Best Drones for Filmmaking

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In this new era of filmmaking, getting complex shots has become much easier thanks to technological advances made by vendors across the world. It’s more affordable to get a rising shot thanks to jibs and cranes that are accessible to even the most low budget filmmakers. Getting stabilized shots are easier now thanks to amount of rigs available. Aerial shots have now become cheaper due to the influx of drones available on the market. I want to highlight some drones you may want to consider adding to your filmmaking kit so that you can increase your production value.

DJI Phantom 3 Advanced/Professional $1,3000

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This aerial drone is a new release from DJI and can capture great high quality footage from great distances. What makes this drone so popular is the following:

  • 3 Axis Gimbal camera which shoots HD (for the Advanced model) or 4K (for the Professional model)
  • Captures photographs at 12 megapixels
  • Live HD camera view via smartphone or tablet attached to the remote controller through the DJI app
  • Vision positioning through visual and ultrasonic sensors
  • Intelligent Battery with battery level indicator
  • Worry-free AutoPilot

As an owner of the DJI Phantom 3 Pro, I can attest to the incredible media captured with this camera. Within three days of learning to fly this drone, I was capturing great aerial shots that I would have had to pay a helicopter pilot to capture. With a $1,300 price tag, it is a steal for what you get from this drone. I would personally recommend this model for any prosumer or high end shooter who needs to capture aerial shots of client locations.

 

DJI Inspire 1 $3,399

 

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The DJI Inspire 1 is the more advanced and expensive model of the Phantom models offered. This drone is designed with strong carbon fiber arms and gives the user a full 360 unrestricted view when in flight. The Inspire features:

  • 3 axis gimbal 4K camera which shoots up to 30 fps, or 1080p up to 60 fps and takes photos at 12 MP
  • Optional dual remote control function
  • Powerful propulsion system
  • HD wireless video transmission
  • Vision Position system
  • Intelligent Power Management system

If I had the expenses, I would have considered investing in this. I would definitely say that this model is meant for high end, big budget filmmakers that have the funds to afford it.

3DR Solo Quadcopter $999.95

 

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The 3DR Solo is an all-in-one personal drone with a great ease of use and powerful new features. Within these powerful features are the following:

  • Computer assisted cinematography through the Solo app
  • Attach a GoPro to gimbal harness and stream HD video from your GoPro to your iOS or Android mobile device, at ranges of up to half a mile.
  • Easy to use aerial photography controller
  • Powerful smart battery which displays remaining time
  • Up to 20 minutes of flight time with GoPro attached

I haven’t had the opportunity to try this drone, but based on the preview video above and the feature list, it has a lot to offer. With the ability to mount a GoPro, you know what type of quality you are getting. With a price tag of $1,000, you are getting an advanced video production tool that will give see a greater return.

Overall, these three drone models are great if you want to add aerial videography to your business and skill set. I’ve only began my journey into aerial photography, but already I feel that it has added much value to my current projects. I look forward to seeing what I can do next.

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Luca Visual FX Backgrounds & Overlays

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The team at Luca Visual FX has brought another product to the market which will benefit professionals across Mac and PC platforms. It is the incredible and extraordinary Backgrounds & Overlays. This product is an extremely versatile collection of 100 HD clips which are an indispensable addition to any editor’s library.

It is compatible with the following software:

  • Final Cut Pro 7/X
  • Adobe Premiere Pro
  • Adobe After Effects
  • Apple Motion
  • Avid Media Composer
  • DaVinci Resolve
  • HitFilm
  • Sony Vegas

I had a chance to test drive this new product.

What are Backgrounds & Overlays?

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It is a vast collection of 100 Full HD dynamic motion graphic clips designed to be used as backgrounds and/or overlays for a variety of projects. You can use them in promos, VJing, music videos, sports, news, corporate, and much more. On the dedicated web page at the Luca Visual FX site, you can preview the entire collection and see what each background has to offer.

What are some of the best ways to customize these clips?

Editors can use blend modes from their host programs, change the speed rate, scale, crop, position, or add any third party filter or built in effects to customize these clips. Also, stacking several instances of Backgrounds & Overlays allows the creation of complex and beautiful effects by simply using blend modes. Use effects such as blurring and distorting to maximize your customization. In this clip, I created some examples to showcase how far you can push these clips.

To see how these clips can be manipulated and integrated into your projects, take a look at this tutorial where I show you how to use them with footage and text:

Is it possible to get the Backgrounds & Overlays in a different format?

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All files are delivered as .mov files, so as long as the user has Quicktime installed everything should work correctly. If you need further assistance, you can contact customer support here.

Can you list some scenarios where these clips work best in?

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As mentioned above, they can be used for a variety of video projects. Here is a list of effects that I’ve done which you can try out yourself:

  • Video inside of text or shapes effect
  • Text backgrounds
  • Feathered shape overlays
  • Heads up displays
  • Frames and borders
  • Picture and picture background
  • Lower thirds
  • 2D & 3D animation inserts
  • And many more effects

Overall, I believe that Backgrounds & Overlays will be a product that users will turn to when they need to amp up their productions. With the dynamic range of motion graphics, and the fully customizable options that are available, the sky is the limit with creative opportunities. I strongly recommend that you download some of the demo watermarked clips and see what you’ve been missing. They are now available for download on the web page.

The launch price of Backgrounds & Overlays is $49.  Don’t miss out on this versatile product line.

For readers of this article, LVFX is offering a 10% off coupon when you make a purchase using this coupon code: BO2015S

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What is HitFilm?

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With all the editing and compositing programs available for filmmakers on Mac and PC, it can be hard to decide which program suits your workflow. The general understanding of post production is that editing should be handled in one program, where visual effects and motion graphics are handled in another. Programs that utilize this workflow are Premiere Pro/After Effects and Final Cut Pro X/Motion. With Avid Media Composer, professionals cut in the program but usually go to programs like After Effects, Fusion, Nuke, or Motion for graphics work. However, there are programs that have the best of both worlds all in one package. Autodesk Smoke has both editing and node based compositing capabilities. Another program is HitFilm Pro. I want to discuss HitFilm Pro, and why you should consider using it if you want an affordable all-in-one post production software.

