Have you ever wondered how folks get photos of themselves climbing Mount Everest in their swimsuit or hanging out with famous folks, even though you know they hardly leave the couch? With a little green screen magic, you can make your dreams virtually… reality!
The green screen itself is simple. It’s just a large sheet of green fabric! The magic happens when you apply technology, using Chroma key compositing, or chroma keying, to apply visual effects. You’ll shoot your photos or video in front of the green screen, then use some ‘post-production’ techniques to to create composite media, where you manipulate a photo or video and combine images to replace parts of one image with another. Basically, we’ll take all the green in our photos or video and make it transparent so we can layer behind, replacing the boring green with a new image — something more interesting (and possibly improbable!)
Why green? Usually green is to go-to color for chroma key techniques because it doesn’t match a natural skin tone or hair color. It’s generally easy to distinguish from the rest of a scene. However, in cases where green might be used in a costume, prop, etc, you could use a different color. You’ll often see ‘blue screens’ used as well. In fact, Larry Butler used his “blue-screen travelling matte process” for special effects in the film The Thief of Bagdad in 1940 — credited as the first usage of proper chroma key processing.
Step 1: The vision
Let’s get started! First things first — what’s your vision or dream? In a recent project, we wanted to bring a little STEM / technology to Family Fitness Night at a local elementary school. Dancing in Space! It’s great exercise and tons of fun (provided you can hold your breath while you’re groovin’ through the universe!). Our concept was simple and perfectly suited for use with the green screen as a background.
Step 2: The Setup & Capture
For Dancing in Space, we used the green screen as our background and setup the video recording with a laptop via Open Broadcaster Software or OBS. This software lets you “Chroma Key” the live video stream so that we could display the results to the kids, which works great for projects like this, news reports, or live-streaming gaming sessions online. We had an extra display/monitor setup so the kids could see themselves in space as they danced (the software has settings built-in that allow you to set any color in your video to transparent, so you can layer another image behind.
If you don’t need the live feedback, the you’ll just take your photo or capture your video and do all the magic in ‘post-production’ and layer, edit, & composite all your images later. There are also some phone/tablet apps which will allow you to edit your photos with a green screen background right on your phone.
Step 3: The Magic
Since we let the software & technology do all the heavy lifting for Dancing in Space, all we had to do was add a soundtrack to go from Boring to OUT OF THIS WORLD!
Once you have your video or photos, you can use a variety of image or video editing software to manipulate your original footage — some of which you can find at your library!
Students in particular love working with the green screen to learn about weather (“Reporting live from the eye of the storm!”), fitness, astronomy & space, and so much more – the only limit is your imagination!
Once you’ve got the green screen basics down, you can use other techniques to enhance your visual storytelling, like draping objects or people in green (or your chroma key color of choice!) to replace them with digital objects during the editing process.
To get started on your green screen adventure, visit or contact your library to learn more about how to reserve or borrow a MakerTools green screen.