Washington DC meets Bonanza

As I weathered the worst storm to hit Washington, D.C. in years (they’re calling it “snowpocalypse”!) I thought about a video I made the last time I was in our nation’s capital.  There was much less snow on the ground that time; it was just a few days after President Obama’s inauguration, and the city seemed eerily silent – a stark contrast with the crowds and activity I had seen on television just days before.  Row upon row of porta-johns were lined up on the national mall, and only a few solitary runners and the hardiest tourists were out there with me.  I passed the workmen scrubbing the stairs of the Lincoln Memorial, and was startled to see a huge red-tailed hawk perched on one of the pedestals along the stairway.  I wish I had taken more photos – another guy was there with one of those lenses that look about a foot long, snapping away.  Anyway, I wandered around and took advantage of the quiet to get some impressions of the city, and later that evening took a drive around town as a light snow began to fall again.

I put the images I gathered into a short video / slideshow, which you can see below, but that’s not what this post is about.  Instead, I’d like to share how I did the last few images at the end, which combine several images on top of each other, overlaid with a burning – or rather “unburning” credit, and using chroma key (aka “green screen”) technology.  The video below contains the first version of that effect, which you can watch if you have about a minute to spare.

About a year later, I modified the video to enter it in the Lonely Planet’s “My Journey” video contest.  No, I didn’t win.  This guy did–> (with a pretty cool video!).  I added some text, and my friend Dan Cooper and I put together a combination of some public domain patriotic music, and I redid the final credit.  Take a look at that version below (fast forward to the last 20 seconds or so if you want) and I’ll explain how it was done.

Washington DC – My Journey from Tom on Vimeo.

OK, it starts with the image of the hot dog stand at about 1:35 where I give the music credit.  Then, on a separate track, I added another still with a lot of blue sky, and used the chroma key function of Premiere Elements 7 (but many editing programs have it).  Some programs will guess which color you want to make transparent, but in this case it’s best to indicate you want to choose the color (else your program may pick water instead of sky), and then choose the most representative part of the sky.  If the sky is all exactly the same color, but any smog or haze (like in this one) and you have to play around with it.  If you look closely along the left bottom of the sky you’ll see I wasn’t able to get rid of all of it.  The chroma key effect removed all the blue sky (made them transparent) and left behind the haze.  Or smog.  Whatever.

Next the fancy part.

– I used Power Point to create my credits exactly how I wanted them to appear – using a color that would work with the rest of the images.  I actually printed it lighter “mustard” but the other chroma key effect later on changed it.

– Next, I printed it.  Try to use most of the paper, leaving an inch or two all around.

– Then I got a large non-glossy poster board about the same color as the paper I printed on (I never new there were so many different “colors” of white!).

– I cut inch-wide strips of a 3X5 index card, and folded them and glued them so that they would function as spacers between the poster board and the printed credits.  What I was looking for was a way to hold the credits about half an inch out from a piece of poster board the same color as the paper – and without the sheet with the credits bending.  You may have to get creative here.

– Next I went outside and used duct tape (which really is good for just about anything) to tape the poster board to a wall outside so it was vertical; and set up the camera with tripod, so that it was about 4 feet from the paper, zoomed in so that the credits filled nearly the entire screen.

– Now for the safety briefing:  Make sure there is nothing nearby that will burn easily.  If you have a fire extinguisher or a bucket of water, now might be a good time to have it nearby.

– Now you need a pretty decent lighter – or you can light a larger piece of paper – but you want a good-size flame.  Hit “record” on your camera and light the bottom of the sheet with your credits on fire – as evenly as possible.  You want the whole thing to burn relatively evenly.  If the right side just burns and it falls off the poster board, it won’t work.  Light it all across the bottom.

    So after the credits are burned, it’s a matter of importing from your camera to your editing program.  Trim appropriately, and at this point I reversed the clip – so that the credits actually appear from the fire rather than get consumed by it.  This clip goes right over the top of the others, and then you apply another chroma key effect – this time selecting white (your paper) as the color you want to make transparent.

    And that’s pretty much it.  You can go out and spend hundreds of dollars (or more) on another program that will do this effect without the risk of having to notify the fire department – but it’s also possible to do it with a very basic editing program.  Good luck!

    This entry was posted in Tips and Tricks, Video Editing, Video Effects and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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