What is HitFilm Pro?

HitFilm Pro is an all-in-one editing and compositing program. Designed to handle projects on the small scale to big budget, HitFilm can withstand it all. Bundled with over 180 effects, and the ability to switch between editing and effects smoothly, this program can do some amazing things whether it is in 2D or 3D. Need to motion track titles to a moving object? HitFilm can do it. Need to make your talent look like they are flying through the clouds? HitFilm can do that. This piece of software is pretty comprehensive and is only limited by what you want to create.

What is the general workflow when using it?

First time users can take different approaches to post production when they use this software. Gone are the days of switching between apps to do essential parts of the post production pipeline. Now, you have the choice between doing compositing or editing. In the second video above, Axel Wilkinson shows us a general overview of the HitFilm interface and how users can get up to speed crafting their videos in no time. Switching between the editing tab to the composite tab is something we could only dream of in the past. That reality is here with HitFilm Pro.

What effects can I create in it?

Like I said before, what you create in HitFilm Pro is limited to your imagination. Below is a list of effects and compositing capabilities it possesses:

  • Chroma Keying
  • Live 3D Model Rendering
  • 3D Particle Engine
  • Mocha 4.0 for planar tracking
  • Fire, lightning, and weapon based effects
  • 3D camera projection
  • Color correction/grading

Essentially, it possesses the capabilities of the popular NLEs and compositing programs on the market. Many web-based filmmakers have used created effects with this program, which include Corridor Digital, Film Riot and Freddie W. The effects I’ve seen created by users of this program would blow away even the most capable pros.

Why should I buy it?

There are many programs you could be using to complete your post production work. Many of which are trusted to get the job done by seasoned professionals. However, just because one workflow is trusted and most used does not mean it’s the only one that matters. Using HitFilm Pro will give you the ability to have the best of two disciplines in one program. No need to farm your visual effects out to a separate application. You can do it all in the application by tabbing over. With HitFilm Pro, you finally get the program that let’s you be all things post production without much hassle. When you have the options that this robust program offers, it’s a no brainer.

Overall, the team at HitFilm have created a comprehensive and robust application that can tackle even the most daunting of projects while making it affordable to every filmmaker. Download HitFilm Express 3 for free or purchase the pro version for $299.

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Motion 5 Tutorials

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Since its creation in 2004, Apple Motion has been an application that has evolved quite nicely, despite the fierce competition it faces from other apps like After Effects and Nuke. In its current iteration, Motion provides the plugin architecture for Final Cut Pro X, which means that all FCPX effects are actually Motion templates. With that advantage, users can create just about anything with Motion. Below are a few tutorials where Motion users illustrate how versatile the application is for their workflows.

Creating a Transition for FCPX

This tutorial highlights one of the core features of Motion, which is the ability to create custom transitions. Gone are the days of having to stack layers and utilizing keyframes. With a decent understanding of the Motion interface and its functions, users can create unique transitions to suit their video projects. In this particular example, the author shows users how to create a ripple flash transition from start to finish. When I discovered that you can create transitions and other effects in Motion, I decided to give Motion another try after years of being an After Effects user. I found this tutorial useful because even at the basic level, you can get an understanding of how far you can go with the creation of custom effects.

Animating a Photoshop File

There will be situations where your client wants to create a spot and you have no b-roll. Even worse, you have very minimal images to work with. However, they provide you with a layered, high resolution Photoshop file which you can animate and turn into a motion graphic with a little imagination. In this tutorial, Telemundo editor Brett Gentry shows us how he was able to take a client graphic and turn it into a 30-second spot using a combo of Motion and Photoshop. Utilizing markers, keyframes, and behaviors, he takes what I call a simple “Ken Burns effect” and makes an entertaining spot for an event. I will be first to admit that the Motion interface can be daunting at first glance, but watching how others work in it so efficiently inspires me to learn more.

Creating a Auto Green Screen Keyer with Background

There are projects you receive where the talent was shot on a green screen, and you need to key them out and insert the same background. If this is no more than five people, no big deal. However, if it is multiple talents and it needs to look like they were all keyed and composited the same way, it can become tedious. In the tutorial above, Brett shows us another way he uses Motion to create an auto keyer effect, which will allow him to key not only his talent, but insert/manipulate the background he wants behind them. This is convenient when you need to cut multiple spots or short form videos and time is not on your side. This effect is also a viable solution for the scenario I mentioned above with multiple talents. If you publish enough parameters and include the necessary assets, you can save a lot of time by creating an auto keyer effect in Motion.

Text Behind Glass Effect

I’ve highlighted the effects you can create in Motion for workflow tasks like titles, transitions, and effects, but it is always interesting to see how far one can push Motion to create things you would only expect in After Effects. This tutorial above is a prime example of something I wasn’t sure Motion could create. Editor/plugin author Simon Ubsdell takes a concept that originated in After Effects and creates it from scratch in Motion. Using textures, text layers, blend modes, filters, and behaviors, Simon creates this effect which can be used for promos, documentaries, or identifiers. I have to give kudos for the content that Simon has produced as of late. I’ve always believed the reason Motion wasn’t as popular as After Effects was because of the vast community and gurus that are out there. Seeing a dedicated user showcase Motion capabilities peeks my interest to add this tool to my skill set.

Overall, Motion has matured into a intricate and versatile tool that editors should take the time to learn. The market tends to favor the After Effects user, but every now and then there are jobs for people with Motion knowledge. Knowing this tool can benefit you in the long run.

Sound Effects

Film Impact Transitions Pack 3

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The creators at Film Impact have released a new pack of ten dynamic transitions for Premiere Pro just in time for the 2015 release. These transitions bring with it 3D movement, glows, glitches, flares, mattes, and much more. I’ve been using Film Impact transitions since their inception, and have all three packs in my collection. These transitions add that extra piece of pizzazz without being over the top. I had a chance to play around with these new transitions and see their capabilities. The four transitions below are some of my favorites.

