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Cheap Shadowrama.

Not everybody has the money to buy all the things needed to do professional looking shadowrama for their fanvids. This tutorial shows that shadowrama can be done using freeware and a webcam.

Part Zero: Equipment

What you will need to follow along are: a white wall, a webcam, some lights, and Zwei-Stein. Zwei-Stein is a freeware video editing program by Thugs at Bay, Inc. that has chroma and luminance keying ability. It is the only one out there that's at all stable, and it does the trick well.

Part 1: Making "Shadows"

Section a: Set-up
First, you'll need to capture some "shadow" video. This is what will be at the bottom of your theater segments and contains your actors and their seat backs. Since your cheap webcam doesn't have a focus or a zoom, you'll have to position the camera to get the proper framing. Also, since you don't have a twenty foot high ceiling, and your room isn't 50 feet long, you'll have to position the camera so that your actors are centered in the frame. If you want them to be able to stand up while walking in to sit down, make sure you leave enough head room so they don't walk in headless.

Your camera set-up should be in this order: wall, lights, people/chairs, camera.

Shine the lights onto the wall. (A white sheet or curtain will work just as well. Make sure to pull them tight so that there are no sags or creases.) Make sure the lights are in a position where they will not be seen by the camera. The chairs can be used to block the camera's view of the lights if needed.

Set up your chairs as close to the wall as possible (with enough space for your actors to walk in if they need to), but behind the lights. You want the wall lighted up as brightly as possible to contrast with the backs of the chairs and the actors that will fill them. The lights must not shine onto the actors at all.

Set up your camera behind the actors. You can use a tripod if you have one, but a table and a stack of books will do just fine -- just so long as the camera stays put. (If you have the initiative, you could make a board with a screw/bolt in it to mount the camera to. This requires the right size screw and a camera with a tripod mount (screw hole) on the bottom.)

Notice how in the picture the wall has no shadows on it. There should be NO SHADOWS on the wall. The shadowrama effect is acheived because the actors will block the camera's view of portions of the wall. How good the silhouette of the chairs and actors will be is dependent on how well they are contrasted against the brightness of the wall.

The camera is positioned on top of a stack of books on top of a small cabinet behind the actor who is giving the classic "I'm pointing at something" pose. The green lines indicate the camera's field of view. Notice that the light is in the camera's field of view, but since it is hidden by the chair, there's no problem.

Section b: Capture
Before capturing the video, any light that is not being used to light up the wall should be turned off. Through the camera, the actors and chairs should now be virtually black.

Make sure your camera is connected to your computer (obviously). Start whatever video capture program you have and capture yourself some contrasty "shadows" moving around in front of a white wall. (At this point, you're just messing around to get the feel of how this process works. You don't need your script or anything.) You should get something like this.

Now, I purposely muddled the silhouette in the picture to demonstrate that you may not get a perfect image. Using a cheapo webcam has its drawbacks, and this is one of them: the image quality isn't perfect. If you had the money to buy a real video camera, you could get a better image. But, since you're reading this tutorial, you probably don't. The best thing is to just get over it. :-P Not to worry, though -- the software you're about to use will clear up a lot of the badness, so it's not going to be as bad as you think. One other thing: don't worry if your silhouettes aren't perfectly black. In fact, you're probably not going to get much blackness at all, no matter how hard you try. Don't sweat it. As long as there is enough contrast with the wall, you're still in pretty good shape.

Note: You can use the software that came with your webcam, or even NetMeeting. There are also lots of freeware video capture programs. Just pick whichever program you like and learn how to use it. Zwei-Stein has a facility to capture video. But, it is left up to you to figure out how to use it if you want to. How you choose to capture your silhouette video is beyond the scope of this tutorial.

Part 2: Zwei-Stein

You should already have this program downloaded and installed onto your computer. It is assumed that you have a computer because you are using a webcam, and it is also assumed that you have the sort of computer on which Zwei-Stein can run. Now, this tutorial is not a how-to on the inner-workings of Zwei-Stein. If you are unable to follow along from this point, you should read the manual that comes with Zwei-Stein. As a matter of fact, that is a very good idea, because there is a tutorial in the manual that explains the use of the RGB keyer. If you can master the use of the RBG keyer, you can pretty much skip the rest of this tutorial. :-)

Section a: Starting and Loading
Start up Zwei-Stein. You will get a window that has four quadrants. Right click the lower, left-hand quadrant (LLQ) and select "Import Video Clip". Choose the silhouette video you just made.

Note: If you didn't create a video file which Zwei-Stein can handle, then redo Part 1, making sure to save the video in a useable format. (Or, convert it using any number of freely available freeware converter programs. TMPGEnc and VirtualDub are two very good examples.) There's really no need to worry, your capture software isn't likely to be able to create anything Zwei-Stein can't use -- especially if you use a freeware program.

