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What is a “Clean Plate” in VFX? – All You Need to Know

What is clean plate in VFX

What is a Clean Plate in VFX? The video post-production process includes dozens of changes that significantly alter a film’s final appearance. Such changes are necessary to help meet the directors’ vision for the project. If you have been working in film post-production for a while, you may have heard the term “clean plate” at some point.

Today we will be examining what is clean plate in VFX is and discussing some of the ways it is used.

What is a Clean Plate?

In the film post-production world, the term “clean plate” refers to an empty video piece or a still image of a scene. This image maintains the same lightning, movement, and composition as the film’s finished clip, but without the main subject or other objects. A clean plate could be anything from an aerial shot of a scene to a locked-down tripod shot.

Most post-production crews understand the importance of a clean plate and ask filming crews to obtain a 10 to a 15-second clip of the background plate for each of the film’s scenes. This scene essentially offers a baseline for how things in the shot can and should look.

Read more: How to Make a Short Film with No Budget

How are Clean Plates Used in VFX?

Clean plates can be utilized in many different settings. For example, you may be interested in filming an outdoor interview on a partly cloudy day. The movement of the clouds will likely vary the lighting of your shots, so you can use a clean plate to keep things looking consistent.

Similarly, action scenes that involve many objects can use a clean plate to keep the main subject separate from the scene’s background. This gives filmmakers and artists more freedom during the post-production process.

Capturing Process

You can capture clean plates in a number of ways. It simply entails recording your scene or shot without the subject or subjects inside. This scene or shot should also possess the exact composition and lighting you would like your finished scene to be. It is also important to get this shot from every angle or type of camera you intend to use.

It is usually best to capture your clean plate using a steady tripod to keep the post-production process easy to manage. However, some filmmakers may opt to capture their clean plate using a moving shot via a handheld camera.

Ways to Match Your Footage

Man matching footage with clean plate VFX

There are many considerations to keep in mind when attempting to match your footage with your clean plate. This includes:

  • Lighting
  • Focal Length
  • Focal Depth

Lighting

Keeping lighting consistent can be a challenge in many film productions. During post-production, you can attempt to keep your shot’s “time of day” or lighting source’s position consistent with the clean plate using different types of lighting. You can also use glow or flare effects to achieve this.

Focal Length

If you intend to insert a plate later in a scene, you will need to pay attention to the focal length. This is because the focal length will help your shot’s composition appear realistic among your plates. After all, you don’t want a close-up background plate if you decide to shoot with a wide focal length. Such a move would distort the perspective and result in a strange-looking shot.

Focal Depth

You will also need to pay attention to your focal depth when matching your footage with the plate. If you intend to shoot a scene with a wide-open aperture, the shot’s depth of field will appear shallow. This type of focal depth choice will also need to be reflected in your plate.

Learning More About Clean Plates and VFX

The above guide provides only a basic introduction to the clean plates and how they are used. The average film post-production team may spend a fair amount of time focusing on clean plates, so it is important to be familiar with how they are shot and used if you intend to work in film post-production. You can see some great examples of clean plates in use in this compilation video.