Impact Solarize

Impact Solarize is a transition which takes the incoming and outgoing clip, blends them with a tinted invert and glow effect, then dissolves between them. In the Effect Controls, you can control a variety of parameters such as the glow, width, RGB values, contrast, and dissolve length. I’ve used this transition on recent video projects and it really flowed with the presentation and feel I was trying to establish. Overall, I like that I can change the colors and impact of the glow to get a unique look of my own, or I can use the default setting as is.

Impact Wave

Impact Wave is a transition that makes a wave like motion between your incoming and outgoing clip. I like to think of this transition as a combination of a zoom blur and a cross dissolve. With this transition, you can control the angle, motion blur, amplitude, colorization, and length. I haven’t seen anything like this from other vendors offering third party transitions. It’s very smooth and straight to the point. I highly recommend using it.

Impact 3D Roll

Impact 3D Roll is a transition that rolls your incoming and outgoing clip into a cylinder like motion. You can choose to roll it from a 45 degree angle, horizontally, or vertically. With motion blur properties available, users can choose whether or not they have it enabled, and how much of it they want. Users can also choose between the number of rolls, which ranges from one to three. The amplitude parameter controls the appearance of the roll, which means that a positive value yields the inside of a cylinder look while a negative value will give it a bulgy look. What I like about this transition is how versatile it can be, as well as it’s possible configurations. I’ve used this a lot on entertainment pieces and it definitely enhances the production value.

Impact Flare

Impact Flare is a lens flare transition that moves across the screen while dissolving from the outgoing clip to the incoming. Users have the ability to control a variety of parameters including the color, start/end points, shape, fog, and halo. While I’m a fan of this transition for its dynamic movement and ease of use, it would be even better to have some visual options of the parameters, like fog and halo. Overall, I’ve tried other flare transitions before, and this one renders more quickly and is great for a quick flare transition without a lot of fuss. This transition will be frequently used on some upcoming projects.

Film Impact Transition Pack 3 is a must have if you are a Premiere Pro user. In the time since these transitions have been available, I’ve seen great projects cut with this new pack, and you will have more creative options than before. Pick up this pack for $89, or all three packs for $179.

Sound Effects

Using Adobe Hue CC

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Adobe recently released their Creative Cloud 2015 update, and it came with a whole new bunch of apps for your smart device that partner up with your full applications. One new and powerful app is Adobe Hue CC, which allows you to take a photo using your smart device, select a color swatch from the photo, and apply it as a color hue to your video footage via applications such as Premier Pro CC and Adobe After Effects CC. In this tutorial, I will show you how to operate the app and then apply a hue to your footage in After Effects in three simple steps:

– Understanding Adobe Hue

– Capturing an image with Adobe Hue

– Applying the look to your footage

UNDERSTANDING ADOBE HUE

Adobe Hue CC is a recently released app in conjunction with the 2015 application updates to Creative Cloud. The app works with your smart devices (currently only Apple products) and allows you to capture an image with the device’s camera, and then allow you to take the color data and apply it to your video footage.

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Here is a quick overview of how the app performs.

CAPTURING AN IMAGE WITH ADOBE HUE

The app itself is very intuitive. Simply open the app and give it permission to use your smart device’s camera. Once the camera is opened just point and shoot.

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You will notice as you point the camera there are a series of color orbs floating in the image. These are the swatches that are sampling the color data from the image you are providing. Once you snap the photo, you will be taken to a page with a stock sample image and the same color data swatches. Here, you can test and choose which color hue is best suited for your needs. In addition, you are able to increase and decrease the amount of the applied effect with the slider control, and even upload additional reference photos or videos to preview with your look.

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When you are happy with the look, simply select the CHECKMARK icon at the bottom of the screen and you will be taken to your LIBRARIES page. Here, you are able to review your looks, edit them with alternative color data swatches, and create and categorize new libraries as needed.

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APPLYING THE LOOK TO YOUR FOOTAGE

Back in Adobe After Effects CC, you are now able to load up and work with your footage as usual. However, next to the EFFECTS & PRESETS tab you will now notice a new tab for LIBRARIES.

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Here you will find all the looks you have created on your Adobe Hue CC app. To apply the look to your footage, simply drag and drop the look directly onto the footage, or first create an adjustment, and apply the look to the adjustment layer.

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If you twirl open the layer you can go through EFFECTS and see what options you have. You can adjust the opacity of the look – which simply means you are able to fade off the look and blend it more with the original footage if the look is too intense or needed to be keyed on or off over time. You also can create a mask around a section of your footage and set the MASK REFERENCE to use the mask you create to apply the look only to the masked region on the footage.

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Overall, I find the app extremely intuitive and provides the ability to apply the looks I find in everyday life to a project I am working on. This is most definitely a welcomed addition to the already very powerful Creative Cloud line up.

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Understanding the Roto Node in NUKE 9

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The Foundry’s NUKE is at the forefront for leading compositing programs in visual effects for television and film. Great news for those of you who want to learn NUKE and be ready for professional studio work. There is a FREE, non-commercial version to download. Once installed, you are ready to take on this tutorial and learn the functions of the roto node in a node based compositing program.

PLEASE NOTE* I have covered the topic of rotoscoping in basic and advanced tutorials previously in other compositing programs – Adobe After Effects & Silhouette FX. This tutorial is for those coming in with the knowledge of what rotoscoping is, but need or want to learn the interface of NUKE, since it is a node based compositing program. If you want to learn more of what rotoscoping is, please refer to my older lessons where I spend more time explaining the concept of rotoscoping.

I will break this tutorial down into three parts:

–       Adding the Roto Node

–       Shapes and Splines

–       Keyframing Shapes Over Time

ADDING THE ROTO NODE

Go to the DRAW NODES on the left hand side node bar > CLICK > and select ROTO. In your Node Graph, a roto node will appear. Simply hook up the viewer to the roto node in order to proceed.

