Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Little Understood Secrets of Television Trickery - (and how to do it cheaply)

Ever wonder how the weather changes so quickly on TV?

OK, so we all know that the weather guys and gals are almost never accurate when they announce the future. Imagine if they were, wouldn't they be better stock market reporters?

All kidding aside though, have you ever seen a news report say on CNN, MSNBC, FOX or any channel for that matter where a live interview occurs? Typical examples are when the news has its so called "experts" chime in on a topic. These experts reside all over the country. So how do they get them on the air and live at that? To top it off, why is the weather that they are sitting in always different than the actual weather report of their location?
Recently I was visiting a buddy of mine that just so happens to be in the business of providing live link ups for just such interviews and purposes. He is a pretty smart fellow too. I suppose that's why he named his company"Live Link Ups".

So where's the magic? And just why is the weather always nice in the background of the individual being interviewed?
Really it's no magic at all. This is all done with Chroma Key or so called "green screen", "blue screen" and even in some cases other colors. The interviewee is not actually sitting in the location depicted by the background. They are actually sitting inside a nice little temperature controlled studio. Behind them is typically nothing other than a green or blue screen (or wall). Better yet, think about your local weather person on your local news. Just how do they "jump" into those satellite pictures that they use, or the weekly temperature forecast charts that are life size? This is all done with Chroma Key technology.
Of course when broadcasting live, it does take a bit of pretty expensive equipment to accomplish this nicely. Using a green or blue screen along with the proper equipment makes it easy to "implant" any image or video as a background. This of course is the "trickery" or magic that makes things not only look nice, but can give the sense of location that the "live feed" is coming in from.
Other upsides or benefits are that one has more control of bystanders not messing up the interview. This is simply because if the background happens to be video, it was shot at a time without any other equipment than a camera. Hence, no one stops to look at a camera anymore, but they will stop and try to get in the picture if they see a camera, all kinds of other equipment and yes, an anchor person. Just watch your local news when they are out and about on location. People always want their 15 seconds in the spotlight. The national morning programs actually exploit that simple fact.

So why even bring up such a trivial topic?
Well on my last visit to Live Link Ups, my buddy decided he needed to get some new backgrounds for his future clientele. So he asked me if I could help him, and take a couple of shots for him. So off we went and got us some nice background shots of office buildings. The neat thing about this is, they are still shots, not video. Talk about an inexpensive way to make things really pop.

Think about it, with a Canon Rebel XTi (the camera used) we can shoot as many shots (good or bad) as the memory chip will hold, and select the "cherries". We could expiriment to our heart's content in a very short time. We didn't have to haul heavy cameras, use up tape (or film in some cases), and most certainly we did not become the center of attraction to passers-by. Cool. We just looked like two dummies taking pictures of buildings. Little did the passers-by realize that these simple shots would be what they will see on live TV. Even cooler.
Of course he still will need to take these images and create a CD, yup a simple CD of pics that he can load any pic off of and with his equipment drive the image as the background. Neat.
What if you wanted to do the same thing, but cheaply?
Assuming you are not going to do live broadcast on TV, but rather for the internet, you can do it quite cheaply. There are plenty of products off the shelf for very little money (less than $100.00) that will let you do the same assuming you have a webcam. Some of these kits not only include the software to run on a PC, but also include a sheet (usually plastic) of green screen and even have a lapel microphone. So why not go for it if you are going to do webcasts and such. Get the whole enchilada and expiriment. Trust me, it's alot of fun and the only limit is your imagination.
There are a few things you will need to know to be successful at it though. Keep in mind that lighting and sound are very important to get some quality productions out. You can learn all about these concepts from a variety of people for free on YouTube for example. Or if you need products from software to goods for such purposes, you will find many suppliers and vendors by doing some simple google searches.
Here are just a few:

Most of all - Have Fun!

Andreas (Vader) Hohl - Imagineerest ;)

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