Wrinkle & Basic Blemish Removal with Mocha AE and After Effects CC

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Beauty retouching has evolved throughout the ages. First, we had make up artists who would do their best to mask and cover various blemishes. Over time, it became possible to retouch photographs by hand to cover any blemishes the makeup artist was not able to clear. Now, we are not only able to retouch images, but high resolution video itself. Right now there is a growing niche market of beauty retouchers and artists taking on the role of a “digital make up artist,” retouching and removing various wrinkles, blemishes, shine, and more. I will show you how to remove wrinkles and basic blemishes using a combination of Mocha AE and After Effects CC in three easy steps:

– Create a Main Track in Mocha

– Create cover layers in Mocha

– Export and Composite in After Effects

 CREATE A MAIN TRACK IN MOCHA

With your footage in Mocha, first look at your subject and decide where exactly your will be focusing.

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Looking at my subject, I can see she has some general light blemish marks along her left cheek. Additionally, as she scrunches up her mouth she creates a dimple in the corner of her mouth which will act as a good “wrinkle” example for us, as well to show the range of this techniques use.

The goal here is to smooth out that dimple in the corner of her mouth while also blending away those light blemishes along her cheek. In the footage, she keeps her head in that general direction. This allows certain features of the face to be ideal for motion tracking, such as the eyebrows, chin, and nose (the ear and hairline is also good, however, in this sample the hair is covered by the ear and the wind is blowing her hair around her forehead, making these options not possible). Using the X spline tool, create a generic shape around the eyebrows, chin, and nose and TRACK FORWARD.

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You can label that layer in your LAYERS PANEL as MAIN TRACKER to help stay organized. We will not create an additional layer that we can animate over the course of the clip while linking it to the Main tracker for general motion.

CREATE COVER LAYER IN MOCHA

The Main track is to capture the overall movement of the camera and of subject’s head and face. Throughout the clip, the subject moves their mouth slightly with a few other facial muscles contorting. We need to create a cover layer that will focus on the wrinkle and blemish area while also remaining flexible as the subject contorts their face and mouth. From here, I am going to create a cover layer focusing on the areas mentioned.

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The mask at first seems a bit jagged, so highlight all the points, right click, and go to POINT > SMOOTH

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Now, make sure you have that new cover layer highlighted and go to LINK TO TRACK > MAIN TRACKER. This will now link the cover layer to the main tracker allowing it to follow along with the camera and facial movement. For the fine tuning of the face contorting throughout the clip, scrub through the footage. As you see the mask intersecting with areas of the mouth and her movement, grab the points and adjust accordingly. This will create a keyframe on the timeline indicating that the mask will be in that form at that exact point on the timeline. Continue to scrub through the footage adjusting all remaining points as needed.

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Once you think you are finished, let the footage playback a few times and watch the facial movements against your keyframed layer to make sure everything meets your expectations.

EXPORT AND COMPOSITE IN AFTER EFFECTS

Once you are ready to export the cover layer, go to EXPORT SHAPE DATA located in the lower right of the program window. At the pop up window choose COPY TO CLIPBOARD.

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Back in After Effects, create a new Adjustment Layer (CMD + OPT + Y) and then paste the mocha mask shape onto the adjustment layer by going to EDIT > PASTE MOCHA MASK.

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With the cover layer now composited on top of your source clip in After Effects, go ahead and add a BOX BLUR to the Adjustment Layer. Increase the BLUR RADIUS to 10 and open the mask settings and feather the edges to about 15.

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And now take a look at with the cover layer on and off

ON

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OFF

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You can see the blemishes have been removed and there is a general smoothness to the dimple around her mouth as well. As you increase the BLUR RADIUS, you can further smooth out the wrinkle. Be warned that increasing this too much will distort the image and will not look realistic whatsoever. You’ll need to use finesse. In another lesson, I will go into more detail on how to eliminate glaring blemishes, scars, and birth marks.

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Scar Blemish and Birthmark Removal in Mocha and After Effects CC

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In this day and age of digital revolution, it should be no surprise that make up artists are not the only coverage actors and actresses receive these days for blemishes, scars, shine, wrinkles, and more. Digital beauty retouching is a growing niche market where VFX artists are now able to accurately track the motion of their subjects face throughout the course of the video clip, and then isolate the blemished areas and clean them up further and more accurate than any makeup can cover. In a previous tutorial, I showed how to create a basic cover that can eliminate wrinkles and basic textured blemishes. In this tutorial, I wanted to focus on the harsher blemishes, scars, and birth marks that tend to stand out more prominently, and need some more direct care to treat.

I will break the technique down into three steps:

– Creating an isolated primary track

– Creating a Linked Mask of a Clear Area

– Exporting and Final Composite in After Effects

CREATING AN ISOLATED PRIMARY MASK

With your footage in Mocha, we are first going to create an isolated mask around the prominent blemish, scar, or birthmark. In my sample footage I am going to focus on two areas – one blemish and one mole as an example.

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In the previous, I had you create a general track mask around the whole face. This time, since the blemish area is so prominent, you can zoom in and create a mask just around the problem area itself using the X spline.

