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November 2014
Issue: July 1, 2008

GREENSCREEN: HD OR FILM?

By: Randi Altman
In this issue we discuss the challenges of going green, but we’re not talking about being environmentally friendly — although Post Magazine is all for that, of course! The green we are talking about can also be blue — the article (on page 24) is about shooting and compositing greenscreen.

These kinds of shoots are popping up everywhere, thanks to the lower cost of professional compositing gear, faster computers, better storage  and more experienced “non experts.” What used to be a specialty is now, in a sense, part of the job.

We know that the transition to HD is just about over, but what do pros prefer to work with in terms of keying?

“One thing that is still an issue with HD technology is the compression in the footage,” says Framestore’s Murray Butler. “And greenscreen can be problematic on HD; I’m still more comfortable with film.”

Les Umberger of Elicit FX agrees: “I am a big film advocate when it comes to pulling greenscreen. Even if a job is shot on HD and we have the ability to shoot the greenscreen plates on film, I will do that,” he says. “When you deal with greenscreen, it boils down to the information that you have, and film captures the details so well and there is no compression involved. That’s where HD and a lot of the file-based formats start to fall apart because they are so highly compressed.”

Umberger says that with HD, things start getting blocky and you lose the smooth edges, which means you have to go in and start finessing the key. “With today’s modern keyers and a 35-acquired image you can pull a key really quickly. In the HD world it’s a little harder,” he reports. “It depends on how it’s shot, but it’s definitely more difficult to pull a key from HD or a ViperCam or a something like that.”

But others prefer HD. “We are working with greenscreen all the time,” says David Fish, executive director at Philadelphia’s Assembly. “HD has more than enough resolution to get the job done, especially for Web video use, which we are seeing more and more of. Between Panasonic DVCPRO HD, Final Cut and After Effects, we have really been able to streamline the process. Obviously, the convenience and budget factors also favor HD over film for us.”

Chris Roe from Fish Eggs, says “HD is going to give us a cleaner image, generally. All things being equal, HD is going to give you more information to play with, and it will be a little easier to key.”
So the film vs. HD debated continues!