“As a motion graphic designer, I am often given footage that was shot on

a green screen. My job is to key out the background color and make sure
the resulting footage looks good. Green Screen Made Easy is an excellent
resource for this, covering many of the more widely used keying programs
and plugins. But keying video is only part of the green screening process,
and this book has so much more to offer. With information on the backdrop
itself, lighting, keying, compositing, and everything in between, the book is a
comprehensive resource. Full of tips and tricks with options for any budget,
Green Screen Made Easy is detailed and informative, but light enough to be
an engaging and interesting read.”
—Brent Willett, motion graphic designer, Iowa Public Television
“This is more than just a book on green screening. It’s a guide, it’s a resource, it’s a lifesaver, it’s a ‘must-read’ for every shooter, director, and
editor out there. I strongly suggest that you buy multiple copies of this
book . . . one for the field, and one for the edit suite.”
—Sue Lawson, award-winning editor, ChicagoEdit, Inc; president, Chicago
Creative Pro Users Group (ChiCPUG)
“Green Screen Made Easy covers everything from correctly setting up and
lighting your shot to all the post-production tips and tricks needed to get
that perfect composite. As a longtime editor and motion graphics artist,
I’ve spent a career learning this on my own. Don’t waste years like I did—
it’s all here in this book. Whether you are a beginner or veteran working on
corporate interviews or a VFX-heavy feature film, there is plenty in here for
everyone. I’m sure I’ll be referring to it often.”
—Rob Birnholz, editor, motion graphics artist and founder of Absolute
Motion Graphics, Inc.
“Green Screen Made Easy breaks down the complexity of shooting FX into a
palatable way so that anyone can understand this process.”
—Peter John Ross, founder, Columbus Filmmakers Consortium

“Green Screen Made Easy offers well-written technical explanations mixed
with humor, memorable examples, and practical advice born from experience. This will be an excellent resource for college level post-production
classes, independent filmmakers, and professional cinematographers and
editors. A well-researched, comprehensive, yet practical guide to understanding the technical and aesthetic aspects of the entire workflow of
green screen work.”
—Suzanne Zack, MFA, affiliate professor of Film and Video School of
Communications, Grand Valley State University
“If you plan on using a green screen, put this book on your VFX grocery list.
Sure, you can probably spend a year scouring the web . . . actually, I’ll stop
right there. Just save yourself the time and get this book. Please. It hurts
just thinking about all the wasted time you’d spend searching for all-youcan-eat green screen. It’s all here—in a single book.”
—Matt Kramer, operations guy, Video Copilot
“Nothing is ‘hard’ once you know how it’s done, and Jeremy and Michele
make it easy to understand green screening like never before. With the incredible advancements in non-linear editors over the last decade, working
with green screens and augmented realities is simply how storytelling is
done now. Plainspoken and easy to both read and remember, Green Screen
Made Easy is just that. Technical info is presented with common-sense
language and kept to a minimum while practical here’s-how-you-do-it
information is logically presented. For anybody preparing to bring their
projects into the realm of digital compositing, spending time with Green
Screen Made Easy is a must.”
—Mark Bremmer, green screen animator/compositor, The Voice


Keying and Compositing Techniques
for Indie Filmmakers
2nd Edition





Published by Michael Wiese Productions
12400 Ventura Blvd. #1111
Studio City, CA 91604
(818) 379-8799, (818) 986-3408 (Fax)
Printed in China by SC (Sang Choy) International Pte Ltd
Cover design by Johnny Ink. johnnyink.com
Interior design by Debbie Berne
Copyediting by David Wright
Copyright © 2016 Jeremy Hanke and Michele Terpstra
This book was set in Garamond Premier Pro and Whitney.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced
in any form or by any means without permission in writing
from the publisher, except for the inclusion of brief
quotations in a review.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Names: Hanke, Jeremy, 1977- author. | Terpstra, Michele,
Title: Green screen made easy : keying and compositing
techniques for indie filmmakers / by Jeremy Hanke and
Michele Terpstra.
Description: Second edition. | Studio City, CA : Michael
Wiese Productions, [2016]
Identifiers: LCCN 2016008722 | ISBN 9781615932504
Subjects: LCSH: Cinematography—Special effects.
Classification: LCC TR858 .H3525 2016 | DDC
LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2016008722


Chapters 1–10 by Jeremy Hanke
Chapters 11–15 & Conclusion by Michele Terpstra


Lighting Your Matte for Maximum Keying Simplicity 33
Positioning Your Lights Effectively 38
Types of Lighting 39
Additional Lighting Elements to Make Your Colors “Pop” 41

Acknowledgements xi
Introduction 1

What Is Chroma Keying? 3

To Buy or to Build a Green Screen 10

Popular Options for Purchasing a Green Screen 14
Rolled Cloth Backdrop and Stand 15
Portable Flexscreens 15
X-Drop Backgrounds 17

Building Your Own Green Screen 19
Creating Green Screens with Rolled Paper 19
Painted Green Screens Using Walls, Flats, and Foam Core 19
Creating and Hanging Your Own Cloth Backdrop 21
The Portable Vinyl Green Screen 22
Building a Cyclorama Green Screen Studio 25

Getting Your Background Environments 28
Photography and Videography 29
Digital Matte Paintings 30
3D Rendering 31
Multilayered Composites 31
Internet and Negotiation 31
Stock Backgrounds 32
Public Domain 32

Lighting and Positioning Your Talent for Optimal Blending 46
Pre-planning the Lighting to Blend Between Foreground
and Background Planes 46
Different Types of Lighting for Your Foreground 47
Placement of the Actor and Other Blocking Considerations 49
Tricks for Popping Your Talent from the Background 50

Camera Techniques for Clean Keys 52
Optimal Distance and Behavior of Your Camera 52
Setting Up Your Camera for Great Keys 53
Creating Higher-Definition Footage Than You’re Shooting 56

