You may remember The Shadow from his popular radio program of the 1940s and 50s. Every week, kids gathered around their radios to listen to the announcer proclaim, "…the Shadow knows!" But what few people realize is that the famous mystery man actually "knows" quite a lot about lighting for good video. Okay, that may be just a little misleading, but the reality is that good lighting for video backgrounds is all about manipulating light and shaping shadows, two things that The Shadow clearly understands.
Lurking Behind the Shadows
For years, crafty videographers have spiced up blank walls behind interview subjects by shining colored light through shape templates (called "gobos" in the biz), creating splashes of light and shadow on backdrops. The secret to getting professional results is not so much in the lamp as it is in the template. With an extra light, a colored gel and this craft, you can turn any wall into a nifty textured backdrop.
Put it on Paper
The type of gobo we’ll make is called a "cookie." This is a light-diffusing card used to add texture to backgrounds. Start with a thick piece of posterboard or foamcore. The thicker the card the better. Next, look at the example provided in figure 1 and draw similar shapes on your card. Larger shapes will allow more light to pass through the template than smaller shapes. You may choose to create several templates to allow yourself options when it’s time to light a scene. After you have drawn your shapes on the card, cut them out using a razor knife. Don’t worry too much about drawing or cutting each shape perfectly. Because light spreads as it travels, your backdrop will not reveal imperfections in your finished template.
We recommend leaving a gap at least an inch and a half from the edge of the card all the way around. This will provide a sturdy frame around the outside of your template.
The Green Lantern
How does the green lantern figure into all of this? Well, to use your template, you need light. As it happens, green light works very nicely (actually blue, purple and orange work just as well. Green just makes for a better story title). If you are working with video lamps (as opposed to actual lanterns), attach a colored gel, and direct the light onto the wall behind your subject. Next, position the template between the lamp and the wall. Using a monitor to view the scene, move the template away from the light until you get the desired effect. Remember, the closer the template is to your lamp, the larger the pattern will be on your backdrop. Also placing the template closer to the lamp will make edges appear softer.