them somewhere on the screen where it looked like they were sitting in front of the stage.

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But as you can see they still look a little like cardboard cutouts.  So now I had to add some colour correction which involved darkening them down to fit more with their surroundings.

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The next step was to add the other crowd members. In total I only had 5 people.  We were also very short on time as we were doing this on the last day and still had to shoot two scenes. All this in one evening!!!

So I quickly got them to swap about and change hats, things that would just break up the silhouettes bit.

Once I’d duplicated all of the characters I had something that looked a little like this. Although this is pre-colour treatment.

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So the final element was to add it all together.  I also added some atmospheric effects like subtle smoke to blend the two elements together.

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It’s surprising what you can get away with when using this technique. It’s used a lot in films to fill the background with people.  Even in the latest blockbusters like Star Trek Into The Darkness and the latest Avenger film.

It gets slightly more complicated if it’s a moving shot but if the crowd are far enough away you can get away with shooting the crowd using a static camera and overlay them onto the moving camera. For example an army running in the distance over hills. If you have excess to motion control cameras then you can replicate the camera movement exactly but that’s out of reach for most of us.

So next time you need a few extras give this technique a go.

Till next time!

Peter