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You sim­ply record your sub­ject in front of a sol­id green or blue screen, and then add a touch of soft­ware mag­ic to change the back­ground. (Image: New York Times)

No mat­ter what you call it — chro­ma key, green screen or blue screen — it’s the film and video tech­nique that gives your local TV weath­er­per­son some­thing in com­mon with the “Avengers” movies: arti­fi­cial back­grounds insert­ed behind the action. You sim­ply record your sub­ject in front of a sol­id green or blue screen, and then add a touch of soft­ware mag­ic to change the back­ground.

Dozens of free or inex­pen­sive apps allow you to use the tech­nique on your own clips. It’s a great way to jazz up your pre­sen­ta­tions and oth­er videos — or to keep chil­dren busy with a week­end project film­ing their own toys in action scenes. Here’s how to get start­ed.

Step 1: Set Up Your Studio

First, you need a big piece of sol­id green or blue cloth or paper to use as a back­ground when record­ing. You’ll also need a place to hang it and strong light­ing aimed at the screen to keep shad­ows and fab­ric wrin­kles from show­ing up as blotch­es in your video.

You can get a few yards of cloth at a fab­ric store for less than $20, or buy a pro­fes­sion­al chro­ma-key back­drop, start­ing around $30, at a spe­cial­i­ty store like B&H Pho­to Video. If you have a major project, you can also find com­plete green-screen stu­dio kits (includ­ing the back­drop, a frame to hang it on and stu­dio lights) for less than $100 on Ama­zon and oth­er sites.

Chro­ma key typ­i­cal­ly uses green or blue back­grounds because those hues are fur­thest from human skin tones, mak­ing sure that the soft­ware doesn’t mis­take a human for the back­ground. But make sure your sub­ject isn’t wear­ing clothes in the same back­drop colour, because oth­er­wise the clothes will dis­ap­pear and become part of the back­ground in the final video.

Step 2: Get Your Software

If you plan to do all your record­ing and edit­ing work on your phone or tablet, pop into your app store and search for a “green screen” or “chro­ma key” app that suits your tastes and bud­get. Android Film FX’s Green Screen Video app ($2) and Do Ink’s Green Screen for iOS ($3) are two inex­pen­sive options. Kine­Mas­ter for Android and iOS ($5 a month for the full ver­sion) can make green-screen videos and do all sorts of oth­er moviemak­ing tasks.

Also Read: Apple updates Final Cut Pro X, with sup­port for 360-degree VR video edit­ing

If you pre­fer to import the clips and edit on a desk­top com­put­er, Movavi Video Edi­tor and Won­der­share Filmora9 are both $40, and the indus­try stan­dard, Adobe Pre­miere Pro ($21 a month), can also han­dle green-screen work. All three of those pro­grams work on Win­dows and Mac sys­tems and include a free tri­al peri­od — and they have more fea­tures than most mobile apps with sup­port for more pre­cise edit­ing, spe­cial effects and dif­fer­ent types of media.

On a bud­get? Soft­ware like VSDC Free Video Edi­tor for Win­dows or Apple’s iMovie for macOS is free. (The iMovie for iOS app does not include green- or blue-screen con­trols.)

Step 3: Record the Action

Once you hang your back­drop, make sure it’s as smooth as pos­si­ble. Tape and clips can be used to stretch it tight against a wall or counter. Posi­tion your sub­ject a few feet in front of the screen to avoid shad­ows, and begin record­ing.

You may have to do a few takes to get the action the way you want it, espe­cial­ly when record­ing with unpre­dictable pets. If you want to be in the scene your­self, stick the phone or cam­era on a tri­pod, which also stead­ies the record­ing.

Step 4: Select a New Background

If your app does not offer alter­na­tive back­grounds to use dur­ing your ini­tial record­ing, you can insert a dif­fer­ent scene lat­er. Most pro­grams allow you to choose anoth­er video, a pho­to­graph or an ani­ma­tion to replace the green or blue screen in the back­ground of your first video.

Also Read: One­Plus updates gallery app, brings One­Plus 6 video edit­ing fea­tures to old­er phones

You can also down­load green-screen clips and back­grounds online. Sites like Pex­els, Pix­abay and Vide­vo offer free or inex­pen­sive con­tent if you just want to play around or add unex­pect­ed ele­ments into your video as you edit it togeth­er.

Step 5: Fine-Tune the Scene

Chro­ma key works the same way in most pro­grams, but check your app’s help guide for spe­cif­ic instruc­tions for delet­ing the green or blue back­drop. If you’re using a full video-edit­ing pro­gram (instead of a ded­i­cat­ed green-screen app for quick clips), you typ­i­cal­ly have more con­trol and may even be able to com­pen­sate for uneven light­ing by remov­ing mul­ti­ple shades of colour.

In addi­tion to the chro­ma-key tool, pro­grams like iMovie and VSDC Free Video Edi­tor let you arrange your clips in dif­fer­ent lay­ers on a time­line, trim out the bor­ing parts and add music to your project before you out­put the project and show off your Hol­ly­wood spe­cial-effects skills to the world.

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