The present and future of post production business and technology

How does keying technology change production? [Updated]

As regular readers will know, I spend a lot of time thinking about the future of production: how we will produce, fund, build audiences and get paid. One of the four questions we must answer is how to produce less expensively while maintaining the quality.

It’s becoming obvious to me that one solution is to use more blue and green screen. (Green is typically used for electronic production while blue is usually the choice for film acquisition.) I have been in the mindset that keying was “just for when it can’t be done live” situations: to create scenes that don’t exist; to put people into a scene that would be too dangerous real (like adjacent to live wild animals) but a recent viewing of Stargate Studios’ Virtual Back Lot reel set me thinking. The reel is definitely worth the viewing, but to realize that “regular” street shots and building exteriors were all being done with green screen in studios instead of  going on location is revealing.

Of course, smart shooting isn’t limited to keying – I understand that co-executive producer on Mad Men Scott Hornbacher suggested a combination of a sheet of glass and some black drapery to simulate the view from inside a train, instead of heading out to Travel Town for the shoot. The shot took minutes without the expense of setting up for an outdoor shoot. However, keying is more broadly applicable and such ingenuity, combined with some use of green screen, is demonstrated in the Stargate Studios’ reel: check the shot on (I think) the Warner lot of a “newstand” that was little more than a lean-to on the side of a convenient studio exterior.

Technologies that are going to dramatically reduce in price and complexity over the next couple of years will be improved green screen keying and virtual sets. A series could develop many of its sets as virtual sets, shooting in green screen most of the time and building a million dollar look for a lot less than that.

[Update] Thanks to Rob Shaver from the comments. Sanctuary did, indeed, shoot 70% green screen to reduce cost.







4 responses to “How does keying technology change production? [Updated]”

  1. Isn’t that exactly what “Sanctuary” did? I haven’t followed it closely but I think they still are heavily green screen shot on Red cameras.

    1. I wasn’t aware of that Rob, I’ll go check it out. Thanks.


  2. Here’s a bit of followup on virtual sets used on Sanctuary:

    Here are some photos from the set showing the green screen plate and then the finished comp.

    Articles that talk a bit about the virtual sets.

    “‘About 70 perecent of our sets are virtual’
    “There’s no way we can build a massive underground six-story laboratory filled with monsters,” Wood explains. “Just the line ‘filled with monsters’ would turn most studio executives into little blobs of Jell-O. Any time you create that kind of stuff, you can’t do it practically.””

    “The show is shot primarily on green screen, using virtual sets.
    “Building sets the size and the scope of the Sanctuary is nearly impossible,” said Tapping, who is also an executive producer of the show. “It gave us so much more freedom in terms of where we shot and how we shot, and places that we could go.””

    1. Great links, thank Rob.