In today's podcast episode, I interview Earle Greenberg of Chicago Video Works, who explains some of the advantages of promoting your business with videos featuring virtual sets. You'll also hear from Earle on what's involved with building a virtual set, and some tips on how to to prepare yourself for a video show featuring a virtual set.
What is a "virtual set?”
According to Wikipedia, a virtual set (aka, virtual studio) "is a television studio that allows the real-time combination of people or other real objects and computer generated environments." If you would like to see an example of a video that I did with a virtual set,.
What are the advantages to having a virtual set?
The top advantage to a virtual set is you can create an expensive-looking, state-of-the-art studio productions, at a fraction of the cost of actually physically building set. Here are some other benefits:
- They're a lot faster to set up than a real set.
- You can choose from a library of pre-built digital sets or have one custom built, and switch virtual sets out based on the people in them and the subject matter.
- You can shoot people who may be someplace totally elsewhere from your actual studio, who you can superimpose in later.
- You can get virtual sets with multiple angles (for multiple cameras), and;
- You can create areas in your virtual set for picture-in-a-picture effects, and areas of animation.
What goes into building a virtual set?
In short, a virtual set involves combining the green screen technology from what or who's being recorded, with a digital design superimposed around the video-recorded subject material. All virtual sets start off with green-screen technology. Green Screen, also known as green screen and Chroma Key, is the process of mixing two images together, in which a single color, usually green, is removed from the background and replaced with a new image. You might also have heard of this technology being referred to as Blue Screen, but the color green happens to work better for online video, as opposed to the color blue being more appropriate for film.
Want a longer explanation? Here's a 3-step summary of how Chicago Video Works does their own Green Screen and virtual set productions, as explained by them at chicagovideowork.com/greenscreen.html:
- Step 1: Start by filming the talent in front of a special green background. Filming can be performed at a studio or on location, using custom green screen collapsible sets with daylight balanced fluorescent lights and a portable teleprompter (the teleprompter will make almost anyone look like a professional newscaster). (Watch the video below for an example of a chroma key studio setup.)
- Step 2: Separate the talent from the green screen. The resulting video is then run through a computer utilizing chromakey hardware technology. One of our green screen technicians manipulates the software and separates the talent from their green background.
- Step 3: Insert the digital studio. With the green backdrop removed, the talent is laced into a new digital scene of your choosing. The new scenes can be as elaborate as a hi-tech interactive studio or as simple as placing the talent in front of a new background or company logo. The process can be done with multiple cameras live or in post-production.
The chroma keying process can be either software or hardware based. Strictly software based chroma keying requires rendering which takes more time and is ideal for more intricate productions. Hardware based allows for real-time viewing of the output and is good for multi-camera real-time productions.
Our interview with a virtual set expert
Earle Greenberg, President of Chicago Video Works founded his company way back in 1979, before most businesses even knew what video marketing was. He's been producing video shows featuring virtual sets for decades (well before the Internet was featuring any video), and also does live multi-camera webcasting with virtual sets for businesses and events. You can see some at his website, including the example below featuring Earle himself!
Grant: How did you get involved with doing virtual studios?
Earle: It always comes down to money, and its a lot easier to build a fancy-looking virtual studio than it is most any real studio, and it takes less space, too. How did I get into it? It was just a natural extension of my desire to dig into the technology and try to bring something more to the masses that was more affordable, so they could have the benefit of what all the big companies were taking advantage of and actually going in and building these big studios.
In the early 80's and 90's, we were actually physically building studios that looked like digital studios of today. With the cost of labor involved and the time taken was overwhelming for small businesses, just not doable. These days, they have these elevator pitch videos and those are good for sites like LinkedIn, maybe. But a lot of the sites that I see having people sending in their own videos – they shoot them in their own office, they have terrible lighting, the sound's not good, and really it's almost better to do nothing than to do those. And why not take advantage of something that really looks classy, assuming that's what you're trying to convey about your business.
Grant: What does get involved with producing a virtual studio?
Earle: It's like if you're going to build a real studio. Anything a client can come to us drawing-out, we can turn into a virtual studio. The client can pick the materials and colors, and essentially we just built it almost like how an architect would do a CAD drawing of a room that they're designing, where you can look at it in 3-D and spin it around, on the top and sides. That's basically what we're doing. We're being their architect, trying to turn a client's idea into a actual virtual studio. (That sounds like an oxymoron, but its what we do.)
Grant: What are some tips for how clients should come prepared for shooting on a virtual set?
Earle: Here are a few things:
- Limit it 3 people on a set. It gets a lot more complicated when you add more than 3 people. First off you would need a bigger green screen and studio to accomplish that, and the lighting is always the key to making things work. The fewer subjects you have to light, the easier it is to accomplish a good key. We really try to limit our shoots to 2 people.
- Use multiple cameras, which makes the scene a lot more interesting. On our shoots we use multiple cameras, typically 3. If we had an interview with 2 people and we only had a wide shot with one camera, it's just not as compelling as it is to have multiple cameras going.
- The more you plan, the more you save. If you come in with concrete ideas but then change your mind after the work has been done, it really does make the cost go up. Planning on the virtual set end is always the key. Secondarily is just planning on the content end for making these things work.
- Work with a teleprompter for your script. We do have a teleprompter here for those who do like to read their script off a screen. That does work very well for taking an amateur and making them look like a TV newscaster. I've also had people in our studio who were professionals at speaking publicly, but they don't realize that until they get in here and start trying to deliver that same content to a single camera staring at them, how many times they say "uh" or how many little idiosyncrasies they have, and it really does help to have the script on a teleprompter in a case like that.
- Prepare your guests with your questions, but keep them loose with their answers during interviews. This is for conversations that are not as relevant because you can't really script the answer of a person that you're interviewing, and trying to control every work would make it appear like a very stiff conversation. So you really do want it to be more comfortable and loose in an interview.
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