Sci-FI VFX Tutorials

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With the upcoming release of Star Wars the Force Awakens, and the premiere of the recent Star Trek films, there have been many visual effects that filmmakers have looked to replicate to bring to their productions. This can be anything from heads up displays, 3D spaceships, weapons, and much more. Looking at these effects as they are, it would be a daunting task to replicate them without prior knowledge. However, using a tool like After Effects can bring your imagination to life by watching the right tutorials. Below, I will highlight a few tutorials based on science fiction visual effects that you can bring to your video projects.

Lightsaber Tutorial

In this tutorial from VideoCoPilot, Andrew Kramer shows us how to use his lightsaber preset which he created using the beam effect along with other filters and expressions. This preset has all the functions you would need to create the perfect lightsaber effect without having to use a solid layer with a mask. This preset also reacts to composition motion blur to create realistic motion. Using an obscure layer as a matte, you can place the lightsaber beam behind your talent when their motion calls for it.

I recently used this preset on a set of commercials and it still holds up eight years after it was initially released. I found it easier to use and manage over a plugin like Saber Blade from Fan Film FX. You can download the preset here and use it on your next Star Wars fan film.

Transporter Tutorial

In this tutorial from SternFX and Red Giant TV, Eran Stern breaks down how to create this infamous Star Trek teleportation effect using Trapcode Particular. Using the path from a circle math, Eran creates a circular motion for the point light which influences the motion path for Particular. Next, he parents the light to a null object so that he can influence the motion even further. With Particular applied to a solid layer and the settings manipulated to emit a solid stream of particles, the transporter effect begins to take shape. Once he has the effect created with Particular, he precomposes it and duplicates it to manipulate other iterations. With a lens flare from Knoll Light Factory and a few animation keyframes, he completes the overall animation necessary to apply to it to his subject.

In a separate composition, he brings the transporter effect and talent to the forefront. Using warping filters and masks, he completes the effect with ease. What I like about this tutorial is the attention to detail that Eran brings to this effect. I’ve seen this effect achieved using particle images from Particle Illusion, which is passable to the common viewer, but this version of the effect really has the Hollywood finish to it. Although it is a dated tutorial, I find it still holds up after all these years.

Hologram Tutorial

This tutorial from PixelBump shows us how to create a Star Wars themed hologram using green screen compositing. He creates three compositions with his keyed talent and changes their colors accordingly using the Levels effect. With the addition of the wiggle expression to create jerky motion, he crafts the colorization needed to create the hologram along with the Venetian Blinds filter. With a combo of offset matte layers and glow filters, he is able to complete Star Wars-esque hologram.

This effect was achieved using native filters and techniques that exist inside of After Effects which makes it accessible to everyone. I recently had to do a hologram effect for a group of spots and I went the third party route using Holomatrix to create the effect. It is always useful to know how to create visual effects when you don’t have access to to third party tools.

These are just three science fiction effects-based tutorials you can use on your next video projects. Try these out and experiment to create something unique.

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Greenscreen Compositing: Place Talent in Vehicles

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One of the benefits of using greenscreen is the ability to control the environment your talent is placed in. The amount of time, effort, and money it would cost to shoot in certain locations can be very expensive. Luckily, with a little pre-planning and a carefully executed shoot, greenscreen can put your talent wherever you need them to be. One of the unique places to put your talent is inside of a vehicle. The challenges in doing so are many. First, you have to remove the greenscreen through compositing filters. Then, you have to insert a background and any other elements to sell the composite as realistic. That’s easier said then done. With that being said, I will present some tutorials to help filmmakers place their talent inside of vehicles.

Inside of a Car

In this tutorial, filmmaker Lee Whitman shows us how to create a car driving shot using a greenscreen and native filters in After Effects. Using greenscreen for car shots is a common practice in Hollywood because of the difficulties of getting a good shoot of a car driving while focusing on the talent. In the tutorial, he has the greenscreen placed at the back end of the car so that he can key it out easily. From there, he masks out any additional set pieces that can interfere with the key. Using the bundled Keylight filter, he removes the greenscreen background which now allows him to place anything he wants in the background.

