Greenscreening…that’s a fun idea isn’t it? I thought so…but let me tell you, it can be a massive headache. Here is a review of my 6 week greenscreen experience/hell/journey.Previous posts are here and here. I will repeat bits of it, but this post will be more of an overall experience so I hope you don’t mind.

Firstly some context. I am a PPA teacher, this means I teach in a class for a morning or an afternoon a week and I do some ICT across the school, usually in 1 hour slots. So this is my experience of getting it done in an hour a week. I know others have their own class, so that helps (A LOT) logistically.

So…the idea was to try this with year 5 and 6, there are 3 mixed classes. Two I would be teaching and 1 that would have their own teacher doing it. First I needed some green screen. Turns out blue works just as well. I got that from ebay for £3 a square metre. I had no idea how much I’d need so bought 9m for about £30. The cameras we were going to be using would be Flip Ultra and the software was Wax 2.0. This is free and available here.

It turns out you can do greenscreening with Movie Maker, which would’ve been easier, but it prefers blue and the Windows 7 version of movie maker is different, so we stuck with Wax.I had spent HOURS looking online for free software that would do this for us and even Twitter let me down when the best anyone could come up with was…buy a mac. Not helpful.

The plan was to spend about 6 sesssions working on this. The first two would involve finding random backgrounds and having a photo of the child in front of a photo background. I messed around with this the children had great fun putting themselves in Harry Potter or at the North Pole. These can be seen here and here. Then the children were going to have a movie of themselves in front of a picture background. The movie would be in a documentary or news-style report where they would talk about climate change, deforestation or the like to go along with the topic.I had planned on using some other video editing tools to produce credits and title sequences but time didn’t allow in the end.

So, we set up two greenscreens in the end. One in the corridor under some small spotlights and the other on a board that we could move to wherever we had space. This was the corridor, music room, hall, anywhere! Logisitics again dictated that the music room was busy when I was doing ICT or whatever. Also, there is the issue of man-power (that should be LSA-power) as I can’t really just let 5 children go into the music room unattended to take some pics. I could, but it meant me manning the classroom, corridor (green screen 1) and music room (green screen 2). The children were great with the pictures, they had fun and we made some good photos. The key thing that let us down? Lighting. The software removes one shade of green, the lighting meant we had millions of shades and shadows and it wasn’t very good. If the children moved the tolerance bar a bit too far, they disappeared or became a floating head. Bit tricky.

It was great to see the children working together though, only a few could take pictures at once so the rest had to spend their time writing a script for their video, researching or finding pictures. Most did this well, thankfully!

Another problem with Wax was that it couldn’t save the picture. So we used the snipping tool in Windows 7 to snip the picture out, and save that as a picture. We could have printscreened too of course.

Then on to the videos…

The two classes I worked with were making videos as a group. This again was due to time as I thought it might be easier to get through ten groups rather than 30 children. I guess with hindsight, it’s about the same as the children had more chance of fluffing their lines if they have their friends with them too!

I used the amazing Cue Prompter to show their script, this meant they could start and stop it at will. They did put it up to (warp) speed 9 at times, but when recording, it was set on a manageable 2/3. They all recorded their videos and we were done. Luckily I had some amazing help from the teachers who managed to squeeze in extra recordings in quiet times to make sure all videos were ready in time for the final session.

A week or so before the final session, I thought I should be good and test the software. Wax doesn’t like the video format that the Flips records in. That would mean converting them. Around 90 videos needed doing. Oh dear. I would usually use something like Zamzar or Camtasia but this is one at a time. I Tweeted and got lots of ideas including Format Factory but when putting this into Wax, it ruined the audio. Grr. I went through the (quite good) Wax forums to ask for support and through there found Super Video Convertor. The settings on here allowed the Flip videos to be converted to the exact format that Wax wanted. Fiddly and took about 8 hours of converting for all of the videos, but I did it. Result 🙂

I produced guides for the children and they worked through these to get their videos rendered. We managed to render on the netbooks, but the computers in the suite were much faster so I’d use those in future.

Then in the past few days we imported the videos, combined them with the background and completed the task. It was hard work, but well worth it. So would I do it again? Yes. It was a LOT of work, but they loved it. I was honest with the children and told them I’d never done it, it could go wrong and we’d all learn from it, this seemed to make them even more determined to make the pictures and videos work! The other teachers have been proud of the results even if I am only 75% happy with them.Maybe it’s because I’m a perfectionist and I want them to be better, but I have achieved a lot with the children so I should be happy. Please don’t let this experience put anyone off, just test it first. You could get £10 worth of green fabric, just try it with the video cameras you have and see if it works. I would definitely do it with photos in future as this would be very easy to do.

Next time though:

  • Invest in some better lighting – it is crucial – Maybe a few small desk lamps would be enough. Most of ours was filmed in the corrider with all sorts of windows and things providing different levels of light
  • Book a room or get the teachers/LSAs to record throughout the week rather than rushing it through in a day
  • Get the children to remove their GREEN jumpers! Most did, but some didnt.
  • Test it thoroughly before launching it with the children
  • Get them to make up a name – we can’t blog their videos as they all say their name to introduce themselves!

Greenscreening is a fantastic tool for inspiring children to think and work creatively and definitely something you should look into. I spoke to a tech from the secondary school and she looked worried that we were greenscreening in primary. We also have a trainee teacher who said “I can’t believe they are greenscreening at age 10, I was 19 before I first greenscreened”. Ridiculous. I was 28 and it was about 6 weeks ago!! We’re moving quickly and it’s very exciting indeed!

My Wax Guides can be found on my school page here. Also on this page is a guide from Ian Tobin on using and his blog post is here.