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Below the timeline you will find a set of arrows with a letter T by them indicating Track forward and backward. Go ahead and track forward to the end of the clip.

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In your layers panel you can rename the layers to BLEMISH 1 & BLEMISH 2 just to keep things organized.

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CREATING A LINKED MASK OF A CLEAR AREA

Using this tracked data, we are now going to create new layer masks just slightly next to the source blemishes in order to capture a blemish-free and clear reference area to composite over the blemish itself. With the X spline tool, go ahead and create a new layer mask just next to each isolated blemish.

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I also went ahead and changed the color of the cover mask to a blue and renamed the layers to COVER 1 & COVER 2 to keep things organized.

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At this point, LINK both COVER 1 and COVER 2 with their partnering BLEMISH 1 and BLEMISH 2. That way, both covers follow along perfectly with their blemish counterparts.

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Scrub through the footage or simply let it playback and make sure both covers follow perfectly.

EXPORTING AND FINAL COMPOSITE

In this situation you will want to export each cover layer one at a time because you will be compositing each potentially slightly different from one another and will need individual control. With the first cover layer selected, go to EXPORT SHAPE DATA in the lower right of the program window, select it, and choose COPY TO CLIPBOARD on the pop up window.

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Back in after effects we are going to DUPLICATE the source video (CMD + D). With the duplicate video selected go to EDIT > PASTE MOCHA MASK.

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Zoom in on the cover mask and now click and drag the mask over the blemish.

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Open up the Mask controls under the duplicate layer and increase the feather and slightly decrease the expansion. You can also SOLO the layer to see how much feather you are applying.

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You can now play back the video and make sure the feather and expansion amount is adjusted appropriately so that it looks natural and properly covers the blemish. Repeat the process for Blem 2 and for any other scar or birth mark you need to digitally remove.

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Understanding Composition in Post Production

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Composition is absolutely paramount in understanding how to create an image that is not only aesthetically pleasing, but also how to create a focal point that guides the viewers eye throughout the frame. In production, the composition is developed through the director’s vision and executed by the director of photography. In postproduction, visual effect artists have full control on how the composition appears.

Andrew Price tackles composition in this 30 minute tutorial exploring the multiple facets that go into making a complete image.

He breaks composition down into three major pyramid blocks: Focal Element, Structure, and Balance.

FOCAL ELEMENT

A focal element is something that immediately draws your eye in a composition (still or motion pictures included). Price argues that the best way to create a focal element are techniques such as: high contrast, motion, faces or figures, guiding lines, framing, geometry, among others. By adding one of these techniques into your image, say by adding a human face or figure for instance, your eye is instantly drawn to that area, thus creating your focal element.

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STRUCTURE

At its core, structure is organizing your elements around a rule. Sometimes, this is following the rule of thirds to organize your elements, and is one of the more common rules to follow. It doesn’t matter what rule you follow as long as there is some form of structure. Your eye does not know where to look in chaos and needs some form of structure. Some common structures include: Rule of thirds, Golden Ratio, Pyramid, Symmetry, and Full Frame.

Rule of Thirds: breaking your frame into thirds along the horizontal and vertical axis. Every intersection is a prime location to put something of interest.

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Golden Ratio: A spiral structure naturally occurring in nature (sea shells, nature, outer space, etc) utilizing a mathematical breakdown in order to create points of interest.

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Pyramid Composition: Great to be used with characters to create a striking figure.

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Symmetry: mirroring structure over either the horizontal or vertical axis. Used frequently with architecture.

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BALANCE

When talking about balance in a composition, the visual weight of the image is evenly displaced. There are multiple items that can add this visual weight to the image, including: Size, High Contrast, Saturation, Faces, and Figures. One quick little test you can perform on your own compositions is what’s called the ‘squint test’ where you literally squint your eyes at the image, causing it to blur and darken. The bright points will be the most pronounced, and you will be able to see if one side appears to have more light than the other, thus finding the balance.

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Mise en Scène

As an extra bit of knowledge, I will also go over what’s called Mise en Scène. For the most part, this is achieved during production when you look at the composition of your scene before you film it; making sure everything is exactly in its place to fit a compositional structure. One of the masters of Mise en Scène is indie filmmaker Wes Anderson. Based on the structures we reviewed earlier in this post, Anderson tends to create a Mise en Scène structure using the symmetry and thirds rule. Here is a short excerpt with Wes Anderson himself going into better detail as to why and how he makes compositional choices.

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Creating Censorship in After Effects CC

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Censorship is a commonplace practice with today’s television standards. Whether you are an editor censoring some bits from a hollywood film for television, or you work in reality television; censorship is a necessary tool for all editors to know. There are a few common styles that are associated with censorship, including the ‘black bar,’ the ‘blur out,’ or the ‘pixillation’ approach. These can be used on logos, to profane gestures, to nudity, and more. Each director, editor, or corporation may have their own preference, so I am going to show you how to create each style in After Effects CC.

Please note that in order to match the censorship to a moving object, you must track the motion and link your censorship to the tracked footage. I go more in depth on how to track footage in a previous tutorial you can read here.