Now that he has his talent keyed, he can insert any background he wants. To help sell this composite, he uses some driving footage he captured from the perspective of the backseat, as well as some footage from the roof of his car. Using corner pin effects, the Levels filter, and blurs, he is able to create a convincing effect of his talent driving the car. When it comes to putting a talent in a vehicle, you have to think about the smallest details to make it believable, or your audience will be taken out of the moment.

If you have trouble shooting driving plates for your talent, look no further than the collection of plates from Artbeats. This collection features every perspective you need to make your talent look like they are driving down the road.

Inside of a Plane

In this tutorial, After Effects guru Andrew Kramer shows us how to create a believable tracking shot of two passengers inside of an airplane. First, he uses masking to isolate the talent from the tracking markers he has in place. Using a third party plugin from the Foundry, he tracks his points in 3D space and attaches a null object to them to use for tracking data. From there, he removes the greenscreen as well as the tracking markers to finish isolating his talent. Using high resolution images for his backgrounds, he constructs the inside of a plane which tracks to an outside shot of the plane’s wing and engine in 3D space. Adding elements like his free particle collection and his visual effects collection of Action Essentials, he goes further in making the composite believable.

This level of attention to detail is necessary when creating a shot where the camera moves. A simple key and background replacement for your greenscreen talent would not make this composite believable. Going the extra mile for even the smallest details has a big payoff in the end.

Inside of a Helicopter

On a recent project I worked on, I had to place my talent inside of a helicopter using greenscreen and some props to give the illusion he was flying it. This would have been a challenge had I not done some testing prior to the shoot and followed these steps accordingly:

Step 1: Key out your talent and insert any additional assets

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I first isolated my talent and the empty chair using masks and Keylight as you can see below. I duplicated my footage twice to make color changes to my empty chair and the talent so I can integrate them appropriately.

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From there, I added some stock images of passenger seats and placed them behind my talent. What I’m trying to accomplish with this composite is that this helicopter can carry multiple passengers.

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Step 2: Key out greenscreen helicopter and motion track

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Next, I used this 3D helicopter overlay. The background was blue and the windows were green. To properly key this, I needed two instances of Keylight with one focusing on the green and the other on the blue.

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Since I keyed out the windows, I needed to created the appearance of tinted windows. Using a solid layer and the track matte function, I created the windows. Using the Gradient Ramp filter, I used opacity and the Screen blend mode to fade it down. The last thing I did was created a null object and tracked the motion of the helicopter. I believed this was necessary so that my talent could match the movement of the helicopter, otherwise it would not look as believable.

Step 3: Combine your talent with vehicle asset

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In a new composition, I brought the composition of the helicopter and my talent with seats together. I parented the null object with the helicopter tracking data to my talent.

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Using solid layers and additional motion graphic elements, I created the back of the helicopter area so that it finished the illusion. I put it all together to finish the helicopter composite, and all that was left was to pair it with a background.

Step 4: Gather background asset and modify where needed

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Using a DJI Phantom 3 Professional drone, I flew around at high altitudes back and forth as well as up and down. Capturing the footage at 4K, this would give me the flexibility to scale in or out for my composite. After bringing it into After Effects, I treated the color levels with Colorista 3, and used an adjustment layer to add a slight blur.

Step 5: Finish the effect with background and talent

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Once I paired my helicopter composite together with the drone footage, I was close to finishing this visual effect. One of the few things that can cheapen something shot on greenscreen is edge lighting and color matching. Using filters from Key Correct Pro, I applied the Light Wrap and Color Matcher filters to blend my talent together with the background. With all of these steps combined I came to the result in the video below.

Placing your talent inside of a vehicle can be a very detail oriented composite, but when done right, you can make convincing composites that wouldn’t make the audience think twice. Next time you have a shoot where you have to place your talent inside of vehicle, consider using greenscreen to do it.

