Post-Production : Green Screen Vs Sets on shooting Period. by Francisco Casals

Francisco Casals

Green Screen Vs Sets on shooting Period.

Green screen technology seemed to have greatly advanced in the last decade but always varies from film to film and from TV show to TV show (Don't you HATE when you notice the background is a green screen?). I have 2 questions:
1. What in post-production determines a green screen effect to come out PERFECT or flawed? The budget? The equipment used to film? The technology used for CGI and such? Specific companies or countries that do it better?
2. If the film's story take places in early 1990s NYC, since the landscape and smog has changed so much since then, how to bring that back to life? Taking in consideration that I don't want footage from that period since is very hard to match a today's footage. What are the best options?

David Trotti

Francisco,
I've done a lot of VFX heavy shows and a lot of Green/Blue screen work. The biggest determining factor in why some shows look better than others usually comes down to the experience and talent of the core VFX team, then the budget, then the vendors selected for the various elements, usually in that level of importance. You need to start with a solid team with a proven track record and a reel that shows they can achieve the look and feel you're after or no matter what you spend or how good your vendors are you'll be disappointed.
It's definitely possible to recreate a time and place effectively using a combination of practical set pieces, set extensions and full virtual set builds. But unless you can do it yourself or have a good friend who's a master VFX artist willing to work cheap, every ala carte item is going to add to the total bill. If you want a locked-off shot where your actors are in a real location but the skyline is being replaced, that's cheap and easy. If you want to walk your characters through Times Square circa 1990 with a full 3D CG city and cars and move the camera, its going to be pricey.
I'm going to assume you're asking from an Indie film perspective, which means your budget for the whole film is under a million. In that case, your best bet is probably to license high quality stills and turn them into plates in the resolution you intend to shoot in, animate them and then find practical locations to put you actors in and match your angles to the available plates to composite them with. Then layer in light effects, atmospheric smoke and LUTs to reach the look your going for. You might even be able to do nodal moves effectively. Do tests before shooting to check your methodology and pipeline. Never assume something is going to work. Do tests and Previz your VFX on your own time before the clock starts ticking when you have a crew and cast standing around or in post when there's no fixing the unfixable.
Best wishes on the project.

JD Hartman

Boardwalk Empire, heard of it? Many location shots were filmed using existing streets and buildings in Brooklyn and the Bronx. If they can find locations that match the 30's how hard will it be to find those that match the 90's?

Francisco Casals

DAVID, excellent feedback! It gave me a better perspective, since my background is in fashion and commercial photography direction. I'm developing my own script to be my debut film as a film director. The estimated budget for the film is 5MM but if we are picked by a big studio I'd like another 4-5MM for international marketing and distribution. I believe that's reasonable for a high quality post production, I'm a detailed oriented person and demanding for which I understand the importance of surrounding yourself with a talented crew, dept directors and cast in order to deliver an A+ product.
I'm inclined to use a combination of real location with a green backdrop to be replaced in post with an animated vintage photo or footage. Most of my scenes are indoors, I think I only have 2 or 3 scenes with characters interacting in exterior, the majority will be AERIAL shots of 1992 NYC to establish location and moods.
JD, yes I have heard of it but I've never been interested to watch the show, I only know a bit here and there in the online news. The problem is not about finding buildings from the early 90s, as I previously stated I only have few scenes outside, I need AERIAL shots for establishing location and moods. Back in the day, Manhattan landscape was very different (the twin towers existed), the city smog, there's no way to fake that unless heavy CGI is involved... or not.

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