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For those of you who are used to stacking layers in other compositing programs, such as After Effects, this might take some getting used to. Though the concepts remain the same, with node tree you are essentially mind mapping your ideas that are connected. I will go into more detail on Node Trees in another lesson.

SHAPES AND SPLINES

In your viewer, you can CLICK and create an anchor point. Continue to click around and you will start creating a shape. You can close the shape by either clicking back onto the first anchor point you created, or by simply hitting the ENTER key at any time.

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With the roto node active, on the left side of your viewer you will see your curves selections. The most commonly used are Bezier and B spline, but feel free to experiment with them all.

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Above the curves selection you will find your selection tools. These will control how and what you select of your splines in the viewer. For example, SELECT POINTS will allow you to select anchor points without selecting the splines themselves. Again, I encourage you to explore and tinker with all the tools to become familiar.

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In your properties window to the right, you will notice a list of shapes you have drawn in your viewer which will help you keep organized and remember which spline was used. Additionally, next to the shape name you have the EYE ICON which turns the shapes visibility on or off. Next to that is the LOCK ICON, allowing you to lock individuals shapes. That way they cannot receive or remove any keyframe data that has been established to that point. Next to that is the COLOR ICON which allows you to double click and choose a new color for that shape. The rest we will explore in a later lesson.

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KEYFRAMING SHAPES OVER TIME

Now let’s take a look at how we can start to animate these shapes across a timeline. By default the AUTO KEY feature is enabled. This is the skeleton key icon you see in the upper left hand corner near your selection tools.

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With this feature enabled, you can look at your frame on the timeline and see there is already a blue keyframe placed there.

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You can take your mouse and move the playhead further down the timeline, and then make adjustments to your shapes. You will notice another keyframe is automatically added (notice at frame one, and then again at frame 20, there is a blue dash representing the keyframe).

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Using your selection tools, you can move each control point individually, or you can highlight some or all of the control points on the shape and move those as needed. Additionally, you can go to your PROPERTIES window on the right and open the TRANSFORM tab to bring up the transform controls on your shapes. This will allow you to create separate transform keyframes on the timeline that handle transform, scale, and rotation.

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Understanding Z Spheres in ZBrush

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Z Brush is a digital 3D sculpting, texturing, and painting tool. The most basic shape used for sculpting in Zbrush is called a Zsphere. A Zsphere is the quickest way for an artist to map and sketch out a base mesh. Once the Zsphere is roughed into the artist’s likeness they must then convert the Zsphere into a 3D Poly Mesh in order to continue to refine their model. In this tutorial, I will show you the basics of Zsphere manipulation along with the basic navigation tools for getting around Zbrush. The steps include:

–       Creating the Initial Zsphere

–       Navigating around the Zsphere

–       Developing the Zsphere

CREATING THE INITIAL ZSPHERE

When you open Zbrush, navigate to the TOOL palette in the upper right corner of the program.

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From here, click on the larger golden “S” icon that reads “SimpleBrush” beneath it in order to view all of the tools to choose from.

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Locate the tool that is called Zsphere (third row down on the far right side) and click on it in order to select the tool to make it active. Please note that in Zbrush, a “model” refers to a tool. This tutorial will remain using that same terminology.

In the canvas you will CLICK AND DRAG with the mouse, and as you do so you will see a Zsphere appear and grow larger or smaller as you continue to drag the mouse. Once the ZSphere is a suitable size release the mouse and you will have created your Zsphere.

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NAVIGATING AROUND THE ZSPHERE

The Zsphere may appear to be lop sided or not centered on your canvas, so let’s quickly go over how to navigate within your canvas window. Along the top tool bar you will want to select EDIT & MOVE which will in turn to DRAW.

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To move your tool, the first option is using the MOVE SCALE & ROTATE buttons located on the right vertical tool bar. Simply CLICK & DRAG on top of whichever navigation button you need in order to maneuver around the tool. Hold SHIFT in order to lock movements to 45 degree angles. This is especially important when wanting to get a perfectly straight-on or profile view of your tool.

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Otherwise, you can also use the shortcut keys as follows to navigate:

–       ROTATE: CLICK & DRAG anywhere in blank canvas

–       MOVE: ALT+CLICK & DRAG anywhere in blank canvas

–       SCALE: ALT + CLICK & DRAG which will start MOVE, then release the ALT and continue to DRAG in order to start Scaling. (*a bit wonky I know, I tend to use the navigation keys personally)

DEVELOPING THE ZPHERE

Head back to the top tool bar to keep EDIT on, and now switch MOVE to DRAW again. This will allow you to start building up and developing your Zsphere.

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By hitting ‘X’ on your keyboard, you will activate the shortcut key for SYMMETRY. By doing so, whatever you draw on the right side will be mirrored exactly the same on the left side. This is especially helpful when roughing in something like the human form. I will go into more detail specifically on using and mastering the symmetry transformation in a later tutorial. CLICK & DRAG on your main Zsphere now in order to create two symmetrically corresponding Zspheres.

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You can move and adjust those two new Zspheres by switching back over to the Move transformation:

–       Q – Draw

–       W – Move

–       E – Scale

–       R – Rotate

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By toggling back and forth between DRAW MOVE SCALE AND ROTATE transformations, you will have the basic building blocks to developing your Zsphere. Here I developed a very crude stick figure person.

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Luca Visual FX Hi-Tech Overlays

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The team at Luca Visual FX have been working hard to bring a new product to the market that will benefit post production professionals across Mac and PC computers. It is Hi-Tech Overlays. This product line expands the alpha transitions and overlays that LVFX created in the past. This update brings a new model for users to access the elements they need at a moment’s notice. I’ve had a chance to preview the new library and had a chat with the guys of LVFX. Here are a few questions users may have.

What are Hi-Tech Overlays?

It is an alternative solution to our Hi-Tech plugins for FCPX that provides users of software such as Premiere Pro, Avid Media Composer, After Effects, Motion, and Final Cut Pro a way to build Hi-Tech mographs for promos, sci-fi, music videos, news and sport, corporate productions, and more.

