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Category Archives: Special FX

Certain types of special effects and how one might go about using them.

We’ve all wanted to clone ourselves at one point or another.  Well, thanks to our crazy technology, now you can!  Well, at least on the movie screen.  This is the cloning effect, as seen in my film ‘The Many Faces of Todd.’  This is a pretty cool effect, and it’s not too difficult.  What will you need for this effect?

  • Camera
  • Tripod or flat, stable surface
  • Editing software that allows for multiple layers and can crop footage
  • Actor

The key to this effect is keeping a stable, constant shot.  You’ll want to make sure you plan for this in advance (as you should with all of your shots).  What you will need to do, is first make sure your camera is secured on the tripod (or a stable surface).  Now that your camera is stablized, it’s time to look at your scene.  You may want to turn your camera on so you can see where everything is on screen.  You’ll want to either draw an imaginary line down the middle of the set, or you can use some masking (as long as it’s out of your shot).  This will be the line your actor isn’t allowed to cross.  Once everything is in place, you are ready to start filming.

Have your actor stand on one side of the screen and do whatever you have planned.  Then, without touching the camera at all, just have your actor move to the other side of screen to finish doing what you have planned.  Note:  it’s very important to not touch the camera once you have started filming.  If you stop the camera, you will most likely bump it in the slightest bit, throwing off your entire shot.

After you have your footage, it’s time to bring it in to your editing software.  You’ll want to cut your footage so that you will end up with two clips; one for both your actor and their “clone”.  Now that you have two clips, it’s time to layer your clips.  Just drag one on top of the other.  This is where the cropping comes in.  You will want to crop the clip that is on top of the other one, so that it is only about half of what you had before.  In other words, crop it to your imaginary line that you had earlier when you shot your footage.  Now you should see the other actor on the other side of their self!  This is what you should start to see:

Screenshot from The Many Faces of Todd

Screenshot from The Many Faces of Todd

There you have it.  Cloning in a much less scientific way.  Cheaper, too!

Have fun!


Probably one the most used techniques would be green screening.  It allows you to put your actor in front of virtually anything.  Green screening isn’t too hard to do but if you don’t follow a few simple steps, it won’t turn out right.
What do you need?

  • Green screen or wall that is painted green (needs to be a true green color)
  • About 4 or 5 lights
  • Editing program that has a “Keying” feature or “Chroma Key” and can have multiple layers of footage

To start off, you’ll need to setup your green screen.  A sheet works fine for this as long as it is the right color (see below.)  Why does it have to be green you ask?  Well, it can be either green or blue.  These are the colors farthest away from a person’s skin tone.  I prefer to use green, but blue will work fine as well.  Just pin it up to the wall.  However, make sure you leave enough room for lights, the camera, etc.  This technique takes up quite a bit of space.  After you have set up your screen, you’ll need to add in your lights.  This is probably the most crucial part of the process.  The whole point of the lighting is to eliminate any shadows that your actor puts off.  For the basics of what is known as “three point lighting”, click here. Three point lighting works, but I prefer four lights.  Rather than having one camera in front of the actor and two on either side of them, you would have two lights in front of your actor.  The more lights you have, the better you’ll be able to eliminate shadows.  Here is how my setup usually goes:

Setup of green screen

Setup of green screen

(Despite the color on the image, the screen should be close to this color green)

True Green Color

As you see, there are two lights to either side of the actor, along with two in front of them.  You’ll also notice a fifth light above the actor.  Now, if you don’t have five lights to use, you can still get away with only using four (three point lighting plus the light above your actor.)  If you need lights, Home Depot sells work lights that are perfect for this.  They go for about $40 a lamp.  When it comes to lighting, that’s pretty cheap.  After you’ve setup your lighting, all there is left to do is film.

Once you have the film you need, it’s time to go into the editing part of it all.  You’ll need a program that can edit out all of the green.  I use MAGIX Movie Edit Pro 12 which is a rather nice program for the price.  You can spend hundreds of dollars on programs that do similar things.  But anyway, once you’re in your editing program and you have imported your footage, you’ll need to find something called “Chroma Key”.  You should probably look up how to use the chroma key specifically for your program.

After all of that, you can put whatever you want in the background.  This would be where the multiple layers come in.  Just import your other footage or picture (or whatever you’re using) and put it on a layer behind your actor.

There you have it!  Green screening done easy.