How Green Screen Worked Before Computers

If you know anything about how films are made then you have probably heard about the “green screen” before. The technique is also known as chroma key compositing, and it’s generally used to merge two images or videos together based on color hues. Usually you see an actor filmed in front of a green background. Using video editing software, the editor can then replace that specific green color with another video clip. This makes it look like the actor is in a completely different environment.

It’s no surprise that with computers, this is a very simple task. Any basic video editing software will include a chroma key function, but have you ever wondered how this was accomplished before computers made it so simple? [Tom Scott] posted a video to explain exactly that.

In the early days of film, the studio could film the actor against an entirely black background. Then, they would copy the film over and over using higher and higher contrasts until they end up with a black background, and a white silhouette of the actor. This film could be used as a matte. Working with an optical printer, the studio could then perform a double exposure to combine film of a background with the film of the actor. You can imagine that this was a much more cumbersome process than making a few mouse clicks.

For the green screen effect, studios could actually use specialized optical filters. They could apply one filter that would ignore a specific wavelength of the color green. Then they could film the actor using that filter. The resulting matte could then be combined with the footage of the actor and the background film using the optical printer. It’s very similar to the older style with the black background.

Electronic analog video has some other interesting tricks to perform the same basic effect. [Tom] explains that the analog signal contained information about the various colors that needed to be displayed on the screen. Electronic circuits were built that could watch for a specific color (green) and replace the signal with one from the background video. Studios even went so far as to record both the actor and a model simultaneously, using two cameras that were mechanically linked together to make the same movements. The signals could then be run through this special circuit and the combined image recorded all simultaneously.

There are a few other examples in the video, and the effects that [Tom] uses to describe these old techniques go a long way to help understand the concepts. It’s crazy to think of how complicated this process can be, when nowadays we can do it in minutes with the computers we already have in our homes. Continue reading “How Green Screen Worked Before Computers”

Generating Video With The PIC

[bekeband] recently came across an old industrial monitor. It’s small, monochrome, has a beautiful green phosphor, and does not accept a composite signal. Instead, there’s a weird TTL input with connectors for horizontal sync, vertical sync, and video. Intrigued, [bekeband] brought it home and started working on a project that would drive this monitor. He succeeded, and with a chip we don’t see much of on the Hackaday tips line: a 16-bit PIC.

The project uses the dsPIC30F3011, a strange little 16-bit PIC in a 40-pin package. The board for this build actually comes from an earlier build, and after connecting the horizontal sync, vertical sync, and video to this tiny board, [bekeband] started writing some code.

There are two programs written for this board. The first is a static image tester that displays a single image on the CRT. The second is one that displays a simple animation, in this case, a horse running in place. It’s not the fanciest project, but it does work, and even though [bekeband] isn’t using a high-speed ARM, he is getting a reasonably high resolution out of this chip.

Video below.

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Keep Tabs on Passing Jets with Pi and SDR

Obviously Software Defined Radio is pretty cool. For a lot of hackers you just need the right project to get you into it. Submitted for your approval is just that project. [Simon Aubury] has been using a Raspberry Pi and SDR to record video of planes passing overhead. The components are cheap and most places have planes passing by; this just might be the perfect project.

We’re not just talking static frames with planes passing through them, oh no. Simon used two hobby servos and some brackets to gimbal his Pi camera board. A DVB dongle allows the rig to listen in on the Automatic Dependent Surveillance Broadcast (ADS-B) coming from the planes. This system is mandated for most commercial aircraft (deadlines for implementation vary). ADS-B consists of positioning data being broadcast from planes using known frequencies and protocols. Once [Simon] locks onto this data he can accomplish a lot, like keeping the plane in the center of the video, establishing which flight is being recorded, and automatically uploading the footage. With such a marvelously executed build we’re certain we will see more people giving it a try.

[Simon] did a great job with the writeup too. Not only did he include a tl;dr, but drilled down through a project summary and right to the gritty details. Well done documentation is itself worth celebrating!