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I see that you implemented a new system for the users to access the product. Tell us about it.

Yes, all mographs and images are provided in full resolution and the user will download from our web site only what they need any time they wish, right from the moment of purchase. We started working on this new way of delivering a product in December 2013 and hope to provide the easiest and most convenient way for our users to access a vast library of interchangeable mographs and images.

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Will the library be based on a subscription that you pay monthly, or is there a lifetime license?

No monthly subscriptions to pay, but only a single lifetime license that people can easily purchase on our web site. The user will receive unique and safe login details shortly after completing the payment, and will be able to download both Hi-Tech default looks of effects like holograms, displays, sci-fi mographs, fractals, etc., and individual elements to customize and combine as desired. The library also includes High-Tech Elements Vol.1.

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I have issues with Quicktime on my PC. Is it possible to get the Overlays in a different format?

All files are delivered as .mov, so as long as the user has Quicktime correctly installed everything should work correctly.

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Will there be tutorials on how to achieve the results you showed in the demo?

Yes, we have already edited four of them and more will come. They show how to customize not only the elements, but also how to combine them creatively in order to create unique looks. The first four are available on VIMEO.

If I own the FCPX templates of this product, is there a way to get access to this library to get additional elements?

Hi-Tech Overlays is essentially a cross-platform alternative to Hi-Tech for FCPX that will work with more hosts. FCPX users would find in the library what they have already in the form of FCPX templates. There are, however, several advantages in using individual layers. We also intend to expand the library and add more and more elements for our users. Should FCPX users wish to access the library in order to handle individual layers, we recommend to email support@lucavisualfx.com with their request.

What manipulation options would allow you to get the best results with Hi-Tech Overlays (i.e color change, distortion, time remapping, etc.)?

There are tons of ways to modify the overlays. The only limit is one’s creativity. For example, with filters, the user can indeed change the color and distort (some examples can be seen on the demo) but also add glow, blur, and many other stylizations. Another way to create unique compositions is to combine individual elements taken from different categories (i.e. Holograms and sci-fi overlays or Screens and Fractals, you name it), use blend modes to create nice superimpositions and layers. Another great advantage that not even the FCPX template can offer in such extent is the use of any transition you can think of in order to create your own Build-In and Build-Out at the beginning and end of your composition. An example is shown at the very beginning of the demo where all elements come together in different ways. Possibilities are endless!

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Do these elements come with embedded alpha transparency? If they don’t, what would be the best practice for getting transparency?

Yes, absolutely, the alpha channel comes with every single element of Hi-Tech Overlays.

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Overall, I believe Hi-Tech Overlays will definitely be a product with infinite possibilities for the user. The amount of ways you can mix and match the elements will definitely draw the user to think outside the box when they apply mograph to their projects. I strongly recommend that you try experimenting with different colors and manipulation effects to see how far you can push each element. In the process, you may create a unique look that wasn’t thought of before.

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VideoWall Plugins for After Effects

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One of the most common motion graphics you see on broadcast television, as well as motion pictures, is a video wall. A video wall consists of a grid of multiple videos all playing at once. In many examples, this is usually used to highlight a specific theme or subject, and is accompanied by text or other motion graphic elements. Creating video walls manually can be tedious if you don’t know how to start. But, nonetheless, it can be done. If you opt to go the third party plugin route, below are three plugins/tools from different companies for After Effects that can jumpstart your video wall creation.

Coremelt Video Wall Zoom & Panel Vision

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Within the Coremelt Complete suite are two plugins I use to create a video wall. The first one is Video Wall Zoom from the ImageFlow FX collection. This generator creates a wall of images/movies, one of which zooms in to fill the screen, then zooms back down. Another just zooms in to fill the screen. Not only does it come with enough image/movie placeholders, but it also has an animation option that can be utilized in more ways than one. With the multiple image placeholders and animation settings, it can be used as a standalone motion graphic, or a chapter transition between segments.

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The second plugin from the Coremelt Complete set I would turn to for video walls is Panel Vision. Panel Vision is a part of the Shatter collection, which contains “3D” perspective plugins with interesting effects. Panel Vision allows you to tile up to eight source images randomly into any number of rows and columns. It’s great to use when you want to cram four to five videos into a wall with little effort. You can also combine with other plugins like I did in this tutorial below and get a circular shape.

BCC Wild Cards

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BCC Wild Cards is used to generate an array of 3D cards with interesting and convenient animation options. This filter is a part of the Particles category in the Continuum Complete suite. It can be used to divide up one video into rows and columns of cards, or multiple videos into rows and cards. Below, After Effects guru Kevin P. McAuliffe shows us the possibilities you can achieve when using BCC Wild Cards with multiple videos.

One of the reasons I like this filter for video walls is the ease and flexibility in the control options. They are very straightforward and can have you up and running in little time. I have used it myself when I made a promo for my Premiere Pro project file giveaway, which you can see below.

I highly recommend giving this plugin a try if you want a quality filter for doing a quick video wall animation.

Red Giant Planespace

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Planespace is a compilation of tools that are made to help manage large amounts of 3D layers in After Effects. Within this compilation are Cubic Distribution, Box Creator, Cylinder Creator, and Matrix Creator. One tool in particular that is great for creating a video wall is Matrix Creator. This tool can set up rows and columns with ease along with predetermined animated parameters. I’ve used this tool a few times when I wanted to create a video wall using 3D layers in After Effects, as opposed to having it contained within a filter. With Planespace, I can use an unlimited amount of layers to achieve the look I want. With this ability comes the caveat of slowing down After Effects if you have too many 3D layers.

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Overall, Planespace is great when you want to push the boundaries of After Effects’s 2.5D layers.

These are just some of the incredible tools and plugins you can use to create a video wall for your projects. Feel free to give them a try and add to your arsenal.

