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Live Keying with the Sony AWS-750 Anycast Touch

When the new Sony Anycast Touch live switcher showed up here at Rule, no one really knew what to make of it. The knee-jerk reaction to the dual touch screen, Star Trek looking switcher, was a wave of mild curiosity – followed closely by the inevitable “Where are all the buttons!?” See, in the world of live events, switchers usually have switches — physical buttons, knobs, and other touchy-feely things to give the user some satisfying real-world feedback when using the equipment. The new Anycast Touch, as one could assume from its namesake, looks more like an iPad than a switcher – and after you accept the new form factor, it’s awesome. In this post, I won’t be going into every nut and bolt on the Anycast Touch. Instead, I’ll be focusing on one advanced ability — live keying. If you’d like to know more about the overall basic operation, my tips and tricks, and a more in-depth outline of advanced workflows, RSVP to for my Learning Lab here at Rule on March 26th. We’ll be going over a handful of real-world switching situations to acclimate both seasoned vets and users who are new to live event production. In the past, doing live chroma key work has always been a daunting task. Lighting your green or blue screen evenly was absolutely essential to getting a good, passable key – and to a large extent, this is still true today. The Anycast Touch is very forgiving, though. It deals with hot spots and wrinkles fairly well, though spill is something one should always be mindful of. A good rule of thumb is to simply get your talent as far away from that colored backdrop as possible for your framing. The Sony Anycast Touch is unlike any other switcher when it comes to live keys (or anything else, really). The interface for keying will look familiar to any users who have used chroma keying features in any popular NLE. While it isn’t as populated with intricate refining features like Adobe’s UltraKey or Keylight, it’s surprisingly powerful. Sony gives us 3 main sections in the Chroma Key settings:  1) Chromakey, 2) Crop, and 3) Size/Position. I won’t spend too much time on the last 2, as they’re fairly self-explanatory. In the main panel, though, we have some interesting choices. The “Auto” mode is very robust, and often gets it pretty close. When in auto mode, we are given a small white box on our main display to move around (I prefer using a mouse and keyboard when using the Touch, as it makes dragging this box around much easier than using your finger). I find that selecting the darker spots of your green/blue screen produce the best results — though lighting your screen evenly is always recommended. Even so, I’ve gotten some remarkable results from wrinkled and uneven lighting — there is enough forgiveness here for users of all levels to give it a shot. Color Cancel is a great addition by Sony — it is your basic “spill suppression.” Instead of adding magenta to green, though, it simply finds any leftover areas of the sampled color and desaturates them.  This is fantastic for tough keys with fairer skin and lighter hair. I wish there were ways to adjust the amount of hue and luma for the key’s selection, but, even without it, it seems to work very intuitively. Sometimes, if your talent is wearing darker clothing, this can present itself as a fine grey outline. Fiddling with the manual gain and density adjustments is usually enough to get it passable. Disable Colors will help you select as to whether you want to composite your title graphics, or have them overlay as normal. Not much to worry about here – basic rule of thumb is to leave it be unless your titles are behaving strangely. My recommended workflow for keying is to use auto mode to get you in the ballpark – if you’ve lit your screen fairly well, you often won’t need to mess with anything else. If you’re finding issue, switching to manual will save the auto settings, then adjusting the Clip slider is usually enough to get you the rest of the way there. Here’s a photo of the test we set up: I tried to emulate a portable, lower budget situation for users who would be on location, streaming live to the web or to internal monitors. We used a collapsible Chroma Key flex-fill, clamped to a few C-Stands. For lighting, I threw up some Litepanels 1×1’s, with full diffusion and ¼ CTO to keep the greens looking green. For our single key light, I used the Litepanels Ringlite Mini. A small LED light would be a great addition to this set up for some fill light, but I tried to keep things simple. Our camera? Your standard Canon 5D mkIII with a 24-70mm, stopped down to f4. Here’s a still from this setup, with our own Jenn Jennings reading the weather! You can see that even with a very basic set up, you can get a pretty convincing chroma key up and running without too much fuss. Green screen live can be a great tool for corporate productions, broadcast situations, and webcasts. It can also be a great way to easily get a visually interesting interview background when space and budget is limited. In addition to the traditional chroma key situations, one can also use chromakey for using animated titles. The Anycast Touch, at the end of the day, is still a switcher, and switchers are always going to be limited in certain ways. With the Touch, we are unable to import animated graphics into the internal SSD for use in the titling section. Even when exported with an alpha channel, the Touch can’t process it. By using chromakey, however, we are able to circumvent this limitation. We can use the internal media player and chromakey effect to knock out the background, and use live animated graphics. In this way, your graphics are really limited only by your graphic designer’s talents! Here’s a video sample using a gaudy animated lower third I threw together in After Effects. Exported as a simple MP4, I used a highly saturated green as the background. The Touch removes it perfectly on the auto setting, and we’re able to use animations to really raise production value. The added text has been created and faded on using the Anycast Touch title interface. Perfect for sports when you need to throw back to instant replay, probably having two opposing team’s helmets smash into one another and explode. Or maybe a robot doing jumping jacks. You get the idea.  The one drawback to this workflow is that Sony only allows you to have a single media player for internal video at a time — so by using it up on the animation, we can no longer put an internal video behind it at the same time internally. Not the end of the world, or even a common situation, but definitely food for thought. So there you have it. Not so bad, right? With just a flex-fill green screen, a couple lights and a DSLR, you can add tons of production value to both small and large scale productions. I’ll be covering a whole lot more in my Learning Lab on March 26th, so be sure to RSVP: to get the nitty-gritty details on this cool new product. -Alex Enman, Engineer,