Production Ideas for Creative Green Screen Uses 58
The Invisible Man 58
Sin City: A Dame To Kill For Makeup 59
Luma Keying 59
Shooting Flame or Smoke 60
Stop-Motion Animation 60
CH A P TER 1 0

Production Checklist 61
19 Rules to Shoot By 61
An Essential Guide to Prepping Your Talent for Optimal Shoots 66
CH A P TER 1 1

Keying Essentials 69
Keying Workflow 70
More Information on Products Mentioned in This Book 70
CH A P TER 1 2

Prepare Your Footage 72
Pre-keying Checklist 72
Edit the Scene First 73

Scrutinize Your Foreground Plate 74
Deinterlace Your Fields 74
Reduce Compression Noise to Smooth Jaggy Edges 75
Key Cleaner in After Effects 76
Reducing Noise per Channel 77
Reducing Noise per Channel in After Effects 77
Reducing Compression Artifacting with a Colorspace Shift in NUKE 79
Shift Colorspace in After Effects 80
Third-Party Solutions for Reducing Noise and Jaggy Edges 81
Even Out Your Green Screen and Make It Greener 82
Workflow Tip: Save an Animation Preset or
Macro of Your Pre-process Effects 85
Create Garbage Mattes 85
Quick and Precise Garbage Mattes in After Effects 87
Making a Clean Green Screen Plate with Photoshop 88
What Not to Do in the Pre-process Stage 89

Keying Tools 91
Adobe After Effects Keylight 92
Keying with The Foundry NUKE 95
Keylight in NUKE 95
IBK Keyer in NUKE 96
Third-Party Keying Plug-ins Including Boris Continuum
Complete BCC Chroma Key Studio, Digital Film Tools
zMatte for Video/Film, and Red Giant Primatte Keyer 97

Mastering the Art of Keying 107
The Multiple Edge Mask Technique in After Effects
(Core Matte, Edge Matte, Combining Mattes, and
Master Alpha Matte) 107
Fixing Holes and Matte Problems 111
Hold-Out Mattes 113
Tricks for Extracting Difficult Edges 114
Rotoscoping (aka Roto) and Feathering Mattes 116
Dealing with Motion Blur 118
Removing the Dark Fringe or Halo 119
Keying Glass or Semi-transparent Reflective Objects 120
Removing Spill and Green Fringe 120

Spill Suppression in After Effects 121
Third-Party Spill Suppression Tools 121
Removing Spill Without Plug-ins 122
Color Correction 122
CH A P TE R 1 5

Making Your Composites Look Believable 123
Removing Production Elements Such as
Wires, Rigs, and Tracking Markers 124
Positioning Foreground and Background Elements 125
Matching Color 125
Using Digital Scopes to Check Color 129
Matching Grain 129
Light Wrap 130
Matching Light Angle and Shadows 132
Matching the Angle of the Light 132
Creating Cast Shadows 133
Third-Party Solutions for Projecting Shadows 136
Reintroducing and Adding Reflections 136
Adding Depth of Field 138
Adding Motion Blur 139
Color Grading and Adding Grain 140
CH A P TE R 1 6

Conclusion 145
Production Resource List 147
Glossary 154
About the Authors 166



The techniques and work featured in this book have been a massive collaboration of so many people that we can’t acknowledge them all here.
However, aside from my coauthor (whom I literally couldn’t have done this
without), I want to give a special thanks to Mark Bremmer (who helped
provide some amazing rendering work at the last minute for this book),
Rocky Doll and the kind folks at the Cincinnati Comic Expo (who helped
us test out a number of new green screen techniques at his events), Westcott
(who let us test out some of their great gear and whose high quality earned
them the right to be featured in this book), ARRI (who provided the baseline for some of the best industry lighting standards out there), Flashpoint
(whose LED lighting rigs have revolutionized how we light green screens),
and MWP’s Michael Wiese and Ken Lee (who believed in what we were
trying to accomplish before low-budget green screen was even a “thing”).
Special thanks to our sharp-witted editor, David Wright, who helped make
this new edition of Green Screen Made Easy far superior to the last edition
than we could have hoped.
And extra special thanks to Kari, my beloved wife, who supported (and
put up with) me each time I’ve written or revised this book!

Thank you to my coauthor, Jeremy Hanke, without whom I would have
never had this opportunity. Jeremy is a talented wordsmith, brimming with
production knowledge, and is everything I could have asked for in a writing
partner. Thank you to Michael Wiese, Ken Lee, and editor David Wright,
the behind-the-scenes team who have enabled us to publish this book. I
want to give my appreciation to Toolfarm, my company, for giving their full
support to this book and my previous books. Thank you to my co-worker
Alicia VanHeulen for her fantastic contribution to the book, as well as our
vendors, for always being willing to help me out with software licenses and

Green Screen Made Easy

technical support. Thank you to the many video professionals who have graciously shared their knowledge over the years. In particular, I would like
to thank Chris and Trish Meyer, who technical-edited my previous book,
Plug-in to After Effects. The things I learned from that experience helped me
immeasurably while writing this book.

I’d also like to express my gratitude to my loving husband, Dan
Terpstra, my teammate in life, who supported me in countless ways
while I was working on this book, both technically and emotionally,
from shooting green screen footage to daily encouragement. And
thank you to my daughter, Lily, who modeled for some of the shots
used in this book and sacrificed some fun time with Mom so I could
finish. You are all part of this accomplishment and I want to thank you
all for your contributions and support.