Exporting/Compression Applications

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Exporting your edit out of your NLE is one of the many important processes of post production. In the tape-based days of exporting, it could be a very tedious and time consuming process that required a lot of quality assurance. With the digital era of video and web based content taking charge, exporting your videos isn’t as hard as it use to be. As a video producer, it is my job to know what specifications are necessary to deliver to my broadcast and web vendors to ensure that my commercials get aired properly. That is why I need to know all the available media compression applications on the market. I’m going to highlight three applications that I’ve used for the last five years to get the job done.

Adobe Media Encoder

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My go to compression/exporting application for the last four years has been Adobe Media Encoder. In times of fast turnarounds and very specific video types, Media Encoder has been clutch more times than I can count. Since I’ve been using the Creative Suite/Creative Cloud, Media Encoder has been apart of the bundle. Long before Premiere Pro had the ability to export media from the application itself, you had to queue in Media Encoder to get the final render you needed. The latest iteration of Media Encoder is a stable and reliable application that is able to meet vendor specifications much easier than anything I’ve used previously. Whether I need Quicktime files or mp4 files, it gets the job done. Below are a few abilities of Media Encoder:

  • Match Source presets
  • Exporting Closed Caption data
  • Import and export of Avid DNxHD assets
  • Support for new formats such as Sony 4K AVC-Intra (XAVC), Panasonic AVCI-200, DNxHD in an MXF container, XDCAMHD in a QuickTime (.mov) container, and more

Apple Compressor

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The next compression/exporting application I used quite often is Apple’s Compressor. Compressor has been apart of the Final Cut suite for the last decade, and the latest installment is much stronger and efficient than before. I’ll be honest about my use of Compressor. I used it mostly when I needed to make DVDs or seldom used file types. It got the job done until I shifted to an Adobe workflow. It could be that the computer I had previously wasn’t strong enough to harness its true power. Overall, I found Compressor to be a backup in case Media Encoder failed to deliver what I needed. I have found that the latest version of Compressor works great when I edit with Final Cut Pro X. It creates great master files and web ready H.264 files very efficiently and clean. It even creates video files for iTunes app display. In my opinion, it is one of the best compression/exporting applications on the market and shouldn’t be overlooked. Below are a few features of Apple Compressor:

  • Intuitive interface
  • Streamlined workflow
  • Share Final Cut Pro settings
  • Encoding available for Apple devices
  • Broad format support and more

MPEG Streamclip

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MPEG Streamclip is a free application available for Mac and Windows which can open a variety of file types, as well as transcode to a variety of formats. In my opinion, this application was at its peak when most NLEs couldn’t take raw formats like H.264 from DSLRs. With most NLEs now supporting raw format editing in real time, this application has become more of a last resort compression application when you have no other choice. When I edited with Final Cut Pro 7 and Premiere Pro CS5, using this application to transcode footage was a common part of my workflow. These days, I help new  filmmakers learn to use it when they don’t have access to the aforementioned applications above. Overall, MPEG Streamclip is still a versatile application and I believe you should have it in your arsenal just in case. Below are a few features of MPEG Streamclip:

  • Lets you play and edit QuickTime, DV, AVI, MPEG-4, MPEG-1, MPEG-2 or VOB files. Transport streams with MPEG, PCM, or AC3 audio (MPEG-2 playback component required), DivX (with DivX 6) and WMV (with Flip4Mac WMV Player).
  • Saves edited movies as MOV files, and (when possible) as AVI or MP4 files.
  • Handles files and streams larger than 4 GB, split in any number of segments, or with multiple audio tracks, and can also optionally handle timecode breaks. It is compatible with MPEG-1 and MPEG-2 video, MPEG layer 1/2 (MP1/MP2) audio, AC3/A52 audio, and PCM audio.
  • Supports batch processing: just drag some files in the batch list, choose a conversion and a folder, click the Go button, and MPEG Streamclip will automatically convert all your files.

As you can see, these three applications are very capable of creating deliverables necessary to get your project out. While there are other applications like Sorenson Squeeze, Red Giant Offload, and camera based conversion programs, these programs have shown that they can perform at the top level. Feel free to try them out and find out what works best for you.

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Mocha Tracking in Silhouette FX

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Silhouette FX is a dedicated rotoscoping program. Rotoscoping is the process of tracing a video image frame by frame creating a matte for later compositing. Essentially, think of of a father and son throwing a football back and forth in the front yard. What if you wanted them playing catch in a more obvious atmosphere – like a warring alien planet! You will need to rotoscope, or trace, around the father, the son, and that darn football in every single frame of that video clip. Once you are done tracing, you will have a series of black and white images called an alpha matte. Other software can then interrupt the image’s black as transparent and white as opaque. Therefore, the background will be removed, leaving you with just a go-lucky father and son playing catch. Now you can add in a new background, like that warring alien planet, underwater Atlantis, or in front of the great Pyramids of Egypt.

In the past I have shown you how to create an alpha using Silhouette FX, and also rotoscoping with Silhouette FX. This time, I am going to break down how to motion track. This is an advanced technique that is required for reducing the workload of rotoscoping by hand each frame of movement. The idea is that if you can mocha track an entire limb, for instance, throughout a shot, you will be able to apply your shapes using that tracked data and greatly reduce, if not fully eliminate, the need for manual frame by frame adjustments. I will now show you how to mocha track in three basic steps:

  • Setting Up Your Track
  • Tracking
  • Filing and Functionality

SETTING UP YOUR TRACK

Mocha Tracking is a partnership in the newest version of Silhouette from the planar tracking program, Mocha. I use this tracking program the most while working, and I find it to be the most accurate in diverse situations. Mocha is a planar tracker, which means that you create a shape (plane) that, when isolated, you can use Mocha to track from similarities in pattern, color, contrast, etc. The tracking shape will then follow along the path of tracking while storing the information in a layer (known as the tracking matrix). By storing the tracking information in a layer, you are able to add limitless shapes under that layer and the tracking data will apply to each of those shapes. Extremely helpful!

In the scene I am using I have a pair of hands with tracking markers on them. Tracking markers are not necessary, but are helpful in certain circumstances and encouraged if you have a savvy VFX supervisor on set to make those calls.

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To Mocha track, I first need to create a layer in the Object list panel.

