I thought it was important to understand the green screen process, particularly within the sound stage environment as I am designing a set that incorporates green screen elements. I looked at various videos and books and came up with a few pointers in terms of what is needed.
The position of the green screen:– This needs to be at least 8 ft from the actor being filmed (though video suggests 10-15 ft)
Lighting:- Both the screen and the actor have to be lit. The best results can be achieved by using a three-point lighting set up to lit the screen as evenly as possible.
Green Screen:- Needs to be hung in such a way that there are no or few creases or shadows that will make the post-production process more difficult. Fabric needs to be non reflective.
Footage:- Two sets of film footage is needed, one of the actor in front of the green screen and one that is replacement footage such as a matte painting or scene.
I also found a video that explains some of the processes.
My problem is that the area that needs to be green screened is the ceiling. I found some studio images showing part of the ceiling screened but there needs to be lighting rigs and the image shows this.
The question is, is there a way to green screen a ceiling and allow lighting or does the scene need to be pieced together filming several scenes with more than one green screen shot? Or, does the screen even need to extend that far?
This studio image below shows a green screen ceiling with lighting rigs in front of the screen. I need to research this further in terms of the practicalities and find out how easy it is to film this and whether the lighting rigs would just be digitally painted out like the scaffolding support was in Inception.
There have been many groundbreaking film productions over the last few years but Inception is described as one of the few that has been designed entirely in-house. This means from the early stages of concept right through to post production. I looked at the company of Double Negative who took on the massive job of creating dream states in which streets fold in on themselves, huge cities crumble into the sea and scenes where the physical fabric of the universe appears warped and illusionary.
My main task with looking at Inception was to pin down what the production designer does when such a vast amount of visual effects are used. The answer was surprisingly quite a lot in terms of previz.
I looked at the company itself, the articles written and many videos that flesh out different aspects of the production process.
The research is broken down into:-
The design overview
The Production Designer and some of the processes
Double Negative, CGI departments and software (pre-viz to post production)
Director:- Christopher Nolan
Designer:- Guy Hendrix Dyas
Budget:- $160,000,000 (estimated) (sourced from http://www.imdb.com on 28/06/2014)
Production Designer Guy Dyas and his art department team gathered an extensive library of architectural reference, which the vfx team then built upon through post production to develop a strong language of structure and style that drew heavily upon the history of modern architecture throughout the 20th century, especially for the climactic scenes in Limbo. (DESOWITZ, B. 2010)
In terms of building blocks, the Production Designer was involved from the start. It was important to have coherence throughout. Dyas’s team had provided concepts of what various cities were to look like such as the dream state Paris, how it would look when it was folded but no images of how it would go from normal to folded. This was worked out through collaboration. What was groundbreaking at the time was the daylight photo realism of the buildings as a lot of the scenes were filmed during the day. It had to look real, and the visual research that the art department contributed to that. Dneg team raised the bar in terms of realistic architectural lighting in CG. Many of the dream states were designed from locations and through the art departments concepts. Limbo city itself ended up being designed in CG because of the complexity of how it would be achieved, using CG 3D software such as Maya and Houdini and was inspired by collapsing glaciers.
VFX were used to design certain elements of the film due to the surreal nature of some of the scenes.
What was surprising were the number of traditional techniques used alongside CG.
“As with his previous films, Chris got as much in camera as possible and previs became extremely important in technically demanding moments like the Penrose steps: the impossible, ‘endless staircase’ made famous in the drawings of M.C. Escher,” Franklin relates. “For the high angle shot of the looping staircase and the subsequent reveal of the forced-perspective trick, the camera had to be placed in precisely the right position above a carefully designed set. We carefully mapped the distortion patterns of all of the camera department’s lenses and the Aleks Pejic team used them to work out the exact shape and dimensions of the set and what kind of shot would be achievable within the limitations of the location and the available camera setup. The camera, mounted on a 50-foot telescopic crane, had to swing down through a 45-foot arc. At the apex of the move, it had no more than two inches of clearance with the ceiling, so Dneg’s previs had to be spot on.” (FRANKLIN,P., Cited, 2010)
Many of the explosions were made using locations and traditional special effects techniques The three videos I found via YouTube go into more detail about how this was done for various scenes.
There were many cases of actual sets being built and only a small amount of CGI work done. One example was the Penrose Steps scene in which stairs were built in such a way to create an illusion. This needed to be precise to work and is another example of how the Production Designer works with the Director at pre-viz stage in science fiction. If they can do it as a set instead of digital matte/animation, then they would do it. Sometimes it’s the preference of the Director.