Sound Effects

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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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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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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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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Third Party Green Screen Keyers

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Green screen, or chroma key compositing, has been around since the 1930s. Developed by filmmakers at RKO Radio Pictures, it was used as a method to create complex visual effects that were before its time. Over the years, the process went from a painstakingly analog method to a digital method that can now be done on computers. Programs such as Final Cut Pro, Premiere Pro, Avid Media Composer, and the like all have the ability to do basic greenscreen/bluescreen keying if your footage is in the optimal conditions. For complex and intricate situations, post professionals turn to programs like After Effects, Motion, Autodesk Smoke, or Nuke. Despite the programs that have greenscreen keying capabilities, there are many third party companies who have developed plugins to handle even the toughest keying processes. Let’s take a look at a few and see what each have to offer.

Primatte Keyer/KeyCorrect

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Primatte Keyer is Red Giant’s premiere keyer solution for post professionals. Within its array of features are some of the following: auto compute algorithm for pulling a perfect key, key correction tools for refining mattes and backgrounds, and color matcher feature for matching the subject to their background. This plugin is one of the most trusted keying plugin on the market amongst professionals in film (Lord of the Rings, The Matrix, Harry Potter, and Spider-Man) and television (Sesame Street, Nickelodeon, and Disney). This plugin is compatible on Mac and PC with programs ranging from Final Cut Pro, After Effects, Premiere Pro, and Motion. I can personally attest to its strengths and abilities as I’ve used it in my work quite often. I find it great to use when Keylight may not be enough to get the job done. For the price of $499, it is definitely a keyer solution to consider if you do a lot of it. Just take a look at its capabilities below.

If you are fine with keying with Keylight, you can get the tools of Key Correct to assist you. Key Correct lets you create perfect keys from an image shot against a colored background. These tools include a Rig/Wire Remover, Light Wrap, Color Matcher, Alpha Cleaner, and many other tools. I’ve personally used Key Correct’s tools on many projects and found it to perfectly complement Keylight when I may have challenging keys. Having both Key Correct and Primatte Keyer are definitely tools you should consider in your post production pipeline.

Boris Chroma Key Studio

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Within the Boris Continuum Complete set is the Key and Blend unit. This unit automates the creation of precise keys with a minimal amount of adjustment. These filters strip away the complexity of chroma keying by automating matting, edge softening and refinement, and light wrapping and reflections to produce seamless composites each and every time. One plugin that stands out is the Chroma Key Studio. The Chroma Key Studio is an all-in-one keying suite similar to Primatte Keyer. It can do everything from screen enhancement, auto-garbage matte and masking, chroma key, matte cleanup, matte choker, foreground color correction, and light wrap into a single filter. In the tutorial below, Kevin P. McAuliffe demonstrates how versatile this plugin is and why it is a suitable solution for keying within your NLE. I’ve used it myself a few times and it is definitely a time-saver if I’m working in Premiere Pro or Media Composer as opposed to shipping it out to After Effects for chroma keying.

PHYX Keyer

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The final keyer plugin on the list is the one from the Phyxware folks. Phyx Keyer 5 is a set of 10 plugins designed to give you even faster and more accurate keys than ever before. These plugins include the FastKeyer, ScreenCorrector, Lightwrap, and SkinTools. These tools have been used by companies such as AT&T, Autodesk, and Fox Sports. These plugins were also used on the feature film Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues. In the tutorial above, you get to witness how versatile and fast these set of plugins are, whether you are in an NLE or compositing program. One thing to note about these plugins is that they function on Mac only and are installed through the FxFactory software engine. I’ve personally used the Keyer and other tools in this set, and I have to say that it is top notch. They really have tools to handle even the most difficult keying scenarios.

You’ve seen these industry leading third party keyers and what they can do. Feel free to download a trial and see what the hype is all about. I can assure you that you won’t be disappointed.

Sound Effects

Using Mattes in Your Edits

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Using matte clips in my edits is something I’ve been doing for a very long time. With mattes, I can isolate a piece of footage and insert other assets. What would be an otherwise boring set of clips looks like a masterful composition. Now, there are many ways to create mattes as well as use them in your edit. However, I want to highlight creative ways using mattes can add flair to your edits. The use of mattes can be done in all popular NLEs such Adobe Premiere, Final Cut Pro, and Avid Media Composer as well as in After Effects and Motion. Let’s take a look.

