Special F/X: In Your Face!

Your video script on graffiti and vandalism is almost complete, but it needs something more. Something that grabs the viewer’s attention. Something flashy. You decide to begin your video with a quick sequence where a shifty looking street punk nervously rounds the corner of a building with a spray can in hand. The camera follows as he runs behind the building and prepares to deface a brick wall. As the camera moves closer to the can-bearing deviant, he quickly turns and looks directly into the lens. He snarls, raises his spray can and blasts the viewer’s screen with paint. The red spray oozes and drips until it covers the entire screen with blood-red paint. You decide that this red drippage will make the perfect background for a title graphic. You plan to key "Save the Streets, An Up-close Look at Graffiti in Our Town" over the dripping background. Great idea, but how will you make this effect happen without destroying your lens? If you have a camcorder to ruin, spray away. Otherwise keep reading, the answer lies ahead.

What a Pane
All you need to create this drippy, gooey lens effect is a pane of clear glass or plastic, and someone to hold it in front of your camcorder’s lens. A piece of clear glass positioned between your camera and subject is undetectable in the shot, and protects your camera from being damaged by the wet paint that you wish to seemingly blast onto the lens. In reality, our vandal will spray the pane of glass, not the lens itself. From the viewer’s point of view, the effect will be very believable.

Finding an appropriate piece of glass or clear plastic may be the most difficult task in creating this effect. Glass from an old storm door works well, and is large enough to provide excellent protection for your camera. The effect is easily doable, however, with something smaller. Sheet plastic will also work well. If you choose the plastic approach, make sure the piece you select is thick enough not to flex or ripple and has no visible imperfections. Any ripples, reflections or marks will give away the fact that there is something in front of your lens and ruin the illusion. The goal is for the barrier to be invisible to the viewer.

Places Everyone
It’s important to position your clear barrier close to the camera, so you can frame the shot without showing the edges of the pane. The easiest way to insure proper framing is to keep the camera still. Shoot using a tripod, and have an assistant hold the pane in front of the lens. While an assistant holds the glass in position, make small dots on the pane with a marker to identify the area of the glass visible in your viewfinder. This marks off the area that your graffiti artist needs to cover with paint, insuring full-screen coloration. Be sure to make your marks small and a bit wider than your viewfinder, so that they are invisible in the shot.

Frame the shot so that your spraying hoodlum is a little more than an arms length away from the clear divider and use manual focus to avoid focal drift when he starts spraying. Keep in mind that unless you have several pieces of glass, or several gallons of paint thinner, you will only get one attempt at this. To perfect your framing, practice the shot a few times without actually spraying any paint on the lens’ protector.

Spray Away
The ooey, gooey, drippy paint effect is fun, and makes a great impact on an audience when done correctly. But why limit yourself to spray paint, this same principle can be used for almost any gooey application. Try flinging mud at the camera, or the old "pie in the face" routine. Behind the protection of a piece of glass, you can throw just about any icky, sticky, ooey, gooey thing that you can imagine at your camcorder.

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