The first edition of Green Screen Made Easy came out in 2009 and was
received very positively by creators on low budgets and critics around the
world. As the years have gone by, we’ve been continuing to explore the cutting edge of special effects and have had requests for new features in this
new edition from our fans!
On the production side of things, our readers have asked for us to
explore more specific methods for dealing with the new high-rez/high-compression cameras in the DSLR and smartphone revolution, as well as where
the newer lighting solutions and the new high-chroma video tap solutions
fall into all of this. On the post-production side, things have changed a lot.
Several new versions of keying and compositing software have come out,
users have changed their workflow and hosts, and I’ve learned more as well.
So, in this 2nd edition, we have delivered nearly 70% new or revised
material, including the latest updates on software and hardware.
This new edition of Green Screen Made Easy gives you:
• a much clearer and simpler guide to shooting
• a more robust checklist for dealing with actors in green screen
• brand new products and options (as well as removal of obsolete ones)
• modified techniques to help you get even cleaner footage
• personal recommendations on some very specific products and learning aids that will improve your game drastically
• 400% larger resources section with brand new companies and
updated products
• a post-production workflow chart to keep you on track
• a modified pre-keying workflow for After Effects, on great new software for AE


more advice on innovative technologies and techniques
new ideas on compositing and color matching



Model: Janet Brickhouse

Here’s wishing you great success on your new green screen projects!
—Michele & Jeremy

you’ve probably been fascinated by the effects
work you’ve seen in Hollywood films, in everything from Man of Steel to
Life of Pi to Star Wars: The Force Awakens. All of these films use chroma
keying to realize some element of the storytelling process that the filmmaker wanted to show but that could not be shot in a normal, real-world
To be able to magically place your actors into steaming jungles, science
fiction metropolises, or ultra-gritty city streets has been a pursuit of filmmakers since Florey and Vorkapich’s The Life and Death of 9413, a Hollywood
Extra and Fritz Lang’s Metropolis experimented with stationary mattes.
These early filmmakers used cut mattes to block a section of the exposure
of the film negative and then used reversals of these mattes to expose only
those sections to alternate scenes. Because these early effects combined portions of two scenes, they were the first composites. Later, motion mattes
were utilized during the filming of movies like Mary Poppins, which allowed


Green Screen Made Easy

a background to be removed from behind a moving actor. These motion
mattes were actually the first form of chroma keying.
So what exactly is chroma keying? Many of us find the term “chroma
keying” to be a bit daunting. Even the name is a little confusing, as it sounds
like something you’d pay to have done to a classic ’57 Chevy’s bumpers. Of
course, it becomes at least a little more familiar to us when it’s boiled down
to its most popular derivative in this neo-digital age: “green screening.”
I’ve done a lot of research into this subject as I’ve prepared this book,
but I’m hard-pressed to come up with a more concise description of the
technology than the one given by effects filmmaker Zach Lipovsky from
Fox’s short-lived series, On the Lot: “Green screening is just basically telling
the camera to replace anything it sees as green with whatever you [the director] want.”
So where exactly does the term “chroma keying” come from? In technical terms, “chroma” is the word used to describe color that a camera can
record. (“Luma,” on the other hand, describes the light that a camera can
record.) “Keying” is an old production term that refers to removing an
object from a picture using a form of matte. So chroma keying is simply
removing any color that you designate and creating a matte in the shape
of the removed color. (This is especially appropriate because chroma keying didn’t start out with the color green, or even the second most popular
color—blue—for that matter. Mary Poppins utilized a yellow background
behind the actors.) Over these matted-out areas, the keying or editing software you use shows any background you choose.
(Because of the prevalence of the term “chroma keying” in the television industry, rather than the film industry, we will simply refer to this concept as “green screening” to prevent confusion.)
Just because we know the general science behind green screen technology, however, doesn’t make the creation of truly convincing green screen
effects any less mysterious. It’s all well and good to realize that you shoot
something or someone in front of a colored background that is different
from your subject and that you can have almost any editor or keyer delete
the background. But anyone who’s dabbled in this strangely occult field has

What Is Chroma Keying?

probably discovered that their results often don’t hold a candle to the work
done by Industrial Light & Magic, the effects powerhouse responsible for
hundreds of films from Star Wars to Back to the Future to Jurassic World.
When you try green screening and don’t get great results, it can be really
tempting to just write it off as something that you’re not able to do in a
believable way on a low budget. Hollywood studios have extremely powerful
equipment, software, and a lot of money to make their movie magic, so it can
be easy to believe that their advantages allow them to do what we cannot.
As we were preparing for this book, we looked at the most common hurdles facing low-budget filmmakers seeking good quality green screen results.
The number one hurdle was simply a lack of readily available information
on the art of green screening. Aside from some work by Creative Cow and
Andrew Kramer, the information for the low-budget filmmaker on the
art of green screening has been extremely minimal, which is what inspired
this book. Lots of filmmakers had to strike out on their own and try to get
something that looked halfway decent, hoping they would happen upon
the right blend of color, lighting, camera quality, and keying software to get
what they were aiming for. While some folks have succeeded in this area by
teaching themselves, many more have given up after being unable to harness the technology. Although more magazines and books have looked at
green screening recently, many of these resources put a greater focus on surrealistic, as opposed to realistic, green screening. The art of green screening
a weathercaster or someone in front of a digital background for an infomercial is not the same as the art of green screening a protagonist into a
3D temple and making it believable. In the weathercasting and infomercial
situation, everyone knows it’s all computer-generated and they don’t care.
But in feature films you’ve got to convince the audience that your actor is
really in the location you’re showing. Low-budget feature film green screen
is the most profound magic show on the planet. You have to be more deft
with sleight of hand than Hollywood does, because you just don’t have the
budget to do things the way Hollywood does them.
This chapter is designed to give you some understanding of how to
recognize the limitations that low-budget filmmakers face in terms of their

Green Screen Made Easy

What Is Chroma Keying?

As you can see, 4:1:1 sampling reads
only one pixel of color information
for every four pixels of luminance
information. This was used in original SD/DV cameras.