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Cairo Hackerspace Gets A $14 Projector

The Cairo hackerspace needed a projector for a few presentations during their Internet of Things build night, and of course Friday movie night. They couldn’t afford a real projector, but these are hackers. Of course they’ll be able to come up with something. They did. They found an old slide projector made in West Germany and turned it into something capable of displaying video.

The projector in question was a DIA projector that was at least forty years old. They found it during a trip to the Egyptian second-hand market. Other than the projector, the only other required parts were a 2.5″ TFT display from Adafruit and a Nokia smartphone.

All LCDs are actually transparent, and if you’ve ever had to deal with a display with a broken backlight, you’ll quickly realize that any backlight will work, like the one found in a slide projector. By carefully removing the back cover of the display, the folks at the Cairo hackerspace were able to get a small NTSC display that would easily fit inside their projector.

After that, it was simply a matter of putting the LCD inside the display, getting the focus right, and mounting everything securely. The presentations and movie night were saved, all from a scrap heap challenge.

An External Autofocus for DSLRs

Most modern DSLR cameras support shooting full HD video, which makes them a great cheap option for video production. However, if you’ve ever used a DSLR for video, you’ve probably ran into some limitations, including sluggish autofocus.

Sensopoda tackles this issue by adding an external autofocus to your DSLR. With the camera in manual focus mode, the device drives the focus ring on the lens. This allows for custom focus control code to be implemented on an external controller.

To focus on an object, the distance needs to be known. Sensopoda uses the HRLV-MaxSonar-EZ ultrasonic sensor for this task. An Arduino runs a control loop that implements a Kalman filter to smooth out the input. This is then used to control a stepper motor which is attached to the focus ring.

The design is interesting because it is rather universal; it can be adapted to run on pretty much any DSLR. The full writeup (PDF) gives all the details on the build.

Hacking VGA for Trippy Video Effects


Ever since flat panel LCD monitors came on the scene, most old CRTs have found their ways into the garbage or into the backs of closets. For this project, it might be a good idea to pull out the old monitor or TV out and dust it off! [James] has found a way to hack the VGA input to these devices to get them to display vivid visualizations based on an audio input.

The legacy hardware-based project is called RGB.VGA.VOLT and works by taking an audio signal as an input, crossing some wires, and sending the signal through a synthesizer. The circuit then creates a high-frequency waveform that works especially well for being displayed on VGA. The video can also be channeled back through an audio waveform generator to create a unique sound to go along with the brilliant colors.

[James]’s goals with this project are to generate an aesthetic feeling with his form of art and to encourage others to build upon his work. To that end, he has released the project under an open license, and the project is thoroughly documented on his project site.

There have been plenty of hacks in the past that have implemented other protocols with VGA or implemented VGA on microcontrollers, but none that have hacked the interface entirely to create something that looks like the Star Gate sequence from 2001: A Space Odyssey. We think it’s a great piece of modern art and a novel use of VGA!

Thanks for the tip, [Kyle]!

A Raspberry Pi Helmet Cam with GPS Logging

20140126_222809-1 Over the last 20 years, [Martin] has been recording snowboarding runs with a standard helmet cam. It was good but he felt like he could improve upon the design by building his own version and logging additional data values like speed, temperature, altitude, and GPS. In the video shown after the break, a first person perspective is displayed with a GPS overlay documenting the paths that were taken through the snow. [Martin] accomplished this by using a python module called picamera to start the video capture and writing the location to a data file. He then modified the program to read the current frame number and sync GPS points to an exact position in the video. MEncoder is used to join the images together into one media file.

The original design was based on the Raspberry Pi GPS Car Dash Cam [Martin] developed a few months earlier. The code in this helmet cam utilizes many of the same functions surrounding the gathering of GPS data points, recording video, and generating the overlay. What made this project different though were the challenges involved. For example, a camera inside a car rarely has to deal with extreme drops in temperature or the wet weather conditions of a snowy mountain. The outside of the vehicle may get battered from the snow, but the camera remains relatively safe from exposure. In order to test the Raspberry Pi before venturing into the cold, [Martin] stuck the computer in the freezer to see what would happen. Luckily it worked perfectly.

Click past the break for the rest of the story.

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