A green-screen effect, or chroma keying, is nothing new. The technology was first used in Hollywood as early as the 1930s, and is still used today in movies, sports broadcasting and, of course, weather shows. But it’s not really consumer technology — mainly because of the need for an actual green screen, a static camera and studio-quality lighting.
But being able to have a live video background behind you is cool — especially if you can use it to create unique social content to share with your friends.
Meet Blin.gy, a new app that’s figured out how to achieve a “mobile green-screen effect” without the need for a full studio environment.
There’s some background behind Blin.gy — the team had previously built Chosen, an American Idol-style app where you could create and share short video clips showcasing your talents. The startup partnered with The Ellen Show and gained some traction — but it soon became apparent that their key demographic, teenagers, were more into apps like Musical.ly, where music was the focus of the content they created.
So the team took a step back and went heads-down with the goal of building a tool to create content that would let young people express themselves in a way that hasn’t been done before.
Essentially, they wanted to create a new type of content that would be unique to Blin.gy. Musical.ly has fast-motion videos with overlaid songs, Snapchat has filters and AR-style effects, Instagram has Boomerang — you get the point.
Eventually, the team came up with the idea to put users inside a music video, using a mobile green-screen effect. And while you’d think that with today’s technology it would be easy to just port old-school chroma keying to mobile, it’s actually more complicated than that.
The team’s patent-pending algorithm (they wrote a white paper going into more detail) essentially combines old-school chroma keying with new technologies, like object class detection, edge detection, color manipulation and other computer vision technologies. In short, they dynamically prioritize and combine these different techniques depending on the environment in which the video is being recorded.
So while a technology like Apple’s Photo Booth effect would be totally messed up the second you move your camera (and distort the background), Blin.gy’s tech allows you to use a non-stabilized camera that can actually be moving while you record the video.
Of course, computer vision technology is still young (and limited by how powerful our phones are), so Blin.gy still recommends you do things like record your video in front of a plain background in order to achieve the most realistic result.
This means not all of the videos are perfect — scrolling through the main feed shows videos on all ends of the spectrum — some are great and look as if done in front of a “real” green screen, while in other videos the effect barely works.
But the startup explained that some of these videos are coming from lower-powered Android phones that don’t have the processing power to fully support the effect. There’s also an instructional component the first time you use the app that shows you how to pick a good background and lighting, and by nature of having a young audience (most current users are teenagers), they don’t always follow the directions, which results in sub-par videos.
Right now the app features tens of thousands of music video clips to choose from — all 15 seconds long. Eventually Blin.gy hopes to work with labels to get customized content designed for their app — like a version of a music video where there’s an empty spot next to Drake that a Blin.gy user can dance in. They’ve already experimented with this — the app has a special edit of Migos’ Bad and Boujee video that contains footage with open spaces and no jump cuts — making it look more realistic when someone uses it as a background.