Working at NUA as the Animation and sound technician, this week’s process test was to go through greenscreen, from beginning to end.

Through this I would be able to test out the new dragonframe to see what features had been updated, and perhaps changed, to make sure that I am always up-to-date.

To also ensure that my green screen setup was as good as possible for an upcoming project with the first years, and then brush-up on using After Effects for the post production.

So I grabbed one of our walkcycle armatures, borrowed some doll’s clothes from my children and went into the depths on Animation Studio 1.


Destined for stardom!

The key points for green screen are to light the background and foreground almost separately, obviously in the reduced space of an animation studio this is a little more difficult as you can’t get a lot of space in between but, starting with the two basic lights, a flo-light (floodlight) and a kick light to pick out the model from the background, that’s a good place to start.


A flo-light (floodlight) at the top to try and light the background evenly, then two dedolights and a kick from the back to try and distinguish foreground from background

As you can see the result has harsh lights from the spot, which you need, but adding diffusion will soften the harsh shadows, because we want as little of those as possible.


The fabulous dedolights let you easily attach some diffusion material (or gels) directly onto the barn doors with an easy to use tiny clamp

This lessened the shadows and gave me a result I was fairly happy with, although in an ideal world the Green screen would have maybe 2 flo-lights on, to be more even.


Softer shadows with diffusion, but I did have to tun up the dedolight a little to compensate

Ready to film, I then turned to the new dragonframe, and to be honest there’s not a lot of difference from version 3, the interface is slightly smarter, but for the students, it will mean an easy transition to the latest version. Which was a must as we had new cameras waiting to be installed, but they would only work with DragonFrame 4. (Canon 1300D’s)

A short jerky walkcycle later – it’s been a while – and I had my character in the middle of the stage, ready to react with a blue polystyrene box that the students have been using, so that my armature (and the action) could stay in the middle.

Disaster fell at this point in the proceedings too…



His ankle joint broke, but as with all good English actors, we carried on!

The resulting video, is not my finest work, the clamp rig is really too big and heavy for this small armature character, there’s a terrible jerk where his ankle breaks , but the reaction works well, and I like the character that the little blue box has… In my head it’s a very lively puppy, that growled to stop my man in his tracks, then once beckoned turns into a slobbering excited mess when he gets a hug and a kiss…

It’s amazing what my imagination adds, now to see if I can add a little post-production magic to help anyone else see it too!

When using DragonFrame, you can either export video or stills, but you must remember to conform your take if you want to discard any re-shot frames, or deleted frames, as when you bring in an image sequence into AE, it can pick up those dud frames.

Also make sure your frame rate is correct, again if you lengthen or hold frames on the Xsheet, you will need to conform your take for those changes to take effect and your image sequence to reflect your timed animation from dragonframe.

Leaving the animation studio behind I headed up to the Media Lab to get started in After Effects.

Once you’ve set up a regular 1080p workspace and composition bringing in an image sequence is really simple, click on your first image and after effects will pick up all of the tiff’s in that folder, in sequence, and ‘pre-comp’ them together as a single piece of media, so for animation from dragonframe, that’s exactly what you want.

Then drag this tiff sequence down onto your pre-set composition timeline, and resize them to fit – this is why you should always setup the comp first, not just plonk your content onto the timeline as it will take it’s size from the media and who knows what size it might end up, which then leads to rendering/processing problems.

I like to use a garbage matte before applying the keylight effect, as it cuts down how much green the effect is trying to process, and with my small setup I knew the corners were going to need taking out. So, although it’s a laborious process I step through all of the frames, altering the mask slightly to allow for model movement. It is lovely when you don’t have to move it for a few frames!

Then I could move onto adding the keylight 1.2 effect… it does a fab job, and this is where you can really see any shortfall in your green screen technique – and there were some very particular areas in this test! The best tips I would give are clipping the black and white points (in the settings area of the effect) and using the alpha preview to see exactly what is black and white. I had a bit of spill both on the box and the white clothing which I couldn’t seem to sort out which left parts of my characters with slightly see-through areas, a bit more subtle tweaking of the advanced settings with the blacks and whites, got it beautifully crisp.

Now to put a simple background in to see how it was all doing.

Et voila, it’s ok, it’s nice to see it in a situation away from green, or black, really good exercise to go¬† through before the next first years project, dragonframe 4 is still as easy to use and after effects has many different and powerful ways of keying.

To add to the ways stated above, you could also; clone stamp in AE to remove the pins, which I did do a bit, but it makes a crazy amount of layers; Add some 3D lighting to perk up the character; Colour correct the background and animation to make them feel more cohesive; Track eyes/features onto the characters in 3D space and use layers more cleverly to give a sense of perspective.

However what I wanted to do was give my little bluebox puppy a bit of life, but I didn’t want perfect, which would be my normal style, something in Illustrator with beautiful clarity of line, I was after a more Mr Messy feel and although I don’t use it a lot, I knew that TV Paint would get me a really nice organic free feel to it.

So I rendered a low res copy out of AE, and used this for a background layer in TV paint, then got my wacom tablet out and let my imagination go a little wild!

I can practically hear the excited slobbering doggy noises, so at some point, I will return to this project and add some sound…