Make a Home Studio
If you’ve ever wanted to create your own videos there’s plenty to know. We took a field trip to Tom Merritt’s house in Los Angeles to see what it takes to create a home studio.
Tom hosts “Tech News Today” from the comfort of his own home via Skype. However, the first thing he considered was bandwidth. Tom managed to find a place served by fiber that gets him insane speeds. His download speed is 300Mbps, and his upload speed is 65Mbps. ISPs like to tout download speeds, but you definitely want to pay attention to the upload speed if you plan on sending video over the internet.
The Hardware Setup
To Skype, Tom uses an off-the-shelf Mac mini that is wired to his home network via Ethernet (again, getting the best speeds is paramount when dealing with streaming online video).
How video reaches the computer: Canon Vixia HF GF10 > HDMI out > Blackmagic Intensity Extreme HDMI to Thunderbolt adapter > goes into Mac mini.
The Canon Vixia HF G10 uses an HD CMOS sensor to output its signal via HDMI. To get that video into the Mac mini, a Blackmagic Intensity Extreme HDMI to Thunderbolt adapter accepts an HDMI input and then outputs it over Thunderbolt.
For audio, Tom speaks into a Heil PR-40, which is the same kind of mic used at the TWiT Brickhouse Studio. The Heil outputs audio using XLR. To get that signal to the Mac mini, the XLR cable is plugged into a Blue Microphones Icicle adapter, which accepts XLR and outputs over USB.
For more audio complex setups, you can choose to use a USB Mixer like Tom’s Mackie PROFX8 mixer.
Camera and Lighting Design specialist Brent Bye of OceanStudio.com was called in to make sure the video looks as good as possible. Brent designed the lighting setup at the TWiT Brickhouse studios.
When setting up your studio, survey the entire space. Consider the space as a whole to see where a good shot would be established. Camera framing makes the small brick fireplace behind Tom appear much larger than it is.
Ambient lighting can be problematic when shooting. In general, avoid backlighting like having a big window behind you. For Tom’s setup, Brent closed the blinds to eliminate the changing lighting from the sun.
After the camera was set to isolate the background, Brent first lit Tom from behind using two rear lights to highlight Tom’s hair. The rim lights separate Tom from the background. The lights Brent used are American DJ (ADJ) brand and are called the Micro Wash WWCW. The acronym stands for “Warm White, Cool White,” which means they can produce both outdoor and indoor color temperatures to match existing indoor lights or correctly match any exterior daylight coming into the shooting space.
For the key light, Brent used a single Kino Flo ParaBeam 210. The light is large enough that it lights Tom without the need for a separate fill light. If you’re wondering about that old stand-by three-point lighting, Brent says that three-point lighting is antiquated and was for when people were using hard light sources which creates harsh shadows.
Using diffusion allows for softer lighting and is a heat resistant material tough enough to handle the heat of lights. Diffusion looks like wax paper is placed over the light source to create pleasant shadows on the talent. Also, you’ll need to control your light - can’t have it spilling all over the place. You can use a material called Cinefoil that can be used to direct light. It’s like aluminum foil, but tougher.
The Green Screen Controversy
For the first several weeks when Tom would call in from his home studio, the audience would yell, “Green screen! That’s no brick wall back there! It must be a green screen - just look at it!” We got to the bottom of that. Brent explained that the combination of a lower resolution camera at Tom’s studio (since replaced), in addition to different colored lights in Tom’s studio, and the backlighting fooled people into thinking “That’s a keyed setup!” A more full explanation is in the episode.
Budget Lighting Setup
Everything you just read applies to lighting in general. You don’t necessarily need professional gear to produce good lighting. You can create a key light using a four-foot workshop light that you can pick up at the hardware store. These use fluorescent tube lighting that flicker. That flickering may be picked up by your camera, but you can adjust that using your camera’s shutter.
To replicate the backlights we used, you can use inexpensive clamp lights. They cost about $8 each. If you’re feeling creative, you can attempt Brent’s “Frankenstein Key Light,” which places four clamp lights on a cross beam that sits atop a mic stand. Placing diffusion over the four lights creates a softer light and unifies the four light sources. (If you can’t picture it, that’s why we do a video show).
The money you save on lights can be used to pick up a camera with enough controls (like manual white balance) so you can make excellent looking video.
That’s a lot of material, but now you’ve got the tools to build your own home studio. Good lighting makes a world of difference and can
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