Enhancing Interviews with Travel Mattes

In this tutorial, post production guru Walter Biscardi shows us how to use mattes to enhance talking head interviews with b-roll. In Final Cut Pro 7, he places his interview clip on track 3n. From there, he places his matte image on track 2 with a scale and position adjustment. He inserts his main background on track 1 so that the composite will have an overall theme. With his interview clip selected, he control + clicks on it and selects Travel Matte Alpha. This puts his interview clip into the matte he placed in track 2. To clean things up, he nests his interview clip and matte into their own sequence. With his clips in a nest, it allows him to add a drop shadow which adds a bit of depth to the matte.

Next, he adds his b-roll on track 3 and another matte on track 2. Using the same process as above, he is able to place his b-roll into the matte and adjust it to taste. With his clips matted out, he adds the final touches with a faded title and he now has a much more visually appealing interview than he had before. No need to cut back and forth between talking head and interview when you can see everything at once.

Animated Mattes to Stylize Wedding Videos

In this cool tutorial, Sean Mullen of Rampant Design shows us how to use his popular product, Style Mattes. Style Mattes are a collection of pre-animated mattes which work with all major and popular post production software. Here, he shows us how easy it is to use these mattes in Premiere Pro. With your clip on Track 1 and the Style Matte on Track 2 or above, apply the Track Matte Key to your clip. In the effect controls panel, change the Matte option to Track 2 and choose between Matte Luma or Alpha so that you’ll see your video inside the matte. In a matter of seconds, it is really easy to add these mattes to wedding montages, music videos, documentaries, or any video project you have.

Light Streak Freeze Frame Effect

In this tutorial for Avid Media Composer, Jon Lynn of GeniusDV shows us how to create a light streak freeze frame holdout effect using the Marquee Tool. First, he isolates a frame in the timeline. From there, he creates a freeze frame in the source monitor. With the freeze frame created, he inserts it into the timeline at the point where he wants the action to stop. Next, he creates a new title which opens up the Marquee Tool. Using the shape tool, he draws a matte around the talent. Once the matte is created, he saves it into his bins for later use. With the matte placed inside of his bin, he inserts it into the timeline and does the necessary compositing to isolate the talent in the freeze frame. Using a filter from Boris FX, he is able to add the light streak effect and complete the graphic. One of the things I’ve always found hard to grasp in Media Composer is the amount of steps it takes to do what can be simple compositing. I know some folks like it, where others tend to leave that work to a program like After Effects or Motion. Overall, it is a cool effect when you want to add something special to your projects.

These are just a small collection of ways to utilize mattes in your video projects, and I encourage you to find ways to use them in a way that enhances yours. It’s easy to use them as a crutch for creativity, but when utilized properly, they can be a force to be reckoned with.

Sound Effects

After Effects Keying Tips & Tricks

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Green/blue screen keying is one of the most used post production techniques for putting actors in environments that would otherwise be quite expensive to make happen. A technique that has been around since the 1930s, green/blue screen keying, or chroma keying, is a fundamental compositing technique used on many of the visual effects you see on television and feature films. With all the advances that have been made in post production technology, what would have taken visual effects and editors months to complete can now be accomplished rather quickly. However, as editors or visual effects artists, there are situations involving chroma key that may require more work than just applying Keylight and extracting your actor. I’m going to showcase some products and techniques you can use in After Effects to help for those special situations you may encounter with chroma keying.

Fixing Screen Color

As a post production professional, you may not always be on set to guide the production crew how to properly light their green/blue screen so that it can create an optimal key. When you get the footage, you may have to spend time fixing the green color on the footage so that you don’t run into issues pulling a strong key. The folks from PHYX have a plugin known as Screen Corrector that can help fix the screen color of your green screen footage. You can purchase it from their PHYX Keyer bundle for $139. One caveat about this plugin is that it is for Mac only. If you are looking for a non-third party solution, take a look at this tutorial below for changing the screen color.

