Filming on a white background.
June 23, 2006 6:57 AM   Subscribe

How do I film a plain, white background with a couple of actors.

Think those Apple vs Mac adverts. I need to film some scenes like that.

This is a semi-amateur film, we'll have some decent equipment and lighting expertise. We're fillming either a couple of people or a group of people. Its not 'real' or life like. It can look studio lit. I'm planning on doing some testing but I'd like to get some input first. Everything i've read up on says avoid backlighting and white backgrounds... we're using DV to tape probably.

I'm asking what should I actually use? Paper, cloth, painted walls? A different colour? I dunno..
posted by daveyt to Media & Arts (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
For the background, the apple commercials probably use an infinity background. It curves up from the floor without showing a floor to wall seam. It usually looks something like this. There's probably a way to hack together something similar to hide the wall seam - maybe paint over some oak tag or something. The key is to have it completely the same shade white from top to bottom.
posted by FreezBoy at 7:10 AM on June 23, 2006

Oh, maybe you can do the same effect with some really long white vinyl window shades. That's sort of what's happening here
posted by FreezBoy at 7:14 AM on June 23, 2006

I saw a documentary over the weekend. When it would cut to the talking head closeups periodically, they were against a bright white background. It was so distracting. It jumped out at you almost like noise, making it tough to focus on the faces. Black may be cliche, but it's certainly more effective. If you're going to do white, Maybe you could tone it down somehow. It was just too stark.
posted by kookoobirdz at 7:46 AM on June 23, 2006

You need a seamless background with stands (as described) and lots of room in front of it.

You need the room so that the shadows generated by your lights aren't able to hit the vertical part of the background. The background paper should be extended along the floor for the actors to stand on. The transition between floor and wall should be as long as possible.

Additonal soft lights on the paper itself maybe required.
posted by Mitheral at 7:51 AM on June 23, 2006

freezBoy's guess is probably correct about the original ads use of an infinity background. I doubt you'll be able to get your hands on a large scale one though unless you've got some friends in nice production houses. My biggest suggestion to you is to get as big of a space as you can to do this in. (For instance, if you know anyone who has access to some kind of shop space, that would be ideal.) You're going to want a lot of separation between the background and your foreground. The more room you have the easier it is to keep the background evenly lit without interfering with your people in the foreground, obviously it can be done in smaller spaces, but the more room you have the easier it will be to set up lights and focus on getting the performance you want. Also, with more room you'll be able to create a deeper focus on your foreground subject leaving your background out of focus. This allows for any seems in your wall/fabric to be minimalised. Don't worry about getting a perfectly white background either, the best idea would be to use a color background and change it to white in post, this will give your image a flatter look at first but with a more even image to work with you'll be able to push it further with effects later. Another point is that you shouldn't worry about your silhouettes looking super black, since you're shooting on DV you can drop your black levels later in post. Good luck, green screen stuff can be tricky but the results are pretty rewarding.
posted by SteveFlamingo at 8:01 AM on June 23, 2006

Seamless background paper is probably your best option but if you have a larger group it may be too hard to film with the standard width seamless. Use a non wide angle lens to avoid showing areas outside the background. This means you will need a long space to shoot in.

The trick to using white seamless is even lighting on the background and ample lighting for the actors. If the background is overlit, it can look too bright compared to average skin-toned actors. You want to definitely meter this with a handheld reflective meter. Meter the background and also a gray card where the actors are. You can average the readings but it is better to try and adjust the lights to balance the reading. Use separate lighting for the background and the actors or it will be hell. This also means you will have to separate the two by a distance of at least 10 feet. Good luck!
posted by JJ86 at 8:09 AM on June 23, 2006

You don't say where you are, but there are usually cyclorama hard sets available in most large markets for rental. Years ago I rented time in a studio cyc at Home Shopping Network in Clearwater, Florida.

Call around to the larger production companies or cable or television stations in your area. They may have reasonable rental rates available, especially in the evenings.

The best part about renting time in an existing permanent studio is that they have most likely already spent a lot of time making the light even for television.
posted by tomierna at 9:23 AM on June 23, 2006

My ghetto method:

Seamless background paper is very inexpensive; you can get a nine-foot wide roll for about fifty bucks from many sources online (just google 'seamless backdrop paper'). (Be warned, though, that shipping tends to cost nearly as much as the paper does, because the rolls are necessarily an oddball size that UPS doesn't like to deal with.)

The stand doesn't need to cost a lot, either: go to a hardware store and get a long pipe to use to hold up the roll, a couple of big screwhooks to attach that to the ceiling of a garage or large basement or wherever you're shooting, and you're good to go. The paper doesn't last long and gets scuffed easily, but when it does you just tear off the damaged part and pull some more off the roll.

It won't do for large groups, but it'll handle a full-body two-shot or a medium three-shot just fine. It helps quite a bit if you have a high ceiling; it's still possible with a normal eight-foot ceiling, but the lighting and framing get pretty tricky. You could possibly put two rolls side-by-side for larger groups, and try to wipe out the seam between them digitally after the fact, but try to not put a person right in front of the seam, especially if they have frizzy hair or anything else that'd be difficult to matte out.

I don't shoot much video, but for still photos I find that just blasting as much light as possible onto the background works fine; just make sure you set your exposure for the people you're shooting, don't let the background light fool an auto-exposure camera into trying to compensate for all that white and making the people too dark. (This is probably what the sources you're reading are talking about when they say to avoid white backgrounds and backlighting.) I believe most consumer-grade videocameras give you only limited (if any) control over the exposure, so that might be something to watch out for. (Video's not my thing, though, so I could be wrong about that.)

Trying to shoot in a large space and hope the background will blur out, as SteveFlamingo suggests, won't look very good. I mean, it might look fine, but not seamless like you're thinking. Shooting on one color background and trying to digitally manipulate it to another color is also maybe not the best idea outside a "real" studio; decent greenscreen is surprisingly difficult to do, it needs very even lighting or tons of painstaking hand-work after the fact. Usually both.
posted by ook at 8:56 PM on June 23, 2006

ook, I wasn't saying that he should just use any background and shoot it in a large space. I was just trying to suggest that with more space it'll be easier to get the background color to blend together even further. On the different color background idea, I've done it before on a small scale (think head shot) and I got it to work on a level where I could do what I wanted with it. I did spend a lot of time with the footage in post though.
posted by SteveFlamingo at 8:50 AM on June 24, 2006

Ah, I see now about the large space -- sorry, I misunderstood you on first reading. (And that's definitely true; my basement "studio" is a bit too small, so I do wind up spending a lot of time trying to make up for lighting problems, whether it's backlight splashing onto the foreground or shadows showing up on the backdrop. The more room you have to work with, the better.)
posted by ook at 8:43 AM on June 25, 2006

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