Most of our readers will be shooting with color-compressed cameras, so we'll show you how to
overcome their limitations.

equipment, because only by understanding your limitations can you learn
how to overcome them.
To explain why many of us have had frustrating results when it comes to
green screening, we must start with the fact that we have been working with
suboptimal source material.
What do I mean by suboptimal? Standard Definition (SD), High
Definition (HD), and Ultra High Definition (4K) are suboptimal. This is
due to how most affordable digital format cameras record light (luma) and
color (chroma) information.
Color information takes up a lot of bandwidth but is not as noticeable
to the human eye as light data is. When the first digital video camera manufacturers were playing lifeboat with different pieces of information for the
recording and compression codecs used in their cameras, they decided to
record every pixel of light their cameras’ sensors picked up, but only one out
of four pixels recorded color data for NTSC DV cameras.
This was called “4:1:1” color space, with the “4” denoting that four out
of four pixels of light information would be recorded, the first “1” denoting that one out of four pixels would have color information recorded in
the first line, and the last “1” denoting that one out of four pixels would

4:2:0 sampling (which is used
natively in most low-budget video
DSLR and smartphone cameras
on the market) records two pixels
of color information for every four
pixels of luminance data on the first
line, but no color information on the
second line.

4:2:2 sampling records two pixels
of color data for every four pixels
of luminance data. This is common
with higher-­end HD cameras, as
well as cameras that can spit out a
low-compression video stream to
a capture device, like the Atomos


Green Screen Made Easy

have color information recorded in the second line. From here, the information is compressed, but luckily each frame is compressed separately through
something called “intra-frame compression.”
PAL DV records with a 4:2:0 color space, which, again, records four
out of four light pixels but records color information on two out of four
pixels of the first line, and no color information on the second line. PAL DV
also uses intra-frame compression, so each frame is separately encoded, just
like NTSC DV.
Most modern HD, 2K, and 4K video DSLRs, camera phones, and
other affordable cameras use the same color space as PAL DV, but, unlike
DV, cannot compress each frame separately, due to size limitations. As such,
in order for most of this footage to fit on small hard drives or SD cards, multiple frames must be grouped together and compressed in clusters through
a method known as “inter-frame compression”—where the compression is
enabled by comparing frames before and after, thus compressing them in
clusters of frames. This allows file sizes to shrink drastically, but, obviously,
when you mash groups of frames together and then must untangle them
before you can even begin to key them, this makes getting good keys harder.
There are some reasonably affordable HD cameras like those made by
Blackmagic and Panasonic which have a 4:2:2 color space. Again, four out
of four pixels have their light data recorded, while every other pixel has its
color data recorded in both the first and second lines. The footage is compressed before being recorded to the hard drive or SD card, but like DV,
each frame is compressed individually, which means that there is less damage done by the compression.
What’s the color space in those high-end cameras that they’re using
in big-budget films like Jon Favreau’s amazing green screen epic, the
2016 remake of Disney’s The Jungle Book? Or in Star Wars: Rogue One?
Uncompressed 4:4:4. That means that every pixel is recorded for both light
and color and recorded without compression to a RAID array. Obviously,
this gives you optimal chroma keying latitude, as the keying program isn’t
trying to guess where pixels are because of insufficient color information.


What Is Chroma Keying?

For most of us, 4:4:4 is not something we will likely have access to until
both truly RAW (uncompressed video) cameras and massive redundant
hard drives drop significantly in price, we sell one of our films for a substantial profit, or we try to hijack the signal from our cameras before its color
information gets decimated.
Believe it or not, there used to be a company called Real Stream that
made a $2,500 adapter that they would install in an SD DV camera which
could download uncompressed 4:4:4 data directly from the camera’s imagers.
It proved glitchy and created massive files, so it never caught on. However,
there is a company called Atomos with their Ninja series of devices, which
range from $300–$1,200, that capture 4:2:2 color space from more robust
DSLRs like the Panasonic Lumix GH4 and the Canon 5D Mark III, as well
as video cameras like the Sony FS-100 and the JVC GY-LS300, via their
HDMI monitor links, which seems to work fairly well and would definitely
be something to consider if you need to shoot green screen with one of the
compatible cameras.
Obviously, I don’t tell you all these things about green screen technology to make you feel like you have to save up until you have a more expensive camera in order to start learning it. Instead, I tell you these things so
that you understand why special steps need to be taken to get the best keys
out of lower-end cameras. From that perspective, we will discuss how to
either purchase or build the best type of green screen for your needs, and
then we will look at how to light both it and your actors properly, how to
shoot it cleanly, how to key it with one of the programs that works well with
the footage your camera records, and, finally, how to composite your keyed
footage with both real and 3D-generated elements.
Buckle up. This is going to be a wild ride.


To Buy or To Build a Green Screen


Models: Nara Gordon (left), Rocky Doll


the ending of the last chapter, we assume that one of
your grandparents hasn’t recently left you a large inheritance to purchase
one of Industrial Light & Magic’s castoff effects cameras—or even a medium-sized inheritance to purchase a new RED Epic. This means that you’ll
likely be doing your shooting with something much more affordable.
While our first edition of this book focused more on 4:1:1 SD cameras like the Panasonic DVX100, this edition will talk more about the 4:2:0
HD/4K cameras that have taken over the market and are used in most video
DSLRs and smartphone cameras. (With that said, the guiding principles
have actually remained the same, so if you have an older camera, you don’t
have to try to dig up our earlier edition at a used book store.)
In general, today, if you go to purchase a camera that records video
and it doesn’t mention color space clearly, you can be almost assured that
it’s recording in 4:2:0 color space. Obviously, if you do have access to a
4:2:2 camera, you will find keying easier, since you’re going to essentially