The author shows us a technique of using the Selective Color filter to boost the green in the footage to pull a better key. He then goes on to change the white and black values of his alpha matte so it can be used later as a track matte for the green screen footage. I’ve utilized these techniques on projects and found it really helpful. It’s not fool proof, but it’s better than having to settle for a terribly lit screen.

Creating a Lightwrap

A light wrap is a compositing method used to give your actor the illusion that background light is reflecting into the foreground, and helps sell the key as being more realistic. This method is used after you’ve pulled the best key you can to sell the composite better. If you are looking for plugins that can do this easily, look to Key Correct Pro from Red Giant. Their light wrap plugin allows you to take your background of choice and seamlessly blend it with your keyed footage. I’ve used this plugin numerous times, and it has done wonders on my keyed footage. However, you may be working at a site that doesn’t want to spend money on a light wrap plugin, so it would good to know the method for generating one within After Effects.

Media production instructor Andrew Smith shows us how to create a light wrap in After Effects using only native tools. His method includes duplicating the keyed footage twice, using the invert and channel blur filters, and precomping along with track mattes. Looking at the result he was able to generate, I believe this is a great method to know when you need to create a light wrap with no third party plugins. A light wrap is just one method in the process of completing a green screen composite. The color of your subject and the background are just as important.

Color Matching to the Background

One of the many things that sells a green screen composite is how the subject is lit and colored in comparison to the foreground. Not taking the step to color your subject to the background will make your composite look amateur. It’s not as hard as it looks. You can go down the third party route, or use the color correction filters to achieve this. If you chose a third party option, I would recommend PHYX’s Composite Matcher or Red Giant’s Composite Wizard plugin Composite Color Matcher. Both plugins are good at easily matching your foreground with your background. If you want to stay native to After Effects, you can follow this tutorial below.

Motion graphics artist Dries Lambrecht shows us how to achieve this using the Levels filter. It involves manipulating the red, green, and blue channels individually by using the Channel drop down menu in After Effects. This is a preferred technique among visual effects and motion graphics artists, as looking at an image across different channels can give you a much better representation of your highlights, midtones, and shadows. Overall, I found this technique handy when you need to do it quickly, while still paying attention to each RGB channel. These are some tips and tricks you can use for when you are keying your footage and need to make it believable and professional. You can use third party plugins and cut some time off from completing your work, or you can master time tested techniques using what’s available in After Effects. At the end of the day, choose the best method for the task at hand.

Sound Effects

Using Photoshop for Matte Creation

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One of the things I love about Photoshop is how deep and flexible it is. The industry standard image editing software has the ability to do a multitude of things that just listing them wouldn’t do the software justice. Photoshop is a valuable part of my post production workflow. One of the things I enjoy creating in this application more than anything are mattes. Using the shape tool, I have the ability to create unique shaped mattes which I can then use in my editing software of choice. Below is a tutorial I did 2 years ago for using mattes from Photoshop to create a diagonal split screen effect.

I’m going to quickly show you how to create a matte in Photoshop from a shape you can use in your editing software.

Matte Creation

One of the first things I tend to do when creating a matte is use the paint bucket tool and make my first layer black. When dealing with alpha and luminance, black represents the area that is transparent while white represents the area that is opaque.

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Next, I will use the shape tool and go through my available shapes. By default, Photoshop has a plethora of shapes you can use. You have options such as the rectangle, rounded rectangle, ellipse, polygon, line and custom shape. If you want to add more shapes to your collection, you can download some from Deviant Art – some are free and others you can get for a reasonable price.

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I’ll use the custom shape tool and choose a chevron shape. I’ll make sure that it is white. It can be any color but black or grey, as those would cause transparency to happen which we want to avoid.

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I’ll create multiple instances of this shape so that it stretches the length of my composition.

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Now we can save this composition for use in our editing software. When you want to save items like this from Photoshop, you can go about it a few ways. You can of course save it as a .psd file and it will import fine into your editing software. This tends to be of higher quality and will help you maintain access to your layers and have more import options.

