Thursday, June 18, 2020

Cheap DIY Green Screen for Online Meetings

With the Covid Pandemic upon us, most Toastmasters clubs have moved towards online meetings. We, at the BF Community Toastmasters Club, had our first online meeting last Mar.21, 2020 using the Zoom platform. It has been our mode of meeting from then on.

Background Without a Green Screen

Seeing how others in the first online meeting were able to use a different backgrounds got me into thinking. Could I do that too? Use a different background even without a green screen? Here's me in the first online meeting. (Sorry the photo's blurry because this was taken from the gallery view screenshot.)

(photo credits: Pat Maliksi)

Well, the actual background I had in my bedroom wasn't so bad. One problem I saw though was the harsh light coming from the window at the back. I had dark blue-green curtains, but apparently they not enough to control the glare. Not only that, I always get a breeze in this room. The billowing curtains frequently produce bursts of light for the camera.

If you look at the bedroom walls, they're actually colored a pastel shade of green. There are some objects though, like a wall fan and window air conditioner that are part of the walls. And then there's also the bed and a small table (unseeen, behind me).

Using Zoom Backgrounds Without a Green Screen

So will I be able to use a Zoom background with just my pastel green-colored walls? I tried. It worked but there were imperfections. Below is one background that I used in a Logitech webcam session, not in a zoom session.

(photo credits: Logitech)

You'll notice that a small side table shows up at the lower left part of the photo. It looks out of place with the above background and this problem becomes even more obvious with other backgrounds.

Another problem is the positioning. In the photo above, it appears that I'm more on the left side of the screen (which is to MY right). This is because, I had to re-position myself so that much of what is at my back are the bare walls.

Since I'm working on a desktop which has a fixed position, I had to shift the keyboard, mouse, monitor and even the webcam to my right side. This is just so I could have the "most wall" behind me, and not the bed and the windows.

It's cumbersome to set up the layout and feels awkward to have to reposition everything this way.

Free Green Screen - Almost!

Of course I'd rather not spend - not if I can help it. Firstly, how long is this pandemic gonna last? How long will I be able to use a green screen? Will we all be going back to the usual meeting venues soon?

By the time I built my own green screen, the pandemic was on its second month already with no indicators that it's going away soon. On the contrary, Covid cases continue to rise and it may take months or even years before we go back to a "new normal". It may take a long while before onsite meetings (as opposed to the current online) will ever come back.

The concept of making one looks simple though. Many DIY projects on making a green screen have appeared on youtube. Some use paper, some use cloth. All you really need is a resourceful and creative mind to come up with a workable idea.

I looked around in our garage to find what can be a suitable stand or frame for the green screen. For that, I saw the old package corrugated box of our refrigerator. I also saw a 2 feet by 4 feet piece of scrap plywood. This would be enough for the green screen frame, I thought.

Again, you can be flexible here. Thick illustration boards will work too as the green screen frame. A clothes rack can double up as a green screen stand. But certainly, what I had in mind was something that is portable, within my budget, and can be set up in a short time.

What about the green sheet material for the green surface itself? If it's portable, it's gotta be lightweight. For that, I was thinking of cartolina or what is sometimes called poster board paper.

It's cheap and not so difficult to find, even in this pandemic! Even as the big bookstore chain remain closed, I found cartolina in a neighborhood minimart for Php 8.00 apiece.

For this green screen project, I only needed 4 pieces of cartolina. So the total cash outlay for me on this project was Php 32.00. That's less than a US dollar! This green screen is so cheap it's almost free!

Making a Cheap Green Screen

The basic materials I used for this DIY green screen are as follows:
  1. Old Corrugated Carton Box: 52" x 60" when folded - This will serve as the green screen frame and stand.
  2. Scrap Plywood: 24" x 48" and 1/8" thick - This will keep the green screen more rigid and stable.
  3. Green Cartolina: 22.5" x 28.5", 4 pcs. - Also called poster board paper. This will used as the surface for the green screen.
  4. Packaging Tape - For reinforcing the bottom edge of the green screen frame.
  5. Glue Stick - For attaching the cartolina to the carton.
  6. Small bolts, nuts, washers - These will serve as fasteners.

Here is the video for creating the DIY green screen:
(Do subscribe to my youtube channel. Click on the round logo at the upper left of the video.)

Pardon my long hair in the video. I was wearing a headband to keep my unruly hair in place. We were at the height of the pandemic when this video was made and barbershops have not opened for months.

The green screen was finished in about 4 hours. That was one of the most productive 4 hours I had during the quarantine period.