have double the color space to work with. With that said, if you’re going
to go purchase one, be aware that when cameras advertise “4:2:2 8-Bit or
10-Bit HDMI Output,” this doesn’t actually mean they record in 4:2:2. It
means that they are able to send out a 4:2:2 signal that can then be recorded
by something like a $300–$1,300 Atomos Ninja or Blackmagic Design
Hyperdeck video recorder. Ones that actually record at 4:2:2 internally will
normally say something like, “Full-raster, 4:2:2, 10-bit Sampling.”
With that in mind, how do you start on the right foot to make sure you
get clean keys in post?
To help ensure success, it is imperative to start with the best possible
green screen you can either afford or construct. Once you have it, of course,
you’ll want to light it, position it, and treat it properly, but we’ll cover those
facets in later chapters.
Now, before we go into whether to buy or to build a green screen, let’s
consider the following question, which invariably pops up: Should it in fact
be a green screen or, instead, should it be a blue screen? As the terms appear
to be practically interchangeable in every DVD or BluRay behind-the-scenes
featurette that you watch—and even in many special effects books—it’s
hard to keep track of who uses which color for what purposes. Even professionals seem to get glib on this subject. To illustrate what I mean, one of
our staff writers was on an industry tour of a Hollywood studio and one of
the other people in the group asked the guide what the difference between
green screen and blue screen really was. The guide snidely responded, “Well
sir, blue screens are blue, and green screens are green.”
So, what is the difference, then? Well, the choice of color is based on two
factors: the color of the clothing, hair, or eyes of the person being recorded,
and the medium that is doing the recording.
Obviously, if the talent has blue clothing, a green screen is the correct
choice, and vice versa. Much less obviously, though, hair color has a direct
bearing on screen choice. (And no, we’re not talking about our friendly
neighborhood punks who have dyed their hair literally blue or green.)
Blond hair has a way of picking up green that makes it very difficult to key
properly from a green screen, which is why it has always been customary to

Green Screen Made Easy

film blond actors in front of blue screens. If your actors don’t have blond
hair and are wearing neither blue nor green, you will normally look to what
media you’re recording on. Film’s blue latitude is excellent, which is why
blue screen was the most intelligent choice for people recording to film. But
in digital recording, more green data is recorded (especially in lower-priced
cameras like the ones you’re using, which discard more information from
the red and blue channels). This means that, for most of our readers, green
screen is often the best choice.
This doesn’t mean that the blue screen concept gets thrown out entirely
for digital filmmakers, even if you’re not shooting blonds or actors with
green clothes (or bright green eyes) in your film. Digital video cameras can
still get a very usable key from blue screens, and it is actually easier to make
the color blue really pop with inexpensive lights (which tend to make it
more distinct from your foreground subject and, therefore, easier to key).
And, of course, for films that are going to have a stylistic blue-tinted final
color pass or that are using water and/or cloud-based effects, it’s better to
use blue. (For example, 2007’s Evan Almighty, which included massive
flood effects, utilized blue screens successfully because of the bluer coloration of the water.) An added benefit of blue screen is that if you end up
with some spill (color reflected onto your actor from the background) that
can’t be removed in post, blue is less noticeable to the human eye than green.
You should at least play around a bit with blue screen and see if it does what
you need for your film.
Since green is still going to be the color that’s going to work for many
of our readers most of the time, for simplicity we will simply refer to all color-keying technology as “green screen” unless we are referring to an actual
blue screen.
So now we get into the question of whether you should purchase or
build your green screen. There is no one right answer, but certain factors
can help you decide.
The first factor is what you’re going to be using green screen technology to do. Are you going to use it to delete a few buildings, trucks, or light
poles from an otherwise usable shot? Or are you going to completely get

To Buy or To Build a Green Screen

rid of all naturally occurring landscape? In the former case, you’re typically
going to want to buy a collapsible green screen, because, as the name implies,
collapsible green screens are designed to be taken down and put up quickly
and with minimal hassle, which makes them ideal for removing a few background elements but leaving the rest of the environment intact. (HBO’s
Game of Thrones is a great example; sky and other elements were covered up
with portable green screens, while the rest of the environment was filmed
as is.) If you want to completely remove all natural elements, you’re probably going to need to build a green screen studio of some sort. Although
there are some companies that will build professional green screen studios
for you, the cost is likely going to be outside your price range. That means
you’ll have to put in the elbow grease yourself. But when you’re done, you’ll
be able to place your actors in virtually any environment, from outer space
to Discworld and everywhere in between (as exemplified in Ang Lee’s Life
of Pi).
A second factor is whether you want green screen to be a small part of
one film or a permanent component of your filmmaking repertoire. If your
use will be minimal, a purchased, collapsible green screen is a great choice;
it’s not terribly expensive and won’t take up much space when you’re not
using it. But if you’re planning to do a lot of green screen work, you should
seriously consider building a green screen studio—and ideally getting a collapsible green screen as well.
You have other options beyond these basic rules of thumb. For example,
you can patch together a few purchased portable green screens to create a
green screen studio, or you can make your own foam-and-paint portable
green screen to remove unwanted background segments. (In fact, the movie
The True Story of Hammond VanOchre and His Amazing Flying Steam Pig—
more on which later—used a number of such makeshift green screens for
just this purpose.)
Now let’s get into the options for both purchased and built green screen


Popular Options for Purchasing a Green Screen


and they suit your needs, buying green screens is
usually your best bet. Their professionally treated coloration makes it easier
to get a uniform key off them. Different manufacturers offer slightly different shades of green (and blue); you’ll want to go with a darker shade to
guard against overlighting problems. Overlighting happens more often with
green screens than many people think, and the lighter the shade of green,
the easier it is to wash out the color and make the green screen harder to key.
A darker shade of green gives you more latitude before you start washing out
the color.
With that said, let’s look at the available options. (Where possible, I
mention the cost range. Unless there is an exclusive seller of things, I usually
will use “B&H”—i.e., B&H Photo and Video—as an example of where you
can buy things, because I’ve had good success with them and they specialize
in film and photography. You can probably find most of these items at local
retailers or online at Adorama or Amazon, as well.)


