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Hacking the Stef Show’s optical illusions

Disappearing behind the iPad

The Stef Show: using green screen to make the fab collab scene.
The Stef Show: using green screen to make the fab collab scene.

When she was in sixth grade, Stefanie Schmitz didn’t put much thought into her decision to play the clarinet. “I just sort-of picked it,” she explained. “I didn’t really know what to pick, and it became a life-long passion.” She pursued learning the saxophone in high school so she could join the jazz ensemble, but the clarinet would once again become her main musical focus during her college years at UCSD. She would go on to earn a degree in music with an emphasis in clarinet performance.

Even so, she said, “The whole time, I never really saw that music was going to be a career, I never really could picture it. So, I was just kind of lost after that. I didn’t really like playing classical music. I didn’t like being in the wind ensemble. Your part kind of gets buried. Then I started discovering these other musical styles with smaller groups, where you get to take a solo and have a moment and express yourself through different kinds of music.”

Gypsy jazz and choro — an instrumental genre of Brazilian music that originated in the 1800s — were what she gravitated towards. She discovered the latter shortly after finishing college, when she started playing drums with a samba community group that introduced her to various styles of Brazilian music. By 2009, she had formed her own choro group, and by 2012, she had quit her day job to pursue playing and teaching music full-time. She has been juggling bands and students since then, but it all became much trickier in March 2020 when the pandemic hit.

Happily, her student base actually grew a bit during the shutdown, when a couple of older players “wanted to pick the clarinet up again after not playing for, like, 20 years.” She also embarked on an ambitious challenge: to play a song a day streaming live on Facebook. And in August 2020, she rolled out her first episode of The Stef Show, another live-streaming endeavor that would feature musical collaborations with a variety of her colleagues. (Since her streaming technology hasn’t yet reached the point where live, remote collaborations are possible, the general format of The Stef Show involves guest musicians submitting their own pre-recorded video performances, and Schmitz plays along with them on the live broadcast.)

Producing the show presented a steep learning curve for Schmitz and her boyfriend, Cody Rush. They had little experience with green screens and video editing, so they had to learn on the fly. They came up with some fascinating low-tech hacks: one example involved playing video on a stationary iPad near the main camera to display the pre-taped, performance clips. “I would put a green image on the iPad screen, and then we taped green paper around the edge of it so that when I would slice the video away, the whole iPad would disappear,” Schmitz said. But there was one minor issue with this set-up: when Schmitz walked behind the iPad, she disappeared as well. The early glitches were eventually resolved and, by the October 2020 show, Schmitz and Rush were creating optical illusions utilizing the green screen to display musical instruments and pumpkins that seemed to be floating through the air. Look for more videotronic hijinks on their upcoming November 21 episode.

The Stef Show may not be a nationwide viral sensation, but it is serving as a vessel to keep her friends, family, and colleagues connected during disconnected times. “We started this sing-along element a few months ago, and my three year-old cousin, Sam, thinks I’m a superstar celebrity now because he sees me on the TV. My cousins will send me a video of him singing along with me during the show. If that’s my one fan, then I feel like I’ve already succeeded. I’ve gotten this little kid excited about music.”

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The Stef Show: using green screen to make the fab collab scene.
The Stef Show: using green screen to make the fab collab scene.

When she was in sixth grade, Stefanie Schmitz didn’t put much thought into her decision to play the clarinet. “I just sort-of picked it,” she explained. “I didn’t really know what to pick, and it became a life-long passion.” She pursued learning the saxophone in high school so she could join the jazz ensemble, but the clarinet would once again become her main musical focus during her college years at UCSD. She would go on to earn a degree in music with an emphasis in clarinet performance.

Even so, she said, “The whole time, I never really saw that music was going to be a career, I never really could picture it. So, I was just kind of lost after that. I didn’t really like playing classical music. I didn’t like being in the wind ensemble. Your part kind of gets buried. Then I started discovering these other musical styles with smaller groups, where you get to take a solo and have a moment and express yourself through different kinds of music.”

Gypsy jazz and choro — an instrumental genre of Brazilian music that originated in the 1800s — were what she gravitated towards. She discovered the latter shortly after finishing college, when she started playing drums with a samba community group that introduced her to various styles of Brazilian music. By 2009, she had formed her own choro group, and by 2012, she had quit her day job to pursue playing and teaching music full-time. She has been juggling bands and students since then, but it all became much trickier in March 2020 when the pandemic hit.

Happily, her student base actually grew a bit during the shutdown, when a couple of older players “wanted to pick the clarinet up again after not playing for, like, 20 years.” She also embarked on an ambitious challenge: to play a song a day streaming live on Facebook. And in August 2020, she rolled out her first episode of The Stef Show, another live-streaming endeavor that would feature musical collaborations with a variety of her colleagues. (Since her streaming technology hasn’t yet reached the point where live, remote collaborations are possible, the general format of The Stef Show involves guest musicians submitting their own pre-recorded video performances, and Schmitz plays along with them on the live broadcast.)

Producing the show presented a steep learning curve for Schmitz and her boyfriend, Cody Rush. They had little experience with green screens and video editing, so they had to learn on the fly. They came up with some fascinating low-tech hacks: one example involved playing video on a stationary iPad near the main camera to display the pre-taped, performance clips. “I would put a green image on the iPad screen, and then we taped green paper around the edge of it so that when I would slice the video away, the whole iPad would disappear,” Schmitz said. But there was one minor issue with this set-up: when Schmitz walked behind the iPad, she disappeared as well. The early glitches were eventually resolved and, by the October 2020 show, Schmitz and Rush were creating optical illusions utilizing the green screen to display musical instruments and pumpkins that seemed to be floating through the air. Look for more videotronic hijinks on their upcoming November 21 episode.

The Stef Show may not be a nationwide viral sensation, but it is serving as a vessel to keep her friends, family, and colleagues connected during disconnected times. “We started this sing-along element a few months ago, and my three year-old cousin, Sam, thinks I’m a superstar celebrity now because he sees me on the TV. My cousins will send me a video of him singing along with me during the show. If that’s my one fan, then I feel like I’ve already succeeded. I’ve gotten this little kid excited about music.”

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