Jump into the artwork

Green screen digital technology at Rugby Art Gallery and Museum

Digital technology for many galleries and museums can be met with trepidation, with connotations of high costs, specific technical training required and extravagant equipment. At Rugby Art Gallery and Museum, we thought we lacked such equipment and skills, and on the whole, we were nervous as we didn’t know where to start. However, we could very much see the potential benefit of engaging with digital and the opportunity to reach a range of audiences.

In an age when young people have a phone permanently attached to their hand, 2 year-olds can navigate tablets with ease and even the older generation are playing scrabble online, it is essential to move with the times. To appeal to the digital age.

For us, the green screen has emerged as the beginning of the digital journey for Rugby Art Gallery and Museum – baby steps.

Image courtesy of Rugby Art Gallery and Museum.

So, what is a green screen? Chroma key is the technology used to create different backgrounds. Green is used because it doesn’t match any skin or hair tone, meaning no part of the person will be edited out. If a person is wearing green, they will disappear, therefore on these occasions blue screens are substituted. A common example of green screen use is a weather person on TV. The person would be filmed in front of a green screen and the weather map would be substituted for the green in the back ground.

The ‘About Face exhibition’, containing portraits from the Rugby Collection, The Lowry and the National Portrait Gallery, has been a huge success for Rugby Art Gallery and Museum, and the supporting education program, utlising the green screen, has also been a triumph.

After an inspiring STEAM training session at The Herbert Media in Coventry, which explored the use of Green Screen technology, I decided it would be a good fit with this new exhibition and investigated its use more widely. After we received a grant from the Art Fund for ‘About Face’, we were able to put our project into action. We aimed to purchase the green screen equipment and a tablet and then select a limited number of artworks which we had copyright for to use as backgrounds. We then purchased suitable props and costumes linked to the artworks for students and visitors to pose with. A free green screen App called ‘Chroma Key’ was downloaded, which automatically transforms the backgrounds.

Image courtesy of Rugby Art Gallery and Museum.

Our aims included:

  • Encouraging and engaging a range age groups in our public sessions
  • To be socially inclusive
  • To develop skills in expressions, composition, colour, shape and themes.
  • To engage teenage audiences
  • A marketing tool for the exhibition

The participants included 8 schools who were part of pre-booked free workshops and public sessions. Throughout May 2018, Rugby schools were invited to be part of the project which included a two-hour workshop of storytelling linked to the artwork, learning how to draw portraits and finishing with the green screen experience. 360 students took part and very positive feedback was received from the teachers and children. Students loved the opportunity to think about the story of the paintings, and how to interpret it through poses and costumes. Children and young people were excited to be able to see themselves in the photo and then change the background many times. To then walk over to the real artwork and see the texture and differences in size was really interesting for them – this isn’t something they can do when they are gaming. This experience was therefore special and unique to combine the virtual and real. The finished images were also a positive marketing tools, reminding the students of the fantastic visit and promoting the experience to other teaches in the school. The artworks used in the project were ‘Crowd’ by Evelyn Williams,’ The Bride’s Secret Diary’ by Paula Rego and ‘Monday Morning’ by L.S.Lowry.

Green screen fun. Image courtesy of Rugby Art Gallery and Museum.

Public sessions at weekends have also been popular and visitors were invited to attend through posters and social media as part of the exhibition. As the green screen is portable we used it both in the education spaces and the art gallery itself, moving it to the most practical space. All ages enjoyed taking part, choosing the artwork and props and posing based on the theme or story of the work. These were also great marketing tools as the public shared their images of their visit on social media.

The sessions worked well as the process was quick, the equipment was portable and very easy for staff and participants to use and half an hour of training for the education team was ample. Using the app means we are not limited to the tablet, participants are able to download the app themselves too.

Image courtesy of Rugby Art Gallery and Museum,

We have also experimented using a good quality camera, photographing and transferring the image to a laptop and then using Photoshop or other free packages to manipulate the image further. For example, reducing the size of the participants and changing colours etc. We will use this for future workshops offering a more in-depth opportunity.

Already we have seen the potential in using the green screen as an engagement tool for a range of events, groups and projects. We recently used it for our ‘Night at your Museum’ event in May, with just under 500 people linked to a medieval theme. Using medieval costumes and props we projected a castle background onto the green via the tablet/app. Endless free backgrounds were found on free green screen backdrop websites. These were high quality digital images and were spectacular with amble choice of themes.

The project fulfilled our aims and we also saw other unexpected outcomes. The teachers appreciated a digital element to their visit and remarked how impressed they were with the resources and ease of use. They noted students who usually misbehaved were fully engaged and enjoyed the hands on nature of the activity. Learning about the process and relating this to tv and film was interesting and current to them, with an added wow factor. The opportunity to look and examine the artworks in depth, through the digital images and then compare these to the real artwork was significant: digital and analogue side by side. Students also developed skills in composition, colour and shape while performing in the photos. It was clear children learnt more when they are part of the experience.

During public sessions we saw a range of intergenerational groups take part and have fun, confirming the gallery experience was for them. The sessions also saw more teenagers, one of the target audiences, take part, as it appealed to their digital preferences. As the process is relatively quick, we saw many visitors drop in and add to their gallery experience. Many of these images were shared on social media afterwards promoting the exhibition to a wider audience.

The project was a very simple way of using digital tech, and a safe and non-intimidating method of introducing staff to digital, giving them confidence to investigate other ways of working. It was clean, professional, and flexible with an instant but effective finished product. Organisationally, we have now become more open to digital opportunities and are investigating workshops and local external practitioners. Ideas at the moment include videoing, interviews, animated back grounds and green suits.

Monitoring the project has been crucial to develop, learn and flex throughout the process as we discovered what worked and overcame barriers. These included working with copyright, practical issues such as what backdrops compositionally worked well, lighting and photo consent.

The green screen has opened many possibilities and we are looking forward to seeing what the digital future holds at Rugby Art Gallery and Museum.

Jessica Hartshorn
Learning & Outreach Officer
Rugby Art Gallery & Museum