Rolled Cloth Backdrop and Stand
The rolled cloth and stand can be a great fit for many low-budget filmmakers, because it’s fairly portable and can usually be rolled out to go under the
actors’ feet, thus creating a cyclorama effect. (This will be covered more fully
in the next chapter, but the cyclorama effect is achieved with a curving wall
of green that goes from the wall of the green screen to the floor so that there
are no hard edges for shadows to get caught in, which are very hard to key
properly.) Manufacturers range from lower-budget companies like Square
Perfect to larger companies like Westcott or Matthews Studio Equipment.
(To my surprise, these are no longer offered by Rosco—the industry standard in gels, filters, and green screen backgrounds—who discontinued their
DigiComp cloth, although they do still create their DigiComp HD paint,
which we’ll mention again in our next section.)
Although you might be tempted to look for the least expensive roll
of green screen cloth you can find, it’s important to keep the thickness of
the cloth in mind. By and large, you want thick cloth because it can hold a
deeper green color without getting washed out, is much less likely to wrinkle, and is also less likely to tear. Some companies make backdrops out of
muslin, which, in my experience, is far too thin and wrinkly to do a decent
job. Westcott makes a wrinkle-resistant, heavy-duty green screen backdrop
that’s impressed me due to its stretchy Lycra fabric that pulls out wrinkles
and its felt-like surface that minimizes hotspots. (You can get a 9' × 10'
backdrop with rod pocket and grommets for less than $70.)
For more rugged options (and a bigger hike in cost), Matthews Studio
Equipment offers a special light-diffusing green screen/blue screen reversible fabric with a foam-core backing to prevent wrinkling. While they can
custom-create sizes for you, popular pre-made sizes with stitched edges and
corner ties range from $300 for a 6' × 6' piece to $1,200 for a 20' × 20' piece
(although many of their sellers offer discounts of up to one-third off those
Portable Flexscreens
A portable flexscreen is probably the answer for most filmmakers who do

Green Screen Made Easy

Popular Options for Purchasing a Green Screen

Model: Richard Rio

(Their 6' × 7' blue/green reversible
screens run about $240 and are pretty
durably built.)

A flexscreen can easily be taken with you and assembled behind your talent.
Westcott is currently the only manufacturer that makes one with a green border
(as opposed to the black one shown here).

not need full-length body shots. These screens pop open from a collapsed
state, much like Photoflex reflector screens or those pop-out camping tents.
While they can be a huge pain to re-collapse, overall they are extremely
convenient. They can be stored almost anywhere; the material tends to be
heavier than most cloth rolls; the frame stretches the fabric tight, so there
are very few wrinkles; and most screens are green on one side and blue on
the other, so that you can use one screen for both green screen and blue
screen work. Flexscreens can be bought for $60 to $400 from ImageWest,
Lastolite, Photoflex, and Westcott.
As useful as flexscreens are, many of them have an Achilles’ heel: a black
border. Why anyone would ever have created a green screen with a black
border is beyond understanding, as any shots that show the entire screen
must have the black frame rotoscoped out. Westcott is the only manufacturer I’ve found that makes a collapsible green screen with a green border.

X-Drop Backgrounds
Currently developed and released
exclusively by Westcott, these backgrounds are a hybrid of fabric and
stand with the simplicity of a flexscreen. The X-Drop uses a pop-out
stand that looks like two tripods
arranged in an hourglass pattern, and
The Westcott X-Drop combines
flexscreen portability with a built-in
the arms of this device stretch a swatch
stand and no border.
of green screen fabric into a self-supporting 5' × 7' rectangle without any additional supports needed and without a black edge around it. (Due to the slightly stretchy fabric used and
the tension system utilized, however, there is a 5–6 inch gap between the
bottom of the cloth and the floor. While this can easily be dealt with if you
bring along some chroma key paper or chroma key gaffers tape, it’s something to keep in mind.)
When it’s not being used, the entire setup packs into a narrow drawstring bag that’s 7" wide by 3" high and 3' long.

The X-Drop sets up where you need it, although be aware that it has a small gap
between the floor and the bottom. (Reprinted with permission from Westcott.)


Green Screen Made Easy

The material itself is thicker than most cloth backdrops, but not as thick
or wrinkle-resistant as a portable flexscreen or the 9' × 10' Wescott backdrop we mentioned earlier. While it could stand to be a little more rugged,
its flexibility, portability, and incorporated stand make it really attractive
and worth checking out, especially since it’s quite a bit cheaper than a similarly sized Westcott flexscreen (which doesn’t include a stand). As of the
time of this printing, their 5' × 7' X-Drop green screen is pricing at $120 vs.
$200–$250 for the Westcott flexscreens in this size range. (Blue screen isn’t
available at this time, however.)



some of the possibilities for building your own green
screen. We’ve included both more permanent setups involving painted
walls, cloth backdrops, and a full studio, and more portable options, like
foam-core boards and the portable vinyl green screen.
We’ll mainly focus on homebuilt and mixed options but will also cover
purchasable components like paint, tape, and cyclorama fabric. There are
often distinct advantages to going with professional supplies.

Creating Green Screens with Rolled Paper
Lots of art supply stores sell rolls of green paper ranging from 3' to 8' wide
(typically for as little as $25 to $30 for a 4' × 200' roll). With a little work,
you can build a stand that holds the paper on a spool so you can pull it down
behind the actors, just as photographers do with rolled backdrops. You can
easily pull down enough of the roll so that the actor can stand on the paper
and be shot at full body length. If the roll is fairly narrow, be sure your talent’s hands or body don’t move past the edges of the green paper.
In addition to the traditional roll setup, you can tear off sheets of this
paper and tape them to a wall with colored painter’s tape or Chroma Key
Green gaffers tape by companies like Green Screen Systems (formerly
TubeTape) or Savage to create a larger green screen. (Savage also makes 8'
× 36' rolls of “Techgreen” background paper for around $50 from sellers
like B&H.)
Painted Green Screens Using Walls, Flats, and Foam Core
You’ll typically use paint when you’re working on something that’s designed


Green Screen Made Easy

Building Your Own Green Screen

You can also make chroma key paint yourself. Tom Stern, one of our
staff writers at MicroFilmmaker Magazine, went through the arduous process of calibrating his camera to color swatches he found at Lowe’s and then
painstakingly sampling each color in Photoshop to see which generated
the most-pure green and the least gray. At the end of his testing, the mix
he came up with that yielded the most-pure green was a matte-finish latex
house paint made by Olympic/CCA called “Botanical Green.” A gallon
goes for about $10 to $15. Don’t forget that you’ll normally need two coats
of paint to get a good, even finish.

