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Go green (screen) and bring the music to life!

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Imagine your student performing inside the Sydney Opera House, at the top of Mount Fuji, or even on the rings of Saturn. Seem impossible?

It's not! Using green screen technology, you can transport your students to any place or time without leaving your home studio. All you need is some green material, bright lights, a recording device, and lowcost video-editing software, which is widely available for both iOS and Android devices.

There are a variety of studio projects that could be enhanced using green screen technology, such as holiday videos for family and friends or eye-catching music videos on your studio website (which may even attract new students!). Perhaps you want a fun summer project that students can show their friends when school begins.

No matter what project you choose, creating a green screen video is easier than you might expect. In this article, we will describe everything you need to know to create engaging music videos with green screen technology. 


What is it, and how does it work?

Green screens are commonly used on movie sets and in weather broadcasts. In the picture below, the solid green backdrop has been replaced by an image of the temperature forecast. Given the availability of hi-tech video projectors, one might wonder why green screens are necessary. Green screens offer one important advantage over video projectors: they allow performers to appear "inside" an image or video without creating shadows associated with overhead projectors. 

To achieve this effect, video editors use a postproduction technique called chroma keying. Chroma key technology isolates a specific color and "keys it out," allowing a different image or video to appear in the background. Chroma key technology can isolate any color, but green is the most common choice for two reasons. First, green is furthest away from the human skin tone, making it easier to achieve a clean line between the performer and the background image. Second, green has a high degree of luminance (brightness), which also produces clean lines in the finished product.

Whatever color you choose for your screen, be sure your student's outfit does not contain any shade of that color. Otherwise, your student's body will be "keyed out," and you will see a floating head as shown in the picture.


Equipment

Before starting a green screen project, you will need to gather three important items: 1) a green backdrop; 2) lighting; 3) a recording device. The following section provides additional information about each item.

1. Green backdrop

The most important component of a successful green screen project is the screen itself. Various materials can be used for the backdrop, and each has distinct advantages and disadvantages, which are summarized in Table 1.

Green cloth offers the most advantages. In addition to being inexpensive, green cloth is portable and reusable, making it easy to transport to a variety of locations. Cloth is also durable, which means it won't tear when you move from project to project.

2. Lighting

In many cases, the overhead lighting in your studio will be sufficient for recording green screen videos. If you need additional lighting, experiment with fixtures you already own. Floor lamps and table lamps placed beside the green screen can often eliminate shadows. Or, work lights can saturate a larger area of your green screen, as seen in the picture below.

3. Recording Device

The type of recording device you choose will depend upon the nature of the project itself. For high-quality videos, you might consider a handheld digital camcorder. If portability and spontaneity are priorities, the built-in camera on your tablet or phone will be sufficient. No matter what device you choose, consider buying a tripod for your camcorder or mobile device so that your finished video isn't shaky. Sound quality will also vary depending upon the recording device you choose. If the built-in microphone on your device does not meet your needs, consider purchasing an external microphone that can be plugged into the microphone jack of your camcorder or mobile device.

Note: In the case of mobile devices, there may be a single jack that is used for both audio input and audio output. A number of companies make microphones that include a plug that is designed for this type of jack.

Setup:

Once you have gathered your materials, you can begin the setup. In this article, we will provide step-by-step written instructions for setting up a green screen. 

First, determine where you want to place the green screen. Keep in mind that the screen must be situated behind the piano, and it needs to cover the length of the instrument. If there are gaps in the green screen, they will appear in your final video, as seen below. The video below will show you how to set up your green screen.


The method used to hang the screen will depend upon the material chosen. For cloth screens, consider using a pipe-and-drape system or curtain rods. Backdrops made from green paper can be attached to a wall using nails, pins, or tape. No matter what method you choose, be sure your material is wrinkle free. After your green screen is hung behind the piano, position your lighting. An evenly lit screen is essential because it creates a single shade of green that the editing software can "key out" and replace with a different image or video. If there are shadows or hot spots, these may be visible in the background of your final video, as seen below.


