The New Dracast Studio
We finally finished it. For the last couple of months a few of us here at the Dracast office have been working hard on a brand new green screen production studio. We decided that since we shoot so many product photos and blog videos each week, that having to set up and tear down equipment again and again was becoming tiresome and time consuming. So, after about 73 trips to the hardware store, and more than a handful of late nights equipped with our tool belts, we can finally say that we've finished.
Now, this was a project that had been on our to-do list for quite a while. We didn't just jump into it blindly. There was a lot of homework and preparation that had to be done before we ever lifted a hammer or hung a lighting grid. With that in mind, I've decided to do a quick write up touching on a few of the details of our project, and throw in a few tips about working with green screens.
I know that just like us, a lot of people in our industry have a studio like this somewhere on their to-do list, and before you get to the day that you break ground on yours, I recommend that you take the time to get your hands on all the helpful information you can! It'll save you a lot of unnecessary trips to the hardware store!
We we're fortunate enough to start with a large empty room with high ceilings. So our first order of business was to cut the size of the room in half with a partition wall that would eventually become our green screen cyc wall. For this we used 12' 2x4 wall studs to frame a 12'H x 20'W partition.
To reinforce the wall and make it sure it was sturdy enough, we drove plenty of nails through the bottom plate into the concrete foundation and used high tension guy wires to secure the top plate to studs in the high ceiling. This was an especially important step since this wall is technically a free-standing structure.
After our frame was finished, we covered it in 4x8 drywall sheets. You'll notice in the picture that the drywall sheets are turned vertically (rather than the normal horizontal way). This was done to strategically place the visible seams that we would have to cover up in our next step.
After a few of rounds of touch up mud and sanding, we were ready for paint.
Once we were sure that we weren't going to be able to make our wall any smoother or more seamless, we were ready to start painting.
The first order of business was to make sure that we selected the correct green for our green screen. Technically speaking, you can use any color you want for chroma keying (which is why you sometimes see blue screens). Bright green however, is typically used because it has the greatest contrast with skin tones, and if you're going to start removing colors from your shot, you don't want to start accidentally removing parts of people too!
We had looked up specialty "green screen paint" on Google, but it was definitely the most expensive option, and there didn't seem to be much difference between it and a can of Behr indoor flat. By the way, the "flat" part is important! If you're using a paint with any amount of gloss to it you're going to end up with massive hotspots and a huge amount of color spill (where green reflects or "spills" out onto whatever it is you're shooting). So remember to use flat/matte green paint.
So, with all of this in mind, we went to the hardware store and compared several different green paint samples looking for that perfect shade of green. In the end, what worked for us was a roll of "Island Lime Green Duck Tape". Seriously. I grabbed a roll off the shelf and asked the paint guy if he could color match it. The color code on the can is there on the right, so if you need an awesome shade of "green screen green" there you have it! It's worked out great for us!
THE CYC WALL AND FLOOR
Once our wall had its first coat of primer and paint, it was time to add in the cyc wall. If you don't know what a cyc wall is, it's basically a curve that erases the point where the wall meets the floor and creates a smooth, seamless transition instead of a visible corner.
There are a million tutorial videos on how to build your own cyc wall that are already on YouTube, so I won't go into the fine details of construction here. We used curved cutouts of 3/8" plywood spaced out at 2 feet and framed with 2x4 boards. After that was finished, we laid a very thin MDF board over the frame and sanded both edges to a taper. Finally, another round of mud and tape and sanding made the whole thing ready for a second coat of paint.
We rolled the paint out from the bottom edge of the cyc wall onto the concrete floor several feet in order to give ourselves more distance from the back wall. This brings up another important point: When you're working with a green screen you're going to have color spill, you can't avoid it. You can however minimize it by distancing your subject roughly 8 (or more) feet away from your screen. If your screen isn't big enough for this just remember you can always use a "garbage matte" when editing.
THE LIGHTING AND GRID
The first step in lighting our green screen was giving ourselves a framework to hang lights from. We decided against using something as heavy-duty as box truss and instead went with the DIY hardware store solution. We purchased 1.5" black pipe cut and threaded for the dimensions of our studio. The pipes were connected using t-joints and elbow joints and the whole grid was dropped from the ceiling by attaching threaded flanges to the beams in the ceiling. Finally, we reinforced everything by attaching redundant safety straps to every piece of hanging grid. Remember when doing something like this yourself to attach redundant safety straps to anything suspended in the air. This includes any truss or lights or whatever. Don't risk it.
Once the grid was in place and we had something to hang lights from we got right to work. Working from the green screen backward, we started with four Dracast LED2000 Bi-Color lights directly above the green screen pointed down. This gives us a nice bright, even wash on our wall.
Remember those drywall sheets that were hung vertically instead of horizontally earlier? Well these first four lights are why we did that. Shadows are a lot easier to work with when they're parallel to your light source. Perpendicular seams are a lot less forgiving when you're trying to make them completely invisible. In fact, if you look closely at the picture on the right, you can make out the horizontal seams, but not the vertical ones. It's a small detail, but worth pointing out.
Next, we added a row of six Dracast LED2000 Bi-Color lights at a distance of roughly 8-10 feet from the wall. This effectively filled in any shadows that were left on the wall, and also provides some fill lighting for your subject as well.
When all was said and done, we used sixteen LED2000s set at 4400K color temperature, running on a generic 512 DMX controller.
With the hard work behind us, all we had left were cosmetic improvements. We added modular foam flooring tiles so that we weren't walking on bare concrete floor. We threw in some tables, chairs, and a bunch of camera and grip gear so that we'd be well equipped for any shoot. We probably still have several improvements left to make that we're not even aware of yet...but that's how it always goes.
The bottom line is: Projects like this take a bit planning, and a lot of work. More work than we had anticipated actually! But, with the right information and the right tools at your disposal, you'll be better equipped and better prepared to check this project off your list too. I hope that reading about our experience was helpful. If it was, pass it along to others that might want to take a look.
Also, if you need help with green screens, and of course, lighting, visit our website or call our office at 408.229.9222. We'd love to help.