A cyclorama is a permanent green screen studio space that has a gentle curve between
the wall and the floor.

to be permanent, like the walls of a studio or a cyclorama. This isn’t always
the case, though. Paint can also serve for more temporary options, such as
flats or foam core. Flats are usually large pieces of canvas built into rugged
wooden frames and are great for creating a movable studio scenario that
will allow you to put your green screens into more 3D layouts. Foam core
is fairly cheap and light, so it can be used to create truly portable solutions.
Unfortunately, it’s also pretty easy to ding up, so you’ll always want to have
some paint handy on location for touch-ups.
You can buy professional chroma key paint, or you can make your own.
Only a couple of manufacturers make green screen or blue screen paint.
Green Screen Systems makes some (although only green, not blue) at about
$60 a gallon, but a lot of professionals prefer Rosco, which sells for between
$75 and $100 a gallon. According to the folks at Rosco, their paint is formulated to require only one coat, which means, in theory, that you should
be able to cover twice the surface area with it as with a gallon of the GSS
paint. Green Screen Systems states that you can cover 300 square feet per
gallon, so we would presume the Rosco paint would double that. However,
Rosco doesn’t publish coverage statistics, so that can’t be confirmed.

Creating and Hanging Your Own Cloth Backdrop
Rummage through your local cloth purveyors’ stores and see if you can find
cloth that’s a true green, that’s pretty heavy, and that’s not too shiny. Take
along a swatch of the Botanical Green mentioned earlier to test cloth colors
against. You want to avoid fabrics with designs stitched into them and ones
that are textured, like velvet. Once you’ve found a good fabric—probably
a good high-thread-count broadcloth or muslin that you can’t shine light
through—get as much of it as you think you’ll need. Remember that you’ll
probably be having your actors stand 6' to 10' away from the background
cloth, so you’ll need enough to stretch that far. Ask to have a spare fabric
tube stapled to one end of the cloth; the heavy-duty cardboard roller will
make a great spindle for your backdrop. If that’s not possible, get a heavyduty dowel rod that is about 2' to 3' longer than the width of your fabric. Be
sure to either staple or nail one end of the fabric to the dowel or sew a rod
pocket in the top of the fabric that the dowel can go through, so that the
fabric can’t come loose at the end.
Now you simply need to buy or construct some sort of backdrop support
for the ends of the dowel or the tube. You can purchase backdrop support
kits that are made from aluminum with an aluminum crossbar for between
$80 to $260 from B&H. Or, more simply (and cheaply), you can affix loops
of wire or rope to the ceiling or the top of the wall and slip the ends of the
rod through the loops. For smoother rolling with a fabric tube, slip a dowel
through the tube to create a rotating crossbar. For a more advanced setup,

Green Screen Made Easy

Common household products can be employed to create a surprisingly
sturdy vinyl green screen.

you can build a stand with dowels screwed into wide squares of wood at the
base. Any form of U-shaped top piece can then serve to hold your dowel or
roller. (With a little ingenuity, you can affix a pair of U-hook crossbar holders, which run between $10 to $20 from B&H.) Use sandbags on the bases
of homemade holders like this to keep the stand stable.
However you go about suspending your backdrop rod, you now have a
background that can be rolled down and then rolled back up when you’re
done shooting.

Building Your Own Green Screen

homemade alternative in this walkthrough. Feel free to use whichever best
fits your budget.)
To pull this off, you’ll start with an 8' × 12' vinyl flooring remnant,
which you can find at just about any home improvement store for about
$50. (You can get these cut to size, but you’ll usually be spending at least $85
if you do that.) Or see if your local flooring wholesaler needs to get rid of
any horrendous looking patterned vinyl flooring that isn’t selling well. You’ll
be painting the back of the flooring, so it doesn’t matter how obnoxious the
front is, and you may be able to snatch up a really great deal.
The flooring needs to be heavy enough not to wrinkle or crease easily
(because if you put a crease in linoleum, it’s there forever), and you’ll need
a uniform green color that is as close to what the camera perceives as pure
green as possible and as opaque as possible.
Here’s what you’ll need and the approximate costs:

The Portable Vinyl Green Screen
If you don’t want to struggle with something as fragile as paper, don’t want
to try to keep foam from getting beaten up, and have found cloth too difficult to keep wrinkle-free, you can create a portable, roll-up green screen
that’s pretty durable, virtually wrinkle-free, and can be cleaned fairly easily.
We chatted with a few different green screen technicians and came up
with a simple how-to guide for building your own portable green screen
for $60. This version is larger than most of the portable screens on the market (as well as being much easier to set up and collapse), and it creates a
soft curve at the floor so you won’t have any harsh shadows. (While professional chroma key paint can be used, we’re listing the more economical

8' × 12' roll of vinyl flooring remnant ($50)
1 gallon of matte latex house paint, mixed to the color Botanical
Green ($11)
1 roller paint brush ($5); I used an extendable one that made it much
easier to do this project
1 paint pan ($2)
A roll of large garbage bags ($2)
A clean, wide cardboard tube (which they give free with linoleum
purchases at most hardware stores)
Some duct tape or, preferably, gaffers tape (gaffers tape is as strong as
duct tape but doesn’t leave residue when removed)

You will need to find a work space large enough to allow you to lay out
an 8' × 12' roll of vinyl in order to paint it. If you are in a dry environment,
doing this outside will be fine. If you are in a location with high humidity or
inclement weather, you’ll need to find an indoor space.

Lay out trash bags as a spill guard below your roll of vinyl.

Green Screen Made Easy

When painting, be sure to do it in clean bare feet or wear booties so as not to get dirt or creases on
your vinyl siding.