THE BLACK BAR

Creating a black bar in After Effects CC is a fairly straight forward approach. To create a black bar simply go to LAYER >> NEW >> SOLID. You will be presented with a dialogue box for the SOLID SETTINGS. By default, After Effects sets the color to black which is exactly what we need here, so you may proceed and hit OKAY.

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You will notice now the black solid takes up the entire composition.

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To reduce the size and shape to cover your desired target, you will first want to switch to your SELECTION TOOL by hitting V on the keyboard, or by selecting the arrow on your tool bar.

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You can now CLICK AND DRAG on one of the four corners of the BLACK SOLID and resize it to the desired shape. Also, by clicking and dragging within the shape itself allows you to reposition the solid on your composition.

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THE BLUR OUT

Some reality TV studios prefer to blur out logos or profane gestures in hopes to make a less visually jarring and subtle censorship on their image. To start, you will need to create a new ADJUSTMENT LAYER by going to LAYER >> NEW >> ADJUSTMENT LAYER. No immediate change will be seen in your composition, but if you look in your layers panel, you will see the layer sitting above your video layer.

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An adjustment layer is sort of like an empty bucket that is just waiting to be filled. You need to fill this bucket with the blur effect. To add the blur effect to your adjustment layer go to EFFECT >> BLUR AND SHARPEN >> GAUSSIAN BLUR. In your EFFECTS CONTROLS PANEL, you will see the BLURRINESS is set to zero. Go ahead and increase the number to about 75.

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You will notice the whole composition is now blurred out. To blur just the target, you will need to choose the ELLIPSE TOOL.

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With the tool selected CLICK AND DRAG to create an ellipse in your composition.

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In order to get rid of the hard edge CLICK to HIGHLIGHT your ADJUSTMENT LAYER in the LAYERS PANEL, and then click M on your keyboard TWICE.

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This will bring up your MASKING CONTROLS. Here you can increase the MASK FEATHER to blur the hard edges on your ellipse, as well as increase or decrease the MASK EXPANSION.

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PIXELATION

Another approach that is commonly used in mainstream media to censor nudity and profane gestures is through pixelation. For the most part, the steps to follow are nearly identical to the ‘blur out.’ First, create a new adjustment layer by going to LAYER >> NEW >> ADJUSTMENT LAYER. Next, add the pixelation effect by going to EFFECT >> STYLIZE >> MOSAIC. In your EFFECT CONTROLS, increase the horizontal and vertical blocks to about 30 each.

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At this point, just as with the ‘blur out,’ you are going to use the ELLIPSE TOOL to create an ellipse around your target, and then use the MASKING CONTROLS to blur the edge and control the expansion of the ellipse.

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Using PNG Images in Visual Effects and Motion Graphics

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Learning to search and utilize PNG image files can speed up any visual effects artist and motion graphics editor’s workflow. Whether it’s a quick pre visualization mock-up for a client, or the final render, PNG image files are a great tool to add to any visual editor’s skill set. First, let’s go through a quick run down on what exactly a PNG image file is:

PNG is an acronym for Portable Network Graphics. It is a type of image compression format just like JPEGs and GIFs. One of the great things about using PNG images is that they support lossless data compression. Even though it results in a larger file size, it also allows a perfect reconstruction from the original data file. JPEGs, on the other hand, are considered lossy data compression, which results in a much smaller file size, but the data reconstruction is only a approximation and not nearly as accurate. PNGs were developed to replace and improve upon GIFs, and are currently the most widely used lossless compression format on the internet today.

Now that you have the basics, let’s talk about where to find them and how to make them. The key behind PNG images is that you can save the image with or without an alpha channel. This means that if you search for, lets say, SCISSORS PNG on your favorite search engine, you would be able to get an image of scissors WITHOUT any background to worry about needing to key out later. WITH an alpha channel means there is a background, WITHOUT an alpha channel means no background.

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This can be extraordinarily useful for motion graphics editors who need to animate various objects, and who are working on a tight deadline. Even so, visual effects editors who specialize in matte painting and digital retouching can easily utilize PNG images to add quick layers of depth and realism to their work. For example, Maxx Burman, a VFX artist who worked on AMCs The Walking Dead, used multiple layers of images to build up over the zombie actor’s face to add gruesome textures of torn flesh, exposed bones, and rotting organs.

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The same goes for matte painting when the artist can use images of people, cars, and even buildings to blend it into a landscape scene to create a photorealistic image.

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If you do not find the PNG image you are looking for, you can always create one yourself in Photoshop CC. I’ll show you you how you can do it in two simple steps:

  • Isolate your subject
  • Save as a PNG

 ISOLATE YOUR SUBJECT

Once you import your image into Photoshop, use the QUICK SELECTION tool to highlight everything around your subject, and then hit DELETE on your keyboard.

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SAVE AS PNG

Once your image is isolated, you now can go to FILE >> SAVE AS, and choose PNG as your FORMAT.

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This will present you with a dialogue box about Compression and Interlace. Set Interlace to NONE to make sure there is no alpha channel added to your image. And that’s it. You’re all set!

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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.

FCP vs PPro

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.

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