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From there, using the B spline tool (it doesn’t matter if you use x, b, or bezier. I just prefer using B spline with human anatomy) draw a shape around the “area” you want to track. Now, I say “area” because you might want to track just the thumb, the index finger, wrist, or something that has a consistent movement throughout the clip. Think of a man walking from the profile view – you wouldn’t track his head and expect your shapes to adhere to the legs properly. You will need to track the head separate from shapes on the head (nose, chin, forehead), the thigh separate from the calf, the forearm separate from the shoulder, and so on. Since each section usually takes 5 – 10 shapes to complete, having a track all of those shapes can follow is a huge time saver. So again, I am going to draw a shape around the “area” I want to track.

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Keep the tracking shape tight around the area you want to track without it being a pixel perfect shape to what you need to roto. It needs some data from the surrounding area to differentiate pattern and movement. At this point, let’s go into our tracker controls.

TRACKING

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Looking at the controls (unless I have a scene where the cameraman is moving around a scene while filming) I generally only want to track the TRANSLATION, SCALE, and ROTATION.

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In Pre-Processing, you can check on PREVIEW and play with the Blur, Sharpen, contrast, etc., until you get a high contrasted image that gives nice shapes and patterns for your tracking shape to follow.

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Now go ahead and Track forward.

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FILING AND FUNCTIONALITY 

Back in the Timeline you will notice the LAYER you created now has multiple keyframes under whats called the TRANSFORM MATRIX.

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This is your tracking storage, and now you can create any number of shapes you need under that layer, and that tracking data will now apply to each of those shapes.

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Notice towards the bottom of the list, I labeled that initial b spline I used for tracking as my “tracking shape” and just locked it and turned it off. That way, if I need to adjust the track down the line, I still have it for reference.

For your reference, here is the video that particular sample clip came from. In this example, you can see how rotoscoping became important for us (me and the other artist working on this clip) in order to strategically animate on new skin tones and iron man hand blasters.

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New Features in FCPX 10.2

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Since NAB happened last week, we were introduced to all the new products and updates to various products for filmmaking. From more efficient user friendly drones, higher end cameras, and software updates, it was a filmmaker’s paradise. One particular update that caught my interest was the release of Final Cut Pro X 10.2. Some of the features that were introduced were needed, and some of them made motion graphics, visual effects, and color grading much easier. I want to highlight three features that I found interesting and offer an opinion on how they will be beneficial to your workflow.

FCPX: 3D Text

One of the newer and greatly appreciated additions to FCPX 10.2 is the ability to create and manipulate real 3D text. Users can tweak animations, materials, reflectivity, and many other options with this new feature. In the past, if you wanted 3D text in your edit, you would go to plugins like Element 3D, mObject, or a dedicated 3D program. From what I’ve seen and played with myself, this is a very intricate feature, and one that requires quite a bit of computing power to truly witness its potential. It would be wise to have a strong Mac on your hands if you plan on utilizing this feature. This 3D text feature is great, and I believe it may minimize the need to run to third party plugins. Many FCPX plugin makes have already stepped up to the plate, such as Ripple Training, MotionVFX, and Stupid Raisins. They offer their own 3D text assets for users to utilize in their projects. I can only see this feature becoming stronger in later updates.

FCPX: Save Effects Preset

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This feature has been long asked for and it finally has appeared; the ability to save effect presets for later use. In the legacy Final Cut Pro, this feature was present along with the ability to save presets in a project. In FCPX 10.2, you can now have saved effects appear in the effects browser, which is much easier than having to do paste attributes all the time. I haven’t had much time to play with this new feature, but if it functions like people say it does, then it is very welcomed.

FCPX: Improved Masks & Color Correction Effect

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The masking feature in FCPX 10.2 now allows their own category in the Effects browser, as well as the ability to keyframe them much easier. The new Draw Mask filter gives you the ability to draw masks which can be linear, bezier, or B-spline smoothing. Also, the Shape Mask now has the ability to convert control points into editable bezier control points. One of the many strengths of FCPX was how strong its masking capabilities were in comparison to other NLEs, and this new feature definitely ramps up its strength. Much more compositing options will now be doable without leaving the comfort of your NLE.

Another new feature introduced is color correction is now an effect. In the Effect Browser, you can choose the Color Correction effect and place it on your effect. From there, it will open up the Color Board and allow for further tweaking. Since it is now treated as an Effect, you can apply color correction before video filters, or insert multiple color correction filters anywhere in the stack of video filters. After you stack and arrange the processing order of multiple corrections and filters in the Inspector, you can save this look as an Effects Preset for for re-use.

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As you can see, the new features available in Final Cut Pro X 10.2 have shown that Apple is serious about the filmmaking community. In time, I hope they address other grievances editors have with the program so that it can be an easier sell to hold outs. Overall, I think these new additions showcase how much potential lies within this program, and I look forward to what they will include next.

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Rotoscoping with Silhouette FX

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Rotoscoping is the process of tracing over footage, frame by frame, in order to create a matte to be used as an element for compositing over another background. Think of it this way; say you have a three second video clip of a golfer hitting a ball. If you wanted to place that golfer on an alien planet, or deep underwater, playing a round of golf, then you would need to go frame by frame tracing around the golfer swinging his club and then composite over the new background. Rotoscoping is a time intensive process. With the example of the three second video clip of the golfer, at the standard rate of 24 frames per second, that means you would need to rotoscope 72 frames to complete the sequence. In the past, I’ve showed you how to use the rotobrush in After Effects. However, with longer sequences, it’s better to use a dedicated roto program such as Silhouette FX. In this tutorial, I am going to show you the basics of roto with Silhouette FX in two simple steps:

– Breaking the image down into Shapes

– Moving Shapes throughout the Sequence

*Before we begin, if you need help setting up your shot, or need some initial background on Silhouette FX, I would recommend you refer to a previous tutorial I posted titled “Creating an Alpha in Silhouette FX” which you can review here.