Unroll the vinyl so that the backing is face up.
Stir the gallon of paint and pour a decent amount into the paint pan.
Paint the backing evenly with one coat of paint. You’ll probably want
to do this in bare feet or booties to keep dirt off the screen as you
Let the paint dry for at least four hours before moving the green
screen. Ideally, you don’t want to move the screen at all until the second coat has dried, but if that’s not feasible, after four hours you can
loosely roll the vinyl up, tape the top flap down, and let it dry standing up for another 16 to 20 hours or so.
Approximately 20 to 24 hours later, paint a second coat on the screen,
being careful to make the coat as even as possible.
Allow the second coat to dry for another 20 to 24 hours.
After it is completely dry, wrap the green screen around the cardboard tubing (or you can also use 6-inch diameter PVC pipe) and
tape the edge of the vinyl to the roll with packing or duct tape. Don’t
try cinching bungee cords around the roll (at least not for the first
14 days or so); this can cause the latex paint to adhere to the front
side of the vinyl flooring. The first time I made one of these screens, I
made the mistake of not using an internal roller and secured the roll
closed with bungee cords. I ended up creating an unrollable, vinylgreen Tootsie Roll out of the whole thing!

Building Your Own Green Screen

Now you can take your new green screen wherever you need it. After it’s
completely dry, it’s fairly rugged, although, if you’re not permanently installing it somewhere, you will want to keep it on the cardboard roll whenever
it’s not being used.
In order to rig a hanging version, you can fit reinforced grommets into
the sides of the green screen and then attach it to rafters or other highplaced tie-down spots. Or you can use flooring staples to staple one edge
of the screen to the cardboard roll you rolled your screen around and hang
it from a suspended rod slipped through the pipe. This will give you a window-shade green screen, which can be very useful.
Building a Cyclorama Green Screen Studio
If you plan on doing a lot of intensive green screen work and you have the
space for it, building a cyclorama green screen studio is a really smart idea. A
cyclorama is made with a green screen that curves from the wall to the floor
so that there are no sharp corners or edges. This allows for more flexibility in
your keys and cleaner keys, since sharp edges catch shadows in an unnatural
way and show up as dark lines that are difficult to key properly.
There is a great deal of confusion about how much space you need for
a green screen studio. For optimal results, you will want your actors to be at
least 6' from your green screen wall, and then you will want your camera to
be at least 6' feet from the actors for medium shots. For long shots, you will
need to be as much as 12' to 22' from the subject, depending on the lens and
the height of the actor. This means that, as a bare minimum, you need an
area at least 6' wide by 12' long, but ideally 12' wide by 30' long.
As you can imagine, folks who live in a single-room apartment are probably not going to be able to build a green screen studio at their residence.
I’ve seen some innovators who have painted their apartments green and
managed to get some fairly decent results, but that’s very difficult. You really
need to have a good-sized two-car garage, a large room in a Southern-style
house, or some sort of rented studio or office space you can convert into a
green screen studio. Or you can try contacting local colleges and universities, especially community colleges. With the growing popularity of green

screen work, many colleges want to
offer some sort of facility for this for
their students and might be willing
to let you construct a studio on their
property in exchange for them being
able to let their students use it. You
can often work out a deal where some
of the students will intern with your
production company to help you
build the studio, which is a great way
to get free labor and might lead you
to find someone worth working with
Three-wall seamless cyclorama with 16
feet to the grid. (Director: Tiffany Dang.
in the future.
Company: Artemis Entertainment. Photo
by: David Torno.)
To create a cyclorama setup in
your studio space, you could use
cloth rolls, but this normally isn’t the best option for a permanent studio
for low-budget filmmakers. Most cloth can wrinkle fairly easily, gets dirty
quickly, and is hard to join seamlessly with other pieces to make a backdrop.
The better way to back a low-budget cyclorama is with five of the portable vinyl green screens described earlier. The great thing about this setup is
that it’s fairly inexpensive, yet it’s resistant to wrinkling and as easy to clean
as your wall. Depending on whether you get remnants (which is cheaper)
or have your local hardware store cut it to order, you’ll be spending between
$250 to $450 to get five rolls of 8' × 12' flooring, which is enough to give you
a 32'-wide panorama that’s 8' high and has a cyc-curved floor that extends
3½' from the wall. In the central area, you’ll have an extended floor 12' wide
and 8' deep, for an effective long shot stage that extends 11' from the rear
wall. (The following illustration shows the layout for a 24' cyclorama. The
32' one would include four panels on the wall instead of three.)
Affix a bar of a soft, sturdy wood like pine about 8' up on each of the
walls you intend to use as green screen walls. Then, using screws about 1" to
1½" longer than the wood bar’s thickness, attach the edge of the vinyl flooring—with the painted side facing out—to the wall by driving the screws

Building Your Own Green Screen

Model: Hope Dang.

Green Screen Made Easy

To expand this 24’-wide basic cyclorama to a 32’ one, simply add one more vinyl green screen to the
side and slide the front stage over until it’s centered.

through the wood bar into the wall studs behind. (You can pick up inexpensive stud finders from companies like Stanley for $20 or less. For additional tips on locating wall studs, search online for “how to find wall studs.”)
Because the vinyl can tear, be careful not to screw through it at its very edge;
leave an inch or two above the screws to be on the safe side.
Now unroll the vinyl down the wall. It will naturally form a cyclorama
curve at the bottom. Affix the vinyl to the floor with a heavy-duty construction adhesive like Liquid Nails, traditional nails, or screws, making sure to
keep the cyclorama curve consistent. Proceed with each roll like this, making sure that the rolls’ edges line up with one another. For the final touch,
unroll the last roll and affix it to the floor in front of the bottom edges of the
other rolls. This last roll forms your extended green screen stage.
If you would prefer to create a painted cyclorama stage, you will need
to construct some sort of curved piece of wood, plastic, or plaster for where
the wall and floor meet. Then you can paint your space with either homemade green screen paint or one of the professional paints such as those from
Rosco and Green Screen Systems.


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