TOXIC: Creating a clean infinite white background on a (nearly) zero budget

Making the most of the what you have

One of the most valuable skills you can learn as a videographer (or shoot, really anyone for that matter) is how to make do with what you have.  You may not have a million dollar budget, but you can really prove your professional worth if you can find a way to just make it work--but still obtain a finished product that looks like a million bucks.  I mean, ANYONE can make a good video with a bajillion dollars...but what about $3?

Yes, that's right folks, we here at Stuart Jones Media, spent a whopping $3 to create the following short video.  Enjoy!


How Did We Do It?

Ok, so it's not perfect.  There's a couple places where you can see a shadow of an arm moving around a little, and a couple camera bumps along the way, but all in all, it turned out pretty well.  It certainly looks like more than a $3 film.  So how did we do it?  Well come right along and I'll take you through the process.  

Step 1:  Inspiration (go out and get it)

First thing's first, you've gotta get an idea.  This video is for a sermon series at Fuse Church called "Toxic."  We wanted to create a video that showed a dramatic contrast between a "toxin" and "purity."  After stumbling around watching videos online, and looking for ideas, I stumbled upon this awesome video for Cru (Campus Crusade for Christ).


Now their video is alot more involved and intense than ours, but when I saw the shot of the dye falling into the water and contaminating it, I was struck.  This was a perfect idea.  It shows the contrast of the toxin and the purity, and it conveys the feeling that once the toxin enters, it affects the whole.  We took this awesome idea, decided to recreate it, and even take it to the next level. 

Step 2:  Research and Development

This is the part where you get to put your creativity and resourcefulness into action!  You know what you want your final product to look like...but how do you achieve that look?  Well my friend, start trying stuff out!  Nothing is too ridiculous or stupid.  I mean look at our first try to create this look: 

On the left is the set up, on the right is what it looked like on camera.  Horrible.  But!  We learned what worked, what didn't work, and got more ideas about how to make it work.  

So what ended up working?  Well, it took a while, but we ended up finding an old tear away paper easel pad in a closet.  Even though it looked old and disgusting, when we set it up right, it worked!  Here is a look at our "set" 

After some more testing and color correction, we ended up with this...and we knew we were on the right track.   On the left is straight off the camera, on the right is after some color correction was applied.  Lookin good!

Step 3: Storyboard!

It's always good to just get an idea of the shots you want to capture before you start shooting.   Below is my storyboard, complete with actual splashes of food-colored-water from the filming process!  If you notice, the video almost exactly matches my storyboard.  It really helped to keep track of where we were in the filming process and what still needed to be done.

Step 4: Set-up and GO FOR IT! 

Here we are setting up the final set and doing some actual filming.  Certain things to note:  the desk we are shooting on is not a stable desk.  It is a broken desk we found in an abandoned corner of the church and propped up to work on.  Holy moly!  Also, we have a cute little mic set up on the picture on the right to record the sounds of rushing water.  We didn't end up using the audio, but I just wanted to point out how awesome it would've been if we had used the actual water sounds instead of sound effects.  Finally, if you'll also note in the left photo, the cardboard back of the easel was covered in a plastic garbage bag to keep it from getting wet.  That way, when we overflowed the water and it soaked through the paper, we could just rip off pages, wipe of the plastic, and flip over a fresh, white piece of paper.  It's like an endless supply of brand new sets!  Genius!  

Step 5: Color correction and post

Welp, if you've gotten this far, you're pretty much home free.  Editing is no problem, throw in your music, and you're done!  I thought as a final point, I'd throw in the color correction progression I went through to obtain the super white, slightly bluish maybe tint.  I actually think I must've accidentally shot with the wrong white balance, because my footage came back way more orangey than I was expecting.  Nothing so bad it couldn't be fixed though.  Here is the process:

This is the footage straight off the camera.  Shot in a neutral picture style setting to retain as much detail in the shadows and highlights as possible.  Obviously horrible white balance.

This is after applying a curves filter in After Effects to boost the contrast, and putting a slight blur on the background to soften the shadows up ever so slightly. 

This is after applying a standard color correction filter to fix the bad white balance.  Unfortunately, by reversing the orangeness, it pulled my black food coloring towards blue some, making it look kinda like dark blue-gray dye.  No bueno!   

To fix the blue-dye problem, I added one more color correction filter, this time a Three-Way Color Correction filter.  I pulled just the shadows back towards orange, knocking the food coloring back to black.  And it almost gave it a super duper subtle blue-green tint in some shots, which was a very welcome, yet unintentional result!

The End.

And there you have it, that's how we did it.  Of course there's a ton more that I didn't go into, but you have the basics!   

Anyone out there have more "white room" tips to share?