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With the Thanksgiving holiday nearly upon us here in the States, I suspect there will be a lot of beer drinking and watching television happening over the long weekend. For those of us who know that life is not a spectator sport, there’s this week’s flashback from the pages of MAKE Volume 07. Bill Barminski shows us how to drink beer on C-SPAN, or at least give the impression that you are.

MAKE Volume 07 is no longer available in print, but the juicy information in it is accessible by all subscribers. Subscribe to access all back issues digitally. Also, check out Bill Barminski talking about drinking beer on C-SPAN in the Trouble Maker section of Make: television episode 103.

How to Drink Beer on C-Span
Put yourself into somebody else’s video.
By Bill Barminski

OK, you’re not really going to drink beer on C-SPAN or Larry King Live. But you can make it look like you did on video. I don’t know why you’d want to, but let’s just say you do. I know I did.

The method used to achieve this effect is called compositing. You will need a source video recorded from a television show, a replacement video you will shoot yourself, and a static matte — a shape cut out of the source video with Photoshop to hold the new video.

Materials

C-SPAN
Analog-to-video capture device
Final Cut Pro and Photoshop
Video camera
Tripod
Beer
Microphone to record belch
Business suit

The first step is to watch TV and record the source video. Sounds like fun, right? Don’t get too excited. I recommend using video from C-SPAN, which is a good source for two reasons. First, they repeat everything, over and over and over. So if you see something good, you can catch it later and record it. I use an analog-to-DV converter on my computer to capture stuff live off the TV directly into Final Cut Pro. But you can record onto a DV camera and then later capture it into the editing software of your choice.

The second and more important reason why C-SPAN is a good source is that the network tends to use “locked-down” camera shots. (A lockdown is a camera that has been set on a tripod and is not moving or panning.) No matter where you get your source video, you need to look for shows that use locked-down camera angles. A locked-down camera dramatically reduces the amount of work required. If the camera is moving, the shape of the matte you create has to move, too, in every single frame of the video captured, which is 30 frames per second! Do the math. A 10-second shot will require you to cut something like 8 billion mattes. OK, my math may be off, but it’s still a lot. With a locked camera shot, you just need one, which you can cut in Photoshop.

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I recorded some footage of Judge Alito at his confirmation hearings. In the shot I used, the camera is locked down and Judge Alito is sitting mostly still. More importantly, the woman wearing light pink in the row in back is very still. I want to sit next to her and drink beer.

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Once I’ve found a source video clip, I extract a still image from it, open it in Photoshop, and cut the matte. I use the Path tool to make this selection; a 1-pixel feather on the selection is recommended. I place the selection in a new layer and fill it with any color. I turn off the background image, leaving me with a solid shape.

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I save this as my matte with the alpha/transparency intact. From the File menu, do a Save for Web with PNG-24 selected as the format and the Transparency option checked. The checkered background indicates the transparent area.

Once the matte is cut, it’s a good idea to test it to see whether it really holds up before wasting time shooting a replacement video. Using Final Cut Pro, I place my original video into Layer 1. Then I import my PNG matte and place it into a new layer above the original video. It should fit right into place. I render the shot and check to see whether the edge along the woman in pink’s silhouette will work. If she sits still and the camera doesn’t move, then the matte should sit perfectly along her outline. If she picks up her hand, it ruins this matte because her hand would travel into the orange area and get cut off.

Now Comes the Fun Part: Making Your Fake Video

I put on the only suit I own and set up my camera on a tripod in my living room. In order to get the camera angle right, I print out a still image from the Alito footage and make adjustments until I have the same approximate angle. I don’t worry about placing myself in the corner of the shot; in fact, I shoot myself central to the frame, knowing I can hand-place the shot in the corner later.

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I originally shot myself doing various things such as drinking beer and making faces and hand gestures. But I found that the faces and hand gestures were just too obvious, too over the top. The beer drinking was subtle. In fact, when I showed the finished composite shot to some people, they had to watch it twice before figuring out that something wasn’t right. I consider that success.

Once the fake video is shot, I’m ready to composite all the elements together. I use Final Cut Pro, but After Effects or Premiere will also work. I import my three elements — the original video, a PNG matte, and the replacement video — into a project. I place the original video into the bottom video layer, the PNG matte into a new video layer above it, and the fake video in a third layer above the first two.

The method used to put the fake video into the matte area of the real video is called travel matte alpha. I double-click to select the fake clip, open the Modify column, and then, near the bottom, open the category Composite Mode. I then select the Travel Matte Alpha option near the bottom of that subcategory. The fake video now plays only inside of the shape of the matte.

The video may now need to be moved into position to look correct. I had to resize mine a little and move it to the left until I was “sitting” next to the girl in pink. I also did some color correction so that both shots looked consistent.

The last step was to record a loud burp. I used the voice-over option in Final Cut to record that additional sound. I’m done, unless I want to eat chips behind Senator Kennedy.

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These clips can be seen at barminski.com.