Wednesday, February 13th, 2008 by Alexander Stevens
Sometimes an assignment is like a puzzle where you know what the final outcome looks like but you have to find the pieces that put it all together. Blue Pixel had an assignment like that recently.
We were asked by one of our partner companies, Ansible Mobile, to create a real-time, greenscreen photo composite experience at the official after-party of this year’s Grammy Awards. Visitors to the Verizon booth at the after-party would stand in front of a greenscreen, have their picture taken and composited onto a Grammy stage background, and have it displayed immediately on a bank of high- resolution monitors.
Seems straightforward, but we faced a number of challenges. The first was how to get the images from the cameras as fast as possible to the laptops that would do the compositing and display. Last year, the vendor in charge of the project had physically moved memory cards – very inefficient. We knew we’d do it electronically. Because we were shooting Nikon D300 cameras, our first thought was the new WT-4 wireless transmitter. However, we were told that the LA Convention Center doesn’t allow private wi-fi networks inside, so that was out.
That meant our only option was to go wired. The challenge there was that the layout of the booth required a cable run of well over 100’ – much farther than you can run a USB cable from a camera to a computer. The solution? We used a USB cable extender – the Icron USB Ranger 110 – which bridges long USB runs with Ethernet cable, allowing runs of up to 100 meters. Using the Icrons, we were able to cable the cameras together and use Nikon Camera Control Pro to bring the images, numbered sequentially, into the laptops.
The next challenge was the greenscreen composite itself. Again because of booth limitations, we weren’t able to light the screens as well as we’d have liked to make compositing easy. Additionally, because we were shooting our subjects vertically and compositing them into a horizontal frame, we had to crop and manipulation the images, so we couldn’t use any of the quickie-keying software solutions. We ultimately ended up using Primatte Keyer 3.0 from Digital Anarchy, which gave us tons of control and great quality keying in a way that could be automated within Photoshop CS3. Our creative director, Rick McNealy, had used Primatte for many years in After Effects and was able to create an amazing keying template.
Once we had our composite, it had to be displayed immediately on the banks of monitors Verizon had throughout the booth. This was a tricky one as well – we couldn’t find a slideshow application that would allow us to drop new files into it while it was running and display them. Our only option in this case was to create something custom. We called on the talents of Blue Pixel Associate Dave Goehrig, who coded up a brilliant little slideshow application that did exactly what we needed.
When it was all put together, we were able to shoot, composite and display a perfect image within 30 seconds of the customer stepping up to the stage – not too shabby. What’s more, Ansible created a website where attendees can download their images starting the very next morning to keep.