Dyas also pointed out a telling sign of Nolan’s directorial philosophy: if you look at the accompanying image, you will see scaffolding supporting the stairs. Most other directors would use a green screen to create the effect: Nolan wanted the stairs built, and then used visual effects only to remove the scaffolding and complete the illusion. “Only about 5 percent of the scenes in this film actually use green screen,” Dyas says. “You’re talking about a film that has real rotating corridors, elevator shafts that were built sideways in warehouses so that it would appear 300 feet long. We have tilting bars, real trains smashing into cars.” (LOPEZ, J., 2011)
The Penrose Steps:- Inception. Available at:- http://www.vanityfair.com/online/oscars/2011/01/inception (photo by Stephen Vaughan)
It’s clear that it takes a collaborative approach to produce a film like Inception. It had to look real, which meant the best available photorealistic software combined with traditional methods that the art department could provide like scale models and actual built sets. It’s about using the best tools for the job. Sometimes VFX works for some design as the artists possess the skills to animate a difficult scene, other times it’s better to use a set designed and built by the Production Designer and art department, using CG to paint in or remove support structures.
LOPEZ, J., Inception Production Designer Guy Dyas: “Only 5 Percent of Our Scenes Used Green Screen” . Available at: http://www.vanityfair.com/online/oscars/2011/01/inception [sourced on 28/06/2014] Vanity Fair, 2011.
I am now using my hand drawn elevations to piece together the white card model. The main section is the reception as this is one of the spaces that will use CGI to extend the height of the space beyond the walkway. This section is my priority for the week. The white card photos show one side of the space and some of the views, including a small section of ceiling.
To complete this space I now need to design the walkway, finish the white card floor and design the CGI guideline image for post production. I will also look at rendering a small section of this set for reference. All these jobs are part of the production designers role at the pre-production phase whether CGI is used or not. White card models are useful in determining camera angles or discussing problems.
I revisited an area that was a potential location for a night scene. In this scene one of the characters wanders the streets reading old newspapers and visiting a dirty burger bar. Shadwell provides a lot in terms of a slice of London with its cosmopolitan shops, railway, views of surrounding buildings, brickwork etc. It’s a fairly self-contained area that could be shut off for filming as it’s not a main thoroughfare. There are plenty of side streets for parking and access for electric. I will have to look into the times of the trains that run into the night as this might cause problems in terms of noise, however a few trains might add to the dirty urban feel of the scene. Below are a few photos of potential areas of alteration, including CGI. I also gathered useful measurements and guidelines for heights.
Once I’d designed the floor for the main reception space I did a white card mock-up of part of the room to see what it would look like. These pictures show some of the wall positions in relation to the ceiling and floor designs.
I also finalised the ceiling design for the arena space below, with the position of the metal wheel, tops of columns and various girders. There is going to be a void in the centre which could provide extra light.
Both the arena space and the reception floors/ceilings needed some consideration in terms of design. As the reception uses green screen above the walkway, I needed to design the ceiling and a floor pattern so that various camera angles were possible. This would also be the case if the entire space was to be a scaled model or CGI room. I gathering some inspiration on floor patterns, filled out some ceiling details from the visual references and came up with some final designs for the reception.
Mood board for floors:-
Then I drew out some potential floor designs:-
I decided to go for the one that was most symmetrical as it complimented the space, I then played around with some possible rendering going for a cool metallic tone.
Floor design with colour (above) floor position (below)
As my project requires me to use green screen due to the restricted height of the sound stage, I need to look at green screen and how it is used to create set extensions. One of the important features of the reception area of the Medical Research Centre is the creation of height and as the height of the stage is a little over 10 metres and needs to appear to be several floors below ground it needs a form of green screen/set extension to achieve this.
What is green screen?
It is a technique that was traditionally known as a travelling matte that allows actors to be shot in a studio environment and then is removed in post-production (sometimes production) and replaced with a different image. This can be anything from an external location background through to an architectural extension like my project design. Any colour can be used but blue and now green are used as they are the complement of the colours that make up the base colours of human skin tone. (Byrne, B., 2009)
What is a matte painting?
Matte paintings are usually of a location and used to extend a set, combined with live action, models or animation to create a composite image. Traditionally these were painted onto glass sheets and combined with optical techniques such as rear projection. Today they are painted digitally, then combined with the live elements of the shoot. (Rickitt, R., 2000)
I will need to create a design of a matte for my sound stage extension, so I am now looking at examples of green screen shots before finalising any designs. I found a selection of videos to show a few ways that a green screen can be used.
