While digital media labs complete with green screens, cameras, computers and software may be out of reach for many libraries, creating composite photos and videos with your teens doesn’t have to be. I set out a few weeks ago to find a free or low-cost green screen option and have been fortunate. After testing several chroma key apps, Green Screen by Do Ink is the one I keep coming back to for flexibility and user friendliness. I had begun by looking for free apps, and quickly discovered that I could either pay up front for green screen capabilities, or download free apps that include “in-app purchases.” In-app purchases meant paying to unlock the chroma key tool or to get rid of an obtrusive watermark that rendered the free version essentially useless. I also discovered in one case that the developers’ definition of green screen did not match my own (it was basically a $4.99 masking tool, something that comes included in many photo editing apps). With no advertisements or watermarks, Green Screen’s $2.99 cost is worthwhile.
Originally debuting in October 2013, Green Screen has undergone several updates including bug fixes and recently added features that let you crop, scale and rotate source images. Video projects can also now be saved to Dropbox and Google Drive for easy archival.
Designed and tested to be kid and classroom friendly, Green Screen comes pre-loaded with a tutorial video starring a very enthusiastic grade-school-aged girl. Teens might laugh at this video, but it provides a good introduction to the tools and controls. It’s also completely editable. Depending on the skill-levels of your teens, you may want to skip watching the video, and jump right into playing around with it. A potential first project might be to challenge them to create their own introduction tutorial using a mix of prerecorded and live footage.
Despite the simplicity of its design, Green Screen offers a full range of features. You can record live images and video using the iPad’s camera, and also import prerecorded videos, photos, and artwork. The scrollable timeline allows you to add an unlimited number of sources, move them around, and trim as needed. Images can also be rotated, scaled and cropped. Finished projected are easily rendered into MOV or MP4 files for sharing on youtube and other places. Green Screen also does a couple of things that I didn’t see in the other apps I tested. One: It allows you to combine up to three image layers at a time. The other apps I tried only allow two. Two: The chroma filter (which can be turned on and off for each layer) uses a full-spectrum color picker, so that you can effectively key out any background color that you have available. I tested it using a reddish octopus graphic in front of the blue-green wall in my poorly lit office, and found that I could easily key out the wall (minus a couple of pesky shadows, which I later cropped out).
This app definitely rewards a little pre-planning and practice when it comes to recording and putting together a video project. I found the timeline controls to be a little clunky; a combination of tapping, holding and swiping is needed to move the clips around. It also took some trial and error to figure out how to set the automatic stop timer on video and image recording. I discovered that the timer is necessary to keep the still images you add to the timeline from stretching on into what seems to be infinity.
Even with these quirks, I found the learning curve to be fairly gentle. Teens could get the hang of it and create an original project of their own over the course of a 1.5 to 2 hour program. Setting them loose in the library with an iPad and a prop or two would give them the opportunity to experiment with different background colors and lighting situations, and set up a discussion afterwards about what background colors work best and why green might be the standard color choice. However you decide to use it, Green Screen has plenty of potential for teen-led programs (YALSA Teen Programming Guideline 3) that support connected learning (YALSA Teen Programming Guideline 4).
Green Screen can also be purchased as part of a creativity bundle along with Animation & Drawing by Do Ink for $5.99. It is only available for iPad at this time.