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The world according to the Blaine Brothers: green screen

Ben and Chris Blaine have their own opinions on green screen and keying. As filmmakers they want to ensure the actor's performance comes first.
We’ve got quite a bit of experience using green screen. And– I think my advice would be not to. But– Yeah. Yeah, actually, you know, from our point of view, most of the time we don’t really enjoy using green screen. You’re divorcing everything from how it is on set. You’re kind of, you know, so often, you can be in a situation where you’re like, great, we’ve shot you in this blank space. And it feels like you’re stood in a blank space and somebody has stuck something on behind you. Why does it feel like that? Because that’s the way that you’ve shot it. They haven’t been interacting with anything else. They’ve just been stuck in a weird green space.
One of the big problems that a lot of the time you get with green screen, is just trying to get rid of the edges. So it’s easy enough, you know, like getting your lighting set in the background so that that’s good enough to be able to key on. But then you get to the edge. And so then you’re trying to do loads of colour changes to try and make it look like you’re melding it into the background. So a lot of time, we actually prefer using roto. And, a lot of the time with green screen, you’ll end up having to use roto anyway. And so “Marley’s Ghosts,” we did everything.
And there’s a lot of stuff with ghosts walking through walls, walking through each other. And most of the time with that, that is actually– that’s all roto. There’s no green screen in it. With “Nina Forever,” we didn’t use any green screen. Partly that’s because we didn’t think we would necessarily going to need to. No. But also, there are some things where we definitely decided to go against it. So for instance, Nina’s leg, which was the main thing that we were definitely planning on having to do with the FX, rather than use a green sock to have to paint out, the lighting in it, it’s very low-key. It’s very dim.
And trying to get a key on a green sock probably wouldn’t work that well. So we used for the leg that we’re painting out, we used a white sock. Because, most of the time, she’s going to be against a white bed against white sheets. So the edge is always going to be– you know, you’re not having to fight against that edge because that’s white already. So then you’re just putting a white sheet over the top. Bit of roto, and that’s sorted. And then we actually found whilst we were shooting on set, we always wanted to try and give much more of an idea of the world outside than we could manage whilst we were shooting.
And we were never going to be able to do the set how we wanted to if we were using green screen for it. Because we’ve got net curtains over the windows, which feel really nice and give an extra layer of texture. But if we were using green screen– yeah, I don’t know. I don’t know what would have ended up remaining of those windows. And in terms of doing the lighting as well, it’s very, very soft lighting that’s bouncing off of poly boards outside. And generally, the windows just look white, or orange, actually, in the other side of the room.
And rather than trying to use green screen and trying to get this thing that looks really odd, stuck somewhere, we just literally used Luma Key and rotoscoping. Yeah, so green screen, to shoot it well, you need space– Yeah. –actually is the big thing. You need to have the room, the distance, to be able to put it as far away from your people that you want to stay in the scene so that you don’t get the spin on them. You’re going to need to light it very, very softly. So, you know, you need a lot of lights, which are all softened up with a lot of frost gels.
Or you know, you want to be using some soft lights in the first place. I mean, yeah, and the more of them, the better. So that you’re trying to get it as uniform looking as possible. But then software wise, [INAUDIBLE] and After Effects is really good. Actually, we’ve been using on the last stuff that we’ve been doing roto with, we’ve been using Mocha, which is the plug-in with After Effects. And you can track with that as well. So you’re dividing everything up into shapes, and you’re tracking your shape. And sometimes, that’s really great and can really save you a lot of time.
Personally, I’d be like, if you can think about doing it roto, or you know, if there’s a way of doing it actually, in reality, then do. If you can avoid using green, then do.
Note: If you are of a nervous disposition you may want to only listen to this interview as there is a gory image from the Blaine Brothers’ feature Nina Forever at 1.50 for 15 seconds. It is classified as an 18. We have included it as it makes an important point about keying. You can hear the interview via the MP3 download link below if you prefer.

It’s fair to say the Blaine Brothers aren’t that enthusiastic about green screen. They prefer other options.

The Blaines are after good performances; it’s about interaction, and responding to your environment. That’s not easy to do if the green screen gets in the way. It’s difficult to get emotionally intense performances out of an actor talking to herself in an ocean of green. However, the Blaine Brothers find other ways to use keying in their work.

Most noteworthy is their admission that sometimes they prefer to roto (rotoscope) a shot, a technique we’ll be covering in the next section. This involves creating a matte but essentially drawing round your character and cutting them out. This shows how fastidious and dedicated the Blaines are to their films!

The Blaine Brothers’ feature Nina Forever is available on BluRay/DVD and Amazon Prime in the UK and on VOD (Video on Demand) in the US (via Epic Pictures), UK (via StudioCanal) and Canada (via VSC). The trailer is here, and there’s a website. There is also a book, The Art of Nina Forever by Stanton Waro.

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