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You can also save it as a .jpeg, .png, .tiff or any other image format. When you save it in an image format, this will merge your layers into one image,unless you save it as a .tiff, which supports layers. Since I want to use this as one image in my editing software, I will save it as an image format.

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If I heard over to my editing software, I can import the image into my project panel.

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Now if I perform the method of using a matte filter (for Premiere and Media Composer) or matte blending mode (for Final Cut Pro) I can place my video inside the matte and create a cool composite.

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Matte creation in Photoshop is a valuable technique to know as Photoshop tends to be more flexible in image manipulation/creation than your editing software may be.

I’m the NLE Ninja with AudioMicro asking you to stay creative.

Sound Effects

Film Impact and Creative Impatience Review

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Since making the transition from a Final Cut Pro 7 workflow to a Premiere Pro workflow, things have been great. I was able to modify my keyboard shortcuts to be more FCP friendly and I don’t deal with as many hassles as I did when editing in FCP 7. As great as that is, there were some things that took a little getting use to. In terms of actual transitions, Premiere Pro’s native transitions were lacking to say the least. If I wanted to use a fancy or cheesy transition on an edit, I would have to use one of the many filter based transitions or send my clips to After Effects via Dynamic Link. Another area of interest I felt that FCP 7 had on Premiere was its compositing and masking capabilities. The amount of native masking and compositing tools FCP has puts Premiere Pro to shame.

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Now it’s possible to achieve certain masking/compositing effects in Premiere but most times it would require help from the Title Tool and the available matte key filters (Image Matte, Set Matte and Track Matte) or the limited crop filter. Over the last year, two independent entities have created transitions and compositing filters that help fill the gaps between FCP and Premiere Pro. They are Film Impact and Creative Impatience. Film Impact is comprised of a group of developers who create professional, inexpensive plugins for both FCP 7 and Premiere Pro CS5-CS6. Creative Impatience is the brainchild of developer/editor Bart Walczak. With Bart’s plugins, you get plugins that allow you to crop, feather edges of your media, vignette and mask out multiple sections of one or more videos.

Film Impact Plugins

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This suite of transitions have been a welcomed addition to the Premiere Pro ecosystem. With transitions such as Impact Flash, Impact Push, Impact Blur Dissolve and more, I have the ability to give my projects more polish. One of the strengths of these transitions is the user interface that is available. Within that interface, I have the ability to effect how my transition will look and interact with my media. For example if I was using the Impact Flash transition, I have the ability to effect the Blur, Glow and Softness parameters which in turn effect how the transition looks. I can take it from its default state to a different variation of the transition.

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The best part about these transitions is that they are actual transitions. Many third party transitions that you can purchase for Premiere tend to function as filters that need to be keyframed in the Effect Controls panel as opposed to be placed on an edit. There is a time and place for using those types of transitions but in most cases I like the ease of a transition that can be placed at the head or tail of clips. Overall, Film Impact has definitely been able to figure out the plugin SDK of Premiere and create a great suite of transitions. If future iterations are as good as the first collection, then I know Film Impact will become a power player.

Creative Impatience Plugins
This collection of filters addresses an editor’s need to do simple masking and compositing tasks that you would usually send out to After Effects to take care of. Within this collection, you can download Feathered Crop, Vignette, Power Window and Simple Mask all for free (if you find these plugins useful, you can donate to the developer to help with the progress of current and upcoming plugins). One of the standout filters I found immediately useful is Feathered Crop. Back in my FCP 7 days, being able to feather the edges of a clip for a nice composite was one of my go to techniques. Switching over to Premiere, I found this to be rather difficult with the native tools. To do anything remotely close to this would require the Title Tool and Track Matte Key. Also, the Edge Feather filter was not as resourceful as I thought it could be. When this plugin came out, I instantly found myself using it quite often. With it’s in depth interface, the user can selectively crop and feather from top, bottom, right and left. They also have the ability to add a border around their image if they choose to.