I thought that the second video was particularly interesting in the fact that they used a green screen technique combined with a scaled model and made a composite shot to save thousands of dollars. Theoretically this could be done with my interior as the character of Clayton only walks through the space. So instead of building a full-scale set in the sound studio, a model could be used with perhaps some small elements of set to create realism.
The Walking Dead uses a combination of real sets and real falling debris and green screen/set alteration to create a scene in which a helicopter falls through the ceiling. Realism here is created by using a combination of techniques. Green screen is only one part of the sequence.
Green screen can be used as a small part of a scene composite to allow real people to merge seamlessly, to extend a set, to allow stunts or to create a set in its entirety. What’s important, whether green screen is used or not, is that the design or visualisation of the scene is a collaborative process between the Production Designer/art department/VFX/stunt coordinators/ the Director etc. whether it is a CGI scene, scaled model or full set.
BYRNE, B., The Visual Effects Arsenal. Oxford: Focal Press, 2009.
RICKETT, R., Special Effects:The history and technique. London: Virgin Books, 2000.
Looking at post-production and visual effects companies I can start to piece together some of the answers to questions about the production designers role in terms of CGI, visual effects and what happens later on at post production. From reading a few articles and speaking with Framestore it seems that visual effects are very much a part of the pre-production/production phase with plenty of collaboration between the VFX houses, director and production designer. But what does the production designer need to know in terms of the skills and knowledge of the VFX process?
This answer is more elusive. I discussed the possibility of the production designer gaining further skills for future film making in case study 1. Matthew Gant replied that he thought it to be unlikely that the production designer would train to have other skills as the job entailed so much already. There wouldn’t be time for the PD to sit all day at the computer doing the work of the VFX artist .
That said, does the production designer need to have knowledge or an overview of the process, even if they don’t know how to produce it themselves?
There are a handful of designers than I have come across that have appeared to integrate with the effects/CGI process.
Alex Mcdowell – Minority Report
Guy Hendrix Dyas – Inception
Both films were groundbreaking in different ways and these will feature as my next case study/studies
I will look at these designers and films in regards to the production designer/VFX/post production design process in particular what they needed to know about the VFX department when designing sets, whether there are limitations to consider? Also other aspects such as changes in the film-making process…
“From 1999-2001 he worked with Steven Spielberg to design and develop a world for the film Minority Report, prior to a completed script. The process that evolved changed the nature of his film design process from analogue to digital, and profoundly affected the nature of all digital production, pushing a radical shift towards a non-linear workflow. Since then his work has built on the dynamic relationship between creativity and emergent technologies.” (http://www.xmedialab.com/mentor/alex-mcdowell)
I looked at Alex McDowell early on in my project and he is one of the designers that seems to be at the forefront of the non-linear way that film making is evolving.
I will also look at the company 5D Institute: The future of narrative media that Alex McDowell is a part of that thinks of story telling as a collaborative process with no boundaries.
Both Minority Report and Inception were considered groundbreaking in terms of the design processes, Minority Report for how it opened up the non-linear design approach and Inception because it was designed/produced completely in-house at Double Negative and pushed the boundaries of photo-realistic daylight architecture.
“Aside from the development of the Limbo City shoreline procedural layout system, a key area of CG R&D was in lighting and rendering. But Inception required an even higher level of realism than Dneg has achieved with Gotham City or the magical worlds of Harry Potter. That’s because all the environments are seen in broad daylight. Lead by CG Supervisor Philippe Leprince, the Dneg team raised the bar for photorealistic architectural lighting, and recent advances in fluid dynamics and rigid body animation were brought together in the scenes of destruction and disintegrating reality.” (DESOWITZ, B., 2010)
Inception also worked in a similar way to Minority Report as a non-linear creative approach.
“There was no formal postvis period: instead postvis became a continual part of shot development, running pretty much all the way up to final delivery in May” (DESOWITZ, B., 2010)
So films such as Inception do seem to have the approach that was initiated by Minority Report. It works for the multi skill/lateral thinking collaboration between all design departments from pre-vis concept to post production VFX etc.
Alongside looking at these examples I will integrate the design process of my project as I need to know what has to be done in order to produce my sets and location alterations. World design is a term that is being used more and more as film making becomes more organic. It is a term that I came across initially through my love of gaming and creative writing. I will also look at world building as an approach.