Working as a team: Special Effects Filmmaking School Incursion

Rock Paper Video recently ran a custom designed special effects filmmaking incursion with Grade 5 students. This incursion was part of a performance project the students were undertaking as part of their focus topic in class. The incursion involved two practical activities – a performance activity which then provided the basis of the second activity and special effects component of the incursion.

The Performers

Depending on their planned ideas, the class was split into groups of approximately four, and then took it in turns to perform their scene in front of a blue screen. This screen was later to be replaced with a background relating to their play. We sometimes use a green screen, but as this was a Robin Hood play and students were wearing green costumes, these would have disappeared into the green background so blue was used on this occasion. Students embraced the challenges of performing to the camera, such as standing in the right spot in front of the screen, and also keeping continuity between takes. We used masking tape “marks” on the screen where they were standing to help them visualise and remember where to stand ensuring they could be seen properly on camera.

The Film Crew

Filmmaking roles

While one group of students was performing their scene, another group of students explored a ‘hands on’ role in the filmmaking using our professional camera. They took to the filmmaking roles enthusiastically, working well as a team whilst taking ownership of their part in the filming. Their favourite roles were the camera operator/director of photography and the clapperboard, which made them feel like true filmmakers. Students had simple “crew cards” explaining their roles and their responsibilities as members of the film crew and really got into a routine using the language of a real film set, saying “roll to record”, “scene 1 take 2” and “action!” One of the challenges was maintaining silence on the set, but the student playing the role of the sound supervisor listened for any voices in the background and made sure that the actors could be heard.

Making their own movies

Filmmaking roles

One of our “Crew Cards”

The second practical activity was a task with a filmmaking focus. As this school has an iPad program, we were able to incorporate this into the incursion. The students worked in their groups to storyboard their chosen scene from the play to plan a short film sequence using a variety of different shots. The purpose of this activity was to show that depending on the way a film sequence is put together, it creates a range of different meanings and feelings in the mind of their viewer.

clapperboard film school

The clapperboard, filled out by the students

We gave the students supporting guides in the accompanying teaching resource as well as access to a private area of my website containing further resources. We were very impressed with the quality of their videos. One group even took the brief further and created a video which highlighted a social issue, bullying.

The groups rotated through their practical tasks and when they weren’t performing, they had individual and group filmmaking-related tasks to do. These helped to reinforce their learning and built on the pre-incursion activities in the teaching resource.

 

Weaving the Magic: Putting the special effect together

Size in front of green screen

Playing with size in front of a green screen

In the final session we had a demonstration about the process of creating the special effect of replacing the background. The effect is known as chroma key and is sometimes called ‘green screen’ or ‘blue screen’. To perform the effect we used examples from the earlier filming and inserted a background given to us by the teacher that the students had made for their play. We invited students to come up and learn about how to create the technique by moving the different sliders on the computer and changing the settings, whilst seeing the effects of those changes. They had real fun with this by moving the sliders to the extremes to create weird and wonderful effects, before moving them back to try and get the desired outcome. This helped the students to learn what the outcomes of moving the sliders were, and the challenges involved in creating a natural looking effect. We also showed the students how to make an actor bigger or smaller against the background, and loved the audible gasps as we changed the background completely!

Q&A

We finished with a very enthusiastic Q&A session all about the special effects and filmmaking.

Prior to the incursion, the students had a discussion around a comprehension text I had written on the process of green screen (chroma key) from our accompanying teaching resource. The students were keen to learn more about the process and asked lots of questions, building on their knowledge they had learned from this discussion and throughout the incursion.

Relating the special effects to the movies

Green screen invisibility

Invisibility using a chroma key effect and a green/blue screen

We spoke about the history of the special effects technique, the differences historically between film and television chroma key, and also about using the effect to make an actor disappear into the background by wearing a costume that is the same colour as the background (like the techniques used to create the invisibility cloak from Harry Potter). This prompted some great discussion around how this could be used in their own videos creating a ghost effect, floating head or missing body parts.

We also talked about when this can become a challenge for the special effects artists, discussing the example of the filming of a scene in one of the Spider-Man movies. In this scene when Spider-Man was battling the Green Goblin, so that one or both actors didn’t disappear into the background, Spider-Man had to be filmed in front of a green screen and Green Goblin had to be filmed in front of a blue screen, and then their footage was later put together to make the one scene.

 

“Can I try this at home?”

The answer is yes! The students were very keen to learn how to recreate the technique at home, so we discussed simple solutions, software and apps that can do this simply and fairly cheaply. It is something that can also be found in our accompanying teaching resource, should the teachers wish to continue to use this special effect in future classroom projects.

For more information on how to create the “Green Screen” effect in your classroom or at home, email us at lotti@rockpapervideo.com.au

 


Lotti Kershaw is a former integration aide/education support officer who has a background in broadcast television Learn filmmaking from an industry professionaland runs her own video production company. She started Rock Paper Video to teach filmmaking and animation skills to children, so they can tell their own stories and make their own movies.

She is passionate about bringing video, special effects and animation into schools, and linking her incursions and resources to required curriculum outcomes, enabling teachers to teach media arts and cross-curricular activities through filmmaking. 

Lotti has worked in broadcast television in the UK, on programs for the BBC and major network television channels. She has credits on various TV programs, and has worked in many genres including documentary, drama, music, entertainment, live talk shows, reality TV, music programs and feature film, at different stages of the production process from pre-production to post production and even broadcast.

Rock Paper Video runs film making and animation workshops for children. See our latest workshops here