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Planning and shooting for cloning and masking

If you want a crowd its important to synchronise and herd your talent so they all have separate spaces on screen. Justin Hunt tell us how he does it.
Today, we’re setting up a scene which involves cloning. So essentially what we’re doing is we’re shooting one plate of the background, and then we’re multiplying the various actors we have within the scene numerous times. So essentially we can make a cast of four people look like a cast of 100 people. So one of the reasons we do this is if we have a limited number of actors then we can replicate them numerous times within the scene. So if the budget doesn’t allow us to have 50 actors already dressed in costume, and art worked, and all that stuff, then we can achieve a similar effect with only four people.
There are a lot of different things we have to look at when we’re shooting a scene like this. First of all, is we are blocking out the action to make sure that none of the actors cross each other and that they know their specific areas in which their scene is going to take place. So one of the things we do is we use gaffer tape to mask areas on the monitor so that we can make sure that the action is confined to that one area within the scene. And that’s quite important because we don’t want actors to cross over each other and also it may create more work in post. Come in Andy. Can you hear me?
I can hear you. OK, now walk straight forward.
Could we just stop there? Actors are performing to different beats. So we’re using those beats to choreograph scenes, to choreograph movement within the scene. So if for example, there’s an earthquake the actors all react at the given cue. Also, another really important thing when we’re shooting a scene like this is to make sure that all the props, all the assets which are in the scene, they don’t move. So once the props are put in place they stay there.

This week we’re working on a guerrilla version of crowd replication, which MPC mentioned previously. You’ll find out how to take three actors and turn them into a large number of on-screen characters. This can dramatically increase the production value of your films.

As you’ll see, sometimes great VFX are reliant on mundane things like ‘Gaffer’ tape on monitor screens!

Seriously, planning is essential if you are trying to build a crowd. Fussy audiences will spot any replication or incongruous behaviour. Justin Hunt of Ember films shows how you need to be organised and shoot your takes in a methodical way if you want to have all the elements right.

As you’ll see when you get to try some of this footage in our HitFilm exercise, there are two important things about the shoot which any VFX artist compositing this shot would appreciate; firstly the camera is ‘locked off’- it doesn’t move in any of the takes, so it’s easy to combine the ‘plates’ or layers. Secondly, the actors don’t stray from their assigned area- this reduces the embarrassment of one actor digitally intersecting another on screen!

If you are planning a shot like this, you might also want to factor in the weather and time of day. As we shot this scene the sun moved and the weather changed- meaning the background tarmac changed imperceptibly as we filmed. Shadows shifted and surfaces got drier and less reflective. So, try to minimise the time you spend on these shots and check the weather forecast too. It’s not wise to shoot at the end of the day in case you fall behind schedule and the sun starts to go down…

In the next section we’ll be seeing how you can use HitFilm to mask and composite your version of what we’ve dubbed a ‘post apocalyptic’ shot. Don’t worry though, there’s not a zombie in sight. However, IF zombies are your thing, we’re sure you’ll like this next technique!

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Visual Effects for Guerrilla Filmmakers

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