Your silhouette video (SV) will now be represented within Zwei-Stein (ZS) as a pink bar in the Arrangement Window. Now, import your experiment video (EV). Your EV is what the SV shadows will look like they are watching. It can be anything, even a static image file. Shoot some webcam video of your backyard if you like, it doesn't matter.

The EV will appear as a pink bar above the SV, which is now green. (Pink means it's selected.) Select the SV and then right click on it to get a menu. Select "Clip > Top" to put the SV above the EV.

Section b1: Video Effects - Brightness Keyer
At this point, the SV bar should be selected and located above the EV bar. Click on the "Add Video Effect" button. (You can't miss it.) A menu will appear. Select "Key Effects > Brightness Key". The upper, right-hand quadrant (URQ) will show your EV. That's because right now, the effect settings are at default. Notice the checkerboard pattern that just appeared? That's what's being keyed-out of the SV. Move the "Brightness 1" slider over a little and more of the SV will start to come through.

Move the "Brightness 1" slider to a value that most suits your needs. (Double-click the slider to enter the value manually.) A value of 1 will show all of the SV, and a value of zero (default) will show all of the EV. You'll probably end up set the value to something between 0.1 and 0.3, but use whatever value you need. The key to the shadowrama effect is having only the silhouettes showing through. Adjust the slider until you get what looks best.

If you want, you can generate a video right now (right click LLQ and select "Generate") to see what you have so far. Zwei-Stein doesn't have a play function, so if you want to see how things are going without having to slide the time-slider about, you'll have to generate some video. Actually, you're done. If you like how it turned out, go ahead to section c. But, there's two more things which you'll need to do to make the shadowrama effect look much more authentic.

Section b2: Video Effects - Key Smoother
The Brightness Keyer in ZS does a good job creating the familiar "shadowrama" effect. But, if you think the edges are a bit harsh, you can smooth them out. This effect softens the edges between what's being keyed out (e.g. the wall in the SV) and what's being keyed in (e.g. your backyard from the EV) so, for example, seat-tops and peoples' head-tops will look less blocky. From the add video effects menu select "Convolution Filters > Key Smoother". The default settings are good enough, so this tutorial will not cover them.

Section b3: Video Effects - Mapper
Your webcam SV will not be black. To create an authentic shadowrama effect, you will need to make the silhouettes absolutely black. To do this, select "Basic Effects > Mapper" from the add video effects menu. In the effect settings window, there will be eight sliders. Effect variables "Map Red 1", "Map Blue 1", and "Map Green 1" are all the way to the right -- slide them all the way to the left. You should now have only one slider ("Map Opacity 1") that is not set to zero -- leave it alone. You're silhouettes are now black. Note: The Mapper CAN NOT go before the Brightness Key effect!

Section c1: Manipulate the Silhouettes - Resizing
So, now you have an effective shadowrama effect. But, you're silhouettes are huge. Worse than that, they're in the way! The solution is to move them over and make them smaller. To make the silhouettes smaller, you'll need to resize the "Destination Rectangle". The DR is where the selected video source ends up in the final video. You can't miss it. It's in the URQ. To resize the DR, use the yellow squares on the corners of the image you see in the URQ. (DO NOT use the black squares!) Pick one of the yellow squares and resize the DR to make the silhouettes however big you think they should be.

Section c2: Manipulate the Silhouettes - Repositioning
Resizing the DR is about the center, so your silhouettes will end up in the middle of the frame. You can drag the DR to where it needs to be by placing the pointer in the center of the DR (you will see a four sided arrow). But, there is a better method for our purposes. Right click anywhere in the URQ and select "Snap > Right to Right" and then "Snap > Bottom to Bottom". Your silhouettes will now be in the traditional location for shadowrama.

Section d: Save Your Work
The very last step, obviously, is to generate a copy of your shadowrama video. You should also save your project at this time so you can keep what you have done if you want to use it later. Having the project handy is good if you want to generate the video again in a different file format. That way you don't lose a generation converting files you've already generated.

Section e: Optional - Adding extra seats
By all means, you are now done. You have all the knowledge you need to pull off the shadowrama effect using your cheapo webcam and freeware software. But, there's something missing. The traditional shadowrama has seats filling the entire bottom of the screen -- not just where people are actually sitting. Adding extra seats is not too difficult. You could capture some shadows of empty seats, create some artificial seats in a paint program, or even find an image online. Wherever you get your empty seats, you can add them using the techniques already discussed. Don't go capturing two hours of empty seats, that's just crazy! All you need is one, single, static image of some empty seats. The key here, though is knowing how to lengthen the bar that represents the image in the Arrangement Window. That's left up to you to figure out on your own. Hint: Use the Video Import function to import everything. ZS doesn't have special import functions for audio files, etc.; but it does know the difference, so don't worry.

This tutorial and all original images herein are copyrighted 2003 by G.A. Deezen.