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March 8, 2014

A Cheap & Easy Way to Create a Professional-Looking Infinite Black Backdrop

Infinite Black BackgroundHere's a cheap, simple, and professional-looking technique to add to your arsenal -- the infinite black background. Because its visuals add a level of surrealism and style, we've seen this used in music videos, dream sequences in narrative films, art films, you name it -- and chances are if you're not wondering how to pull it off, it's because your curiosity has already led you to find the answer. Filmmaker Lewis McGregor shares his insight into how to create this effect inexpensively and simply by using black material, three lights, and editing software. (No need for a huge soundstage!)

If you're just starting out in filmmaking and haven't learned much about lighting and/or editing, then the technique McGregor uses is right up your alley -- especially if you don't have the cash or space, but need your project to look professional. The first essential thing you'll need to create an infinite black background (or any color -- it doesn't necessarily need to be black), is to set your subject in front of something black. McGregor uses a professional studio black backdrop (many of which are made of vinyl, muslin, or synthetic materials), but if you don't want to splurge on a full backdrop kit, you can purchase material from your local fabric store. Many use muslin, since it's relatively cheap per yard, but you can also try velvet (way more expensive), fleece, or duvetyne ("commando cloth") -- or, you know, black bedsheets might work if you light it right. Make sure that your backdrop is free of creases and wrinkles before and after you hang it.

Now, the trickiest part about pulling off this look, and something that could make your work look either really professional or really shoddy, is the lighting. This doesn't mean that you have to go out and buy an expensive light kit, though. McGregor uses two 800-watt lights and one 300-watt light ("knockoffs from eBay" as he calls them) to illuminate his subject, as well as a 160 LED backlight fastened to the ceiling and a 90 LED placed on the floor to bring out more details in the guitar. If you can successfully make it through the lighting, you're pretty much in the clear, especially if you don't have any elements on the sides that need masking in post, like McGregor does in his tutorial.

Is there a simpler/cheaper way to pull off this technique? What kinds of fabrics work best for you to create an infinite black backdrop? Let us know in the comments below.

[via UglyMcGregor & Indie Tips]

Your Comment

23 Comments

This video I shot was released today and has to do exactly with this subject!

I shot it with Magic Lantern software on the 5dmkIII, so I know that has a lot to do with the flexibility I had in post, but all I did was darken/crush the shadows, and boost contrast a bit in Davinci Resolve. I shot it with the artists about 3-4 feet away from (2) 12x12 solids hanging about 9 feet up.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r32idQeu_RY

March 8, 2014

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DSH

Looks nice, which lens/es have you used?

March 9, 2014

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premini

Primarily the 24-105mm, there may have been a 50mm 1.2 in there at some point

March 11, 2014

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DSH

Awesome - is the slow motion on the drums in the beginning 50fps? Seems slower (Know it's reversed) but it seems slower and smoother than 50fps

Let me know

Good work

April 4, 2014

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Why the clap? For music videos insert a beep a couple seconds before the song starts... The clap implies he's syncing the live audio only to use it to sync to the recorded track... On camera audio is good enough for syncing purposes, at least with pluraleyes.

March 9, 2014

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Even if you're recording the music live, you're most likely going to use double system. Pluraleyes or not, I shoot a lot of live music and I always get a clap.

March 9, 2014

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Isn't it easier to synch on the music playing in studio to the music on the master audio track once you are in your NLE? The artist needs that audio in-studio to perform to anyway, and FCPX is pretty damn good at synching that way, and you can convert 3-4 diff cam takes into a multicam clip with one click.

March 13, 2014

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How to get a black backdrop? Just by placing lights very close to the character; the inverse square law (physics) will render the BG pitch black. Done. Learning about lighting doesn't hurt.

March 9, 2014

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Henry

And how do you that when you have a long shot to capture with limited lighting?

March 9, 2014

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Christian

In the article video there is indeed a lot of wasted space in that regard, since the lights could have been closer to the subject and appear in frame with no problems (as long as no flares or light bleed ruined the shot) since you're going to be cropping everything almost up to the person you're shooting.
You have to have some leeway for his movements, though.

March 9, 2014

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Maybe they needed more space for the drummer because he has more gear thatn the guitar guy, and maybe those 800 lights he has are too hot to bring them closerto the talent...

March 9, 2014

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rob

One shiny piece of metal or glass in the background reflecting light and bam, you loose. Also you'd need to get the lights really close to the talent relative to the background. You're right though, in some circumstances you can just let the falloff do the trick, but not always. Its good to have many different tricks in your bag so you can pull out the one that will work for the situation.

March 9, 2014

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similiar capture. simple ideias great effect.
[vimeo 10282696 w=500 h=281] BUNNYRANCH - Liar Alone (videoclip) (2004) from Persona Non Grata on Vimeo.

March 10, 2014

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Cláudio

do not smoke in the set!!!

March 10, 2014

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Cláudio

If you're just using someone standing still and you'll be messing with it in AE anyway, why not tilt your camera 90 degrees and shoot them in a portrait frame? That way, when you comp your subject in AE, you'll have a higher res initial image that you can play around with more (especially considering that if you shoot horizontally, you're trashing the sides anyway, so why bother shooting them?)

March 10, 2014

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Mitchell

I was shooting on a RED One MX. I didn't have the equipment to shoot horizontally!

March 11, 2014

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Lewis

Vertical* sorry.

March 11, 2014

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Lewis

u didnt hav a tripod?

March 12, 2014

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Pat

It's very easy to flip an Epic/Scarlet 90°, but very difficult to flip a R1MX 90°...but it's not that often you really need that much extra resolution cuz you're already shooting 3K or 4k (or 4.5k).

March 18, 2014

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Daniel Mimura

Another example, shot by yours truly

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ojM6uq0lN3M&w=560&h=315]

March 10, 2014

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Kevin

skip to about 1:07 made this with a muslin cloth black background https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yGkBsorgtic&feature=youtube_gdata_player

March 11, 2014

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douglas

We made this video as same technique. but used two 1K continuous lights and we cut the aperture from camera.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JYKF6fcz-Mc

Read more here - http://www.lsmworks.com/motiongraphics/Sangattana/

March 11, 2014

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A tip just for those shooting table-top set-ups. Use real black velvet, the very expensive stuff. Cotton velveteen and any other kind of black cloth doesn't work nearly as well, and it shows when the size of the space in which the lights can be placed is restricted.

March 13, 2014

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Jack