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BREAKING THE IMAGE DOWN INTO SHAPES

Once you import your media and setup a new session, you will need to select your spline tool from the left hand side of the canvas window. Your options are B spline, X spline, or Bezier. Please note that if you intend to import the roto’d footage into NUKE for compositing, then you will want to avoid using the X spline tool as there seems to be issues with NUKE interrupting those particular splines. I would recommend going with the B spline in that instance.

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Whichever tool you decide to use is up to you, however, the technique is universally the same. A successful roto is built upon breaking the image down into a series of shapes. In this example of a video clip of some hands, I will focus on the left hand first and break down each finger into a series of ovals and curves that contours around the joints.

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This is because as the video clip progresses and the hand begins to move and flex, moving individual shapes located around the anatomical joints is much easier than trying to create one large outlining shape around the entire hand and trying to move that frame by frame. It doesn’t matter what the roto subject is – a hand, a face, a machine, a book – it is your job as the roto artist to visually break down the subject into a series of shapes and animate those shapes over the course of the footage.

MOVING SHAPES THROUGHOUT THE SEQUENCE

At the bottom of Silhouette you will see the TIMELINE. This is where you will be able to visually see all the keyframes and movements you are making with the shapes throughout the sequence.

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Here are the playback controls:

X – Move one frame forward

Z – Move one frame backward

L – play video forward

K – pause video playback

J – rewind video playback

You can also zoom in and out of your image with ‘I’ and ‘O,’ and SPACEBAR allows you to pan around the image as needed.

As you move forward frame by frame you will not be using the X spline or Bezier tool to move the shapes you created. Instead, you will be using the Transform tool or the Reshape tool:

T – transform Tool > creates a box form around your shape allowing you to manipulate the corners of the box in order to stretch and form the shape. This is ideal for most simple movements between frames. The more basic movements you make, the less chance there is for “jitter,” which is an anchor point from one of your shapes jumping around from being manipulated wrong throughout the sequence.

R – Reshape Tool > this tool allows you to manipulate the individual anchor points of each shape. This should be a last resort method of moving a shape and only needs to be used in shapes that have extreme changes that cannot be captured using the transform tool. An example would be an article of clothing where a wrinkle appears for a few frames and then disappears.

To summarize, you will be using the X and Z keys to move forward and backward one frame at a time and using the Transform tool to move the shapes to capture broad movements, or the Reshape tool to capture fine details. Once your finished, use the J,K, and L keys to playback the footage and watch the shapes to make sure they stay on track with the roto subject. If there is an issue, simply stop the play back and make the adjustment as needed.

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Creating an Alpha Matte in Silhouette FX

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An Alpha Matte is a black and white piece of footage that instructs a program what is transparent or opaque. Think of a family photo – say you took that photo of you and your family in your living room, but you wish you could place them in a more exciting environment. By creating an alpha matte you can instruct a program, such as Adobe After Effects, to only see you and your family and make the background completely transparent. Thus, allowing you to insert a new and exciting background – outer space, the jungle, Paris, etc. I will show you how to create an alpha matte using Silhouette FX in three simple steps:

– Setting up a New Session

– Creating the Alpha Matte

– Exporting the Alpha Matte

SETTING UP A NEW SESSION

When you first open Silhouette FX you will need to import the footage you intend to roto – this may be a video clip or a sequence of JPEGs or DPX images. For this example I will be creating an alpha matte from a single image. To import the footage go to FILE > IMPORT > MEDIA, and then navigate to the desired footage and select OPEN.

You will notice the footage is then added to your PROJECT PANEL for visual reference. At this point, you need to open a new session with this media before you can start to create your matte – think of a new session as a new composition if you are more familiar with an Adobe After Effects pipeline. To create a new session, simply go to SESSION in the top toolbar and select NEW SESSION (or hotkey COMMAND + N). An info window will pop up allowing you to name the session and adjust any settings needed. For this training exercise, keep all the default settings and leave only ROTO checked as the available Node.

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CREATING THE ALPHA MATTE

Now that you are ready to create the alpha matte you will notice a set of tools located on the upper left hand side of the canvas window.

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About halfway down that list you will see an icon that looks like a dot with a curved line and an x – this is the X SPLINE TOOL. Just beneath that is the BEZIER TOOL.

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Both tools are sufficient in completing this task. If you use Photoshop you most likely already know all the subtleties and tricks behind them. I find the X Spline tool better suited for rotoscoping human anatomy. However, if you intend to export your matte to composite into NUKE, there tends to be some ingest errors as X Splines are not supported in NUKE and, in turn, attempts to be converted into faulty Beziers.

To use either tool simply click and select it from the tool set, navigate over the canvas image and click to create an ANCHOR POINT. Move your mouse and click again to create a second ANCHOR POINT. Now you’ll notice a line is connecting the two points. Continue to click around to create your desired shape and finish by returning to the first anchor point you created. Click on it one final time to close and create an OBJECT.

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OBJECTS you create are then stored in the OBJECT LIST window located to the right of your screen.

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You will also notice in the lower right of the OBJECT LIST window is a ‘+” icon – if you click on it you will create a LAYER. You can highlight shapes and drag and store them in these layers you create. Layers are helpful to help sort all of the objects you create for quick reference and control.

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It’s good to break your image down into a series of objects instead of trying to outline the entire subject with one giant outline. It is easier to make adjustments to isolated shapes.

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EXPORTING THE ALPHA MATTE

Once your alpha matte is finished, you are ready to export. Simply go to SESSION > RENDER SESSION (or hotkey COMMAND + R).

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You will be presented with a Render Options window. To ensure you are getting just the alpha matte, uncheck COLOR and make sure ALPHA is the only format checked. For format type, use the drop down menu to select TIFF. Change the range to CURRENT FRAME. Finally, to finish under output, you can select the three dots next to DIRECTORY to be able to set your render destination, input a FILENAME, and hit APPLY.

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You have now successfully created and exported your alpha matte. From here, you can import the matte into another software program, such as Adobe After Effects, and combine the matte with the original image in order to eliminate the background and continue to composite as needed.

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