Turn your actors into ghosts

You know the special effect I’m talking about: somebody walks across the room, and you can see right through them. It’s an easier effect to produce than you might realise. All you need is a tripod and some video editing software that allows you to layer two video tracks on top of each other whilst controlling the opacity level of each (i.e. how much you can see through the image). If that’s a bit of a mouthful for you, let me explain.

First, set the tripod up nice and steady. Tighten all the adjusters so that it won’t move during, or after, recording (this is very important). Now, have your actor walk across the room in front of the camera. When you’ve finished the shot, film exactly the same shot without the actor.

For editing, I use a great little budget video editor called Serif Movie Plus. After you’ve captured the two shots into your computer, position them each on separate tracks so that they will both play at the same time. Of course, no magic will happen yet; the computer can only play one video at once … until you adjust the opacity level of the shot with the actor so that the shot becomes partially see-through. What do you think will happen to all the bits and pieces of scenery in your shot? Absolutely nothing, becuase the shot behind this shot contains exactly the same scenery. But what will happen to the actor? You will see the scenery through him.

You can also experiment with cross-fading the two shots together, which will produce an effect just like the TARDIS taking off or landing.

Two other things are important for an effect like this to work. (1) The camera is not allowed to move, so you’ll have to live with a static shot; no pans or zooms. (2) Nothing (except the actor) is allowed to move. You may have trouble filming outdoors if there are plants and bushes blowing in the wind, or moving traffic.

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4 thoughts on “Turn your actors into ghosts

  1. Jeffrey Allen Davis says:

    Funny, but also probably disturbing, my daughter loves this clip. I downloaded it the morning after you put it up and, whenever I’m on the computer, she’ll come in and say, “I wanna see the ghost, daddy.”

    Your scream when she got in your face was realistic, too. Good job.

  2. Darryl Sloan says:

    Cool! I appreciate you sharing that.

  3. James Maxon says:

    Fun! So what ‘do’ you do if something does need to move in the background (such as panning the camera, filming on a beach, etc)?

    Have you ever messed around with claymation? I tried some stop and go pictures with a digital camera before, it looks cool, but takes a really long time just to get a few seconds worth.

  4. Darryl Sloan says:

    The only thing you can do is find a way to zoom or pan the image digitally, after fully rendering the scene. I’m sure the pros have a better way.

    Haven’t tried claymation, but a friend of mine made a neat animated remake of The Thing some years ago. You know, each year it’s a struggle to come up with something new for the school filmmaking club, and you’ve given me a great suggestion for next year.

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