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