Creativity in the Classroom Series – Part 1

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Several weeks back I concluded my first blog series, Design Tips for Presentations.  I received some great feedback from all of you out there.  Much appreciated!  For the past several months I’ve been participating in a great #chat hosted by the great team @EdTechAfterDark.  I credit their #edtechafterdark chat with resurrecting my blog.   I have a passion for sharing ideas on how to better improve instruction through the use of technology in the classroom.  Like it or not, the 21st century is here and it is imperative to prepare students with skills such as #creativity, #criticalthinking, #problemsolving, and #collaboration.   This week, I begin a new series focusing on creativity.  Welcome to Creativity in the Classroom!  Each week we will explore ways to help promote creativity.

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Confession time.  I am a huge movie fan; sci-fi, fantasy, action, thrillers, etc.!  Do I have any Star Wars aficionados here?  For many years, special effects were limited to practical effects (prosthetic makeup, animatronics, puppetry, or creature suits). 

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Many of these fantastic worlds were created with practical effects.  Over time, special effects have improved so much that filmmakers can now create vast universes and settings in studio rooms.  One effect used in many movies is commonly referred to as green screen effect.  Fortunately, green screen effects are not limited to Hollywood blockbusters.  There are many educational applications for using green screen effect.

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Before diving into some educational uses, a little background info on the effect.  Chroma keying, which we call green screen effect, is a special effects / post-production technique for compositing (layering) two images or video streams together based on color hues.

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The technique has been used heavily in many fields to remove a background from the subject of a photo or video, particularly the motion picture, newscasting, and video game industries. A color range in the top layer is made transparent, revealing another image behind. The chroma keying technique is commonly used in video production and post-production. This technique is also referred to as color keying, color-separation overlay(CSO), or by various terms for specific color-related variants such as green screen, and blue screen – chroma keying can be done with backgrounds of any color that are uniform and distinct, but green and blue backgrounds are more commonly used because they differ most distinctly in hue from most human skin colors. No part of the subject being filmed or photographed may duplicate a color used in the background.

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Don’t worry, you won’t need high-salaried actors or a $150,000,000 budget.  Using an iPad, solid color (preferably green or blue) and Veescope Live; you can create videos like the one below:

There are many apps out there.  But having tried out several, Veescope Live seems to be the best one I have found.  With that said, the potential for creative projects is ENDLESS!  Have your students create video blogs or breaking news for the classroom.  Take a snapshot of student artwork and have your students discuss it as they stand superimposed over their piece.  Again, your imagination knows no bounds.  Check out these creative classroom ideas for green screen:

  • Documentaries
  • Fiction Stories
  • Historical court cases
  • Character trait “interviews”
  • Video blogging
  • Text-based evidence responses
  • Scientific Method/Experiments
  • Math thinking explanations
  • Math student-created story problems
  • Biology/Dissection
  • Art Critique
  • Music videos

What You’ll Need

Here are some things you will need to gather to prepare to film.

  • iPad (fully charged)
  • Green/blue butcher paper
  • VeeScope Live (free)
  • Props (more on that later)
  • Talent (your students)
  • Script or teleprompter (cue cards)
  • Lighting (well-lit room)
  • Storyboard

Once you have gathered whatever you need, consider the following tips for effective use of green screen.  While we are not creating Academy Award films in the classroom (you never know), it is always good to practice proper techniques.  Do you have to adhere to these tips? By all means no. Use them as guidelines.

Camera Angles

So you have an actor and a green screen and an iPad. For some reason, one’s natural instinct is to set up the shot with the actor facing directly towards the camera and the green screen directly behind. This gives a very flat extremely fake look. Every part of the filmmaking process matters, both on green screen and off green screen. In a shoot that is on location, an artist would storyboard or block out the camera positions and get the best angles to tell the story. That is also true with green screen shoots. Take the time to storyboard your scenes and shots, as if a green screen was not even there. Choose the best angle during your storyboard. Try to stay away from the talent directly facing the camera unless that is the best way to tell the story. If it’s not, let’s leave that for the TV weatherperson.

Lighting

Another way to point out that a segment was shot on green screen is inconsistent lighting. The point of shooting on a green screen is to create a sense that you are in another place or environment.  One way we do that is through lighting. True, the green screen should be lit flat and properly exposed, but the talent is a part of the environment you’re creating, and that environment has its own light source.

Props and Sets

There is no rule that states the entire CG environment must be artificial. Only green screen what you have to green screen. Use as many practical elements as you can. Give you actor things to play with and interact with. The more real objects you have in front of you, the less you have to fake and make look real later.

Plan, Plan, Plan

When shooting green screen, you want to be prepared. Know how to key properly. Know your camera angles. Storyboard them so that everyone on the team knows what you’re going for. Let the cinematographer know where the light source is coming from in each shot. Plan these scenarios. If everything is planned, you can shoot all the angles with the light source at position A consecutively. Then you can shoot all of position B and so on. But if you don’t plan, you may find yourself going back and forth for no reason.

Plan what the background is going to be before you even shoot. If possible, render these backgrounds out, or even a rough draft will help. Show this to the actors so they know where they are. Plan where their lines are going to be. Plan everything. And keep thorough notes on each shot. You can never be too prepared when shooting on a green screen.

Shooting green screen is supposed to be an advantage. When done correctly, you can create really powerful images. Just know it is used to help advance the story, just like any other tool in filmmaking. With these 5 steps, choosing the right camera angles, appropriate lighting, using props and sets, using motivated blocking, and careful planning; you can dramatically advance the story you are telling with the use of a green screen. Go for it!

Accessories

If your venture into student-created movie projects takes off, you may want to look at investing in some equipment to help improve the quality of student work.  Understanding that there may be budget constraints, look at finding possible funding from organizations like Kickstarter, GoFundMe, and Donors Choose.

Here is a list of equipment you may find useful while trying your hand at using green screen effect.

Resources/Credits