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The newest plugin I’m finding immediately useful is Simple Mask. This filter allows you to create a simple and adjustable mask around your media. The best part is you can add multiple instances of this filter to focus on specific portions of your footage or create a unique mask design.

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Overall, Creative Impatience has been able to address my masking and compositing needs in Premiere with this collection of plugins. Their ease of use and incredible design makes them accessible for quick and dirty compositing techniques.

If you are a recent FCP 7 convert or diehard user of Premiere Pro, I highly recommend adding these plugins to your plugin arsenal. What these 2 developers have created is nothing short of phenomenal.

I’m the NLE Ninja with Audio Micro asking you to stay creative.

Sound Effects

Using Overlay Transitions as Alpha Transitions in FCP 7

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Final Cut Pro 7 or Final Cut Pro legacy as it’s known in certain circles brought some new features to it that were quite groundbreaking. The feature I found to be the most interesting to use was the Alpha Transition. The Alpha Transition wipe is a transition that combines a clip that either has or doesn’t have transparency with its alpha matte and a wipe matte. In this graphic below, you can see the user interface for this transition.

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In this tutorial, online editing training company GeniusDV explains how to utilize this transition.

I’m going to explain to how to take transitions that are either in the Pro Res codec or different codec and use them with the Alpha Transition wipe.

Using Alpha Transitions from Luca Visual FX

Plugin and motion graphic developer, Luca Visual FX has a collection of alpha transitions that are encoded out in the Pro Res 4444 codec. Due to this encoding, it’s really easy to use this with the Alpha Transition wipe.

Import one of the LVFX transitions into your project browser. Apply the Alpha Transition wipe to the edit point of your clips. Drop the LVFX transition in the drop well labeled Clip. Render the transition and see the result.

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Due to the fact that these transitions were encoded in Pro Res 4444 and have built in transparency, we didn’t need to use the Clip Alpha Matte drop well. The Alpha Transition works best when using the Pro Res codecs. Since these transitions have wipe point built in, we also didn’t need to use the Wipe Matte either. You have this luxury with Luca’s transitions but you may not have this luxury off the bat if you were using transitions from other sources.

Turning Overlay Transitions into Alpha Clips in After Effects.

Now if you have overlay transitions from other sources and you have access to a Mac and the Pro Res codecs, you can use After Effects to convert them into Pro Res for use in the Alpha Transition Wipe.

I have an overlay transition that has embedded transparency and a wipe matte. I’m going place my transition in its own composition and do the same for the wipe matte.

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Once you’ve done that, it’s time to setup the render queue for these clips.

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With both my clip compositions in the render queue, I will set it up so that these become Pro Res clips. Here are the options you should be mindful of.

-If you want your transition clip to maintain its transparency, set it up to be Pro Res 4444 with RGB+Alpha. If you want your transition clip to not maintain transparency, render it at Pro Res 422 or Pro Res 422 LT and leave it at RGB. You will have to duplicate the composition in the render queue and set that to either of those Pro Res flavors but change it to Alpha.

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For the wipe matte, you can choose to render it out at Pro Res 4444 or the other flavors of Pro Res. Just make sure to leave it RGB. After you are done rendering out the clips, bring them into Final Cut Pro and place them in their appropriate drop wells. (the transition clip in the clip drop well and the wipe matte clip in the wipe matte drop well)

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You will now see your overlay transition working as part of the Alpha Transition Wipe with which you can manipulate the timing and other parameters.

As you can see when using overlay transitions, you can easily change their codec and use them with the Alpha Transition Wipe.

I’m the NLE Ninja with AudioMicro asking you to stay creative.

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Fractal Noise: The Wonder Filter

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For the last 5 years, After Effects has been my go to compositing and motion graphics application whenever I need something beyond the depth of my NLEs. AE has the ability to do a lot of amazing things that would probably take pages just to list. With the filters and options that come bundled with it, the user can take on common to complex post production needs. One filter that I believe stands out above the rest is the Fractal Noise filter. This filter has been the basis of many creative and complex effects. On its own, you can create a myriad of assets such as backgrounds, overlays, textures and more. Of the many templates I’ve used, Fractal Noise has been used in about 80% of them. Within its parameters, a user can manipulate its parameters and create something unique. Used with other filters such as glow, blur and more, the possibilities are expanded. I’m going to show you 3 breakdowns of Fractal Noise designs you can use on your next project.