Recording:

Position your camera such that the green screen fills the entire lens. If you capture elements outside the green screen, you will need to crop these later. Have the student play his/her piece while you record the performance. When the performance is over, save the video to your device. Next, decide what images or videos your student wants to use for his/her music video. Some students might enjoy drawing their own picture or recording their own video to use in the background. Other students might prefer to explore images and videos online. The possibilities are endless! For students using online videos and images, it is important to ensure that all media is copyright free. Table 2 lists three popular online resources that contain copyright-free images and videos. For each resource, advantages and disadvantages are provided.

Green screen software

Once your student has chosen a background and you have recorded his/her performance, you are ready to import everything into a green screen software program. Low-cost editing software is available on every major platform. Table 3 lists the most prominent programs for iOS, Mac, Android, and Windows. Advantages and disadvantages of each program are included.

In this article, we will limit our discussion to Green Screen by Do Ink. Below is a step-by-step guide to creating a green screen video in the Do Ink app. A video tutorial can be found below the table.


Tutorial

When you first open the Green Screen by Do Ink app, you will see a sample project and tutorial. You can edit the sample project to see how each tool works, but you will not be able to save any changes.

To create your own project, click on the plus icon in the top right corner and select "Create a New Project." Inside the editor, you will see three timelines. Think of these as layers of a cake, with the bottom timeline being the background image and other timelines layered on top.


Click on the plus icon by the bottom timeline to select a source for your background. There are four source types: live video camera, prerecorded video, still image, and artwork from the Animation and Drawing app by Do Ink. Choose "Video" or "Image" for your source and select what you would like to appear in the background. 


The app will automatically go to your camera roll. However, you can also import videos and images from a cloud-based source such as Dropbox or Google Drive by clicking on "Locations" in the upper left corner of the import pop-up box.


Once you have selected your background, you can use a two-fingered pinch gesture to resize or rotate it. 

Next, choose a video to place on top of your background by clicking on the plus icon next to the middle timeline. You can make a live recording by selecting "Camera" or you can choose a prerecorded video from your library. Once you import the video, the app should automatically detect your background color and apply a chroma key filter. If the app is unable to detect your background color, click the color wheel and select the color you would like to remove. Use the sensitivity slider to adjust the strength of the filter.


If there are parts of the video image you want to remove, use the crop tool located to the right of the color wheel. You can adjust the size of your green screen video by pinching your fingers together or apart and then dragging the image to your desired location in the background. At this point, you can begin to finalize your project. If you are making a live video recording, you will click on the red record button in the middle of the screen. Otherwise, you will simply click "Save." Once your video has been recorded, you have the option to preview your video, export it to a cloud-based service, or save it to your camera roll. It's that easy!


If you would like to make a more elaborate video, you could take an additional step and apply an overlay to the top timeline. Overlays create a picture-in-picture effect. You can overlay a decorative frame, a camera lens, a border—anything you want! The following example demonstrates how an overlay image can be used to create a "moving painting." Click on the plus icon by the top timeline and add your overlay image. Next, you will need to create a window inside your overlay image. This window will allow images on the lower timelines to show through. Select the mask tool located to the right of the color wheel and crop tool. Choose a shape for your "window" (rectangle or circle) and use one finger to create the shape on your image. If you make a mistake, you can click on the red "X" to delete your shape. Click "Done" when you are finished.

Next, click on the bottom timeline and drag the background image into the window you created. Then, click on the middle timeline and drag the green screen video onto top of the background, so it also appears in the window. If you are making a live video, click the red record button to begin recording. If you are using a prerecorded video, click "Save" to export your video and save it to your camera roll. Voila—you have a three-layered green screen video! We hope the ideas contained in this article will inspire you to create your own green screen projects. With a little bit of green cloth, bright lights, and a cell phone, your students can star in their own music videos! 

If you are interested in viewing additional green screen projects, click here.


Chris Madden is Assistant Professor of Piano Pedagogy at Texas Woman's University, where he teaches applied piano, piano pedagogy, and class piano. In addition to performing and teaching, his research interests include historical recordings, andragogy, and motivation.

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Bringing it Home
May/June 2018: Editor's Column
 

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