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Green Screen and virtual worlds

Second Life as a medium for film-making

The Second Life virtual world is a perfect medium for exploring digital video production, as explained below.

Users experience Second Life through a virtual persona called an 'avatar', which can be customised in endless ways. For example, physical shape can be altered and appearance enhanced through clothing and props built in-world or purchased through the Second Life store. Whilst all avatars can perform default actions such as walking and flying, additional animations can be applied to enable them to perform specialist actions like dancing, juggling or playing an instrument.

Versatile building tools enable users to terraform their land and create structures, vehicles and other objects which can be programmed to behave like real-life objects through powerful scripting tools. Textures can be imported and applied to objects and sounds attached to them to enhance realism.

Using the software interface, generic environmental settings, such as time of day, can be set as well as the possibility of applying dramatic effects to the sky and liquid surfaces. Media tools within Second Life allow objects to stream video or display web pages. Finally, in-built tools enable a user to take a snapshot of the field of view or record video of whatever transpires during a Second Life session. Alternatively an external software program such as FrapsTM can be used to make the recordings.

The ability to visualise any kind of environment and populate it with 'actors' provides the opportunity for users to experiment with film-making techniques that would not normally be possible due to physical and financial restraints. So fledgling directors can now easily play around with different scenes, camera angles and lighting effects.

Green Screen Filming and Virtual Worlds

The use of green-screen technology has been around for a while, even in schools. However, the ability to merge real-life video with footage captured within a virtual space, can add a new dynamic to learning. For example, recordings of students acting and performing can be situated in any imagined setting, with real characters interacting with virtual characters and impacting their surroundings in all sorts of different ways.

Interfacing real-life with the virtual world

This type of digital production requires video to be recorded in real-life against a green screen and also footage of the virtual world captured from the computer screen.

In this example, the students need to look like they are performing on a stage and to make it look realistic the hand rest also needs to be captured so that it can be situated in the foreground.

The three clips are then merged together in a video editor (see associated pictures). The jazz club dancing scene below is also composed of three parts:

  • Footage of avatars dancing in the jazz club in Second Life
  • An extra avatar filmed against their own green screen in Second life
  • Green screen video of real life dancers

In order to make the avatars dance, a special animation needs to be applied to the avatar. In this case the animation is a dance called 'Yeet'. This is started just before filming the screen.

The production of the 'Happy' video

Ashcombe School has a long tradition of encouraging the performing arts and celebrating students' creativity in and out of the curriculum. Having dabbled with the use of virtual worlds over a number of years, the Second Life club was keen to find a way of extrapolating the use of Second Life into other areas of the curriculum. Capitalising on performances by a Year 11 male a cappella group, the school decided to showcase Ashcombe talents through the production of a pop video and utilise Second Life to visualise everything.

Having recorded the 'Happy' song a cappella, the school set about filming students performing other creative talents against the green screen. These included dancers, acrobats, musicians and magicians.

Suitable footage was then captured from within Second Life against the backdrop of a grungy street and trendy jazz café.