Background

In this example from author Chad Perkins‘s book Cheat in After Effects 2, I have a fractal noise background which looks like bars of light. The solid is set to 1920 x1080. Within Fractal Noise parameters, the fractal type is basic, the noise type is set to block, the contrast and brightness are modified, the transform settings are modified drastically, complexity is between 2-4 and the evolution is animated over 5 seconds. Combined with the Tint and Corner Pin filter as well as an adjustment layer containing the glow and curves filters, you get this cool animated bar background you can use for a high action title sequence.

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Streaks Overlay

This mograph element is relatively easy to accomplish using the Fractal Noise filter. From this example of Harry Frank‘s Form Backgrounds, he accomplished this by manipulating these fractal noise settings. With composition set to 3000 x 1080, he set the fractal type to basic, noise type to soft linear, modified the contrast and brightness between -100 to 200, transform settings to get the streak look and animated the evolution over 9-10 seconds. He also set an expression for offset turbulence that would affect its position over time. When combined with the Tritone and Glow filters, you get a streaks overlay you can composite into your footage or animations.

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Texture

One of the best ways to use Fractal Noise is when you need an animated texture. With this text layer in my composition, I will place an animated fractal noise solid into my text. Here is my settings and result of my fractal noise below.

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With my text layer above it, I will set my fractal noise beneath to Alpha Matte. Now, my text will inherit the fractal noise as a texture and with some further tweaking, I can get a unique text design that looks something like this.

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As you can see from these breakdowns, Fractal Noise is a versatile filter. On its own, it can create a lot of items. Grouped with other filters, it becomes an enigma of creative awesomeness. Next time you are in After Effects, play around with the Fractal Noise filters and see what you can create. You might create something quite amazing.

I’m the NLE Ninja with AudioMicro asking you to stay creative.

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Track Matte Key Work Around in Premiere Pro

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One of the things I love about editing is using transitions. Editing is much more than the bells and whistles you put into it, but when I have a cool transition that can give it additional production value, I can’t pass it up (side note: picking the perfect sound effects can also really add some spice to your transitions). One type of transition I enjoy using are the overlay transitions that require the Track Matte Key/Effect to use them. In Premiere Pro, there is a way to utilize the Track Matte Key to use those transitions but there is a catch. If the matte I use from transition ends, my clip disappears. For the longest time, I’ve been trying to understand how to work around that so I don’t have to take as many steps when using these transitions. Most of the time when people have demonstrated Track Matte transitions, they tell you to delete the effect on the second of your clip. Well, I’m going to show you a quick tip to avoid that on your next project by keeping the track matte on both portions.

Track Matte Key Work Around

In my timeline, I have 2 clips stacked on top of each other. Let’s apply the Track Matte Key to the clip on Track 2.

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The following steps are important to ensure that you get the desired result. Place your transition matte on Track 3. Right click on the matte and select Enable to disable it. This is done just in case your matte is making it difficult to see you video clip.

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Next, go to the out point of your transition matte. Make an edit at that point on your clip on Track 2.

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Select the left portion of your clip. Go to the effect controls panel. Set the matte dropdown to Video 3 and Compositing using Matte Alpha or Luma.

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Right click on your transition matte on Track 3. Select Enable to re-enable it.

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Now when you play through timeline, you will see the transition occur. Once it gets past the point where the matte ends, your clip won’t disappear. The reason for this is because we never designated a video track for the right portion of clip to take a matte from. It will still have the effect but act like nothing has changed. This is a useful tip for the next you deal with Track Matte transitions in Premiere Pro.

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There are many places where you can get overlay transitions that require the Track Matte Key for a great price. So the next time you are in Premiere Pro and want use one of them, utilize this technique to save you some time. It’s always better to work smarter, not harder.

I’m the NLE Ninja with AudioMicro asking you to stay creative.

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