Archive for July, 2010

Paint by Numbers – After Effects CS5’s Roto Brush

While working towards the completion of Choices, I had the opportunity to test drive the recently released After Effects CS5 in all its 64 bit glory.  The ability to utilize all installed RAM in my system to render previews and final comps was a stark contrast to the days of enabling “Render Multiple Frames” and the disk cache and pushing After Effects to “see” at least 3 GB of RAM.  The program runs like a dream and, at present, without major hiccups.  All that being said, this isn’t a review or song of praise for the program itself; that recognition goes to one of the software’s new features – the Roto Brush.

If you’re like me and you’ve spent countless hours with your face inches from the screen as you meticulously move clusters of mask points ever so slightly frame by oppressive frame, the Roto Brush is a godsend.  That being said, roto is still roto.  The tool is no point-and-click silver bullet that turns what were previously multi-hour rotoscoping sessions into instantaneous clean mattes.  It’s still a frame-by-frame process, but brushing the mask edges as opposed to slowly adjusting clusters of points does seem to be a more intuitive process.

This being said, the Roto Brush is worth its weight in gold for the time it saves during the rotoscoping process.  Just don’t expect instantaneous miracles.  Now if they could just enable real-time video editing in After Effects . . .

Skeleton Key

Pulling the Perfect Key

If you’re anything like me and you often find yourself flush with multiple green screen clips, the solution for a perfect key is not always clear. This is especially true when you either were not present for the filming or have multiple shots from different cameras and different angles that have to be smoothly edited together. Small things like lights being moved between shots, shooting on different days, a green screen not hung high or low enough, or the pesky errant object someone forgot to move off the set can lead to hours of frustration when it comes time to pull the key.

Almost all visual effects programs out there from Blender to the proprietary software of specialty effects studios offer the ability to key out green or blue screen footage for post-production enhancement. Personally, I find that I prefer two programs – After Effects and Fusion – to do the job quickly and efficiently (most of the time!). Fusion’s Ultrakeyer has saved me many times from a lengthy masking process and most of the time provides a decent color correction result all in the same tool, but, more often than not, I always seem to look to After Effects for my keying needs.

In After Effects, much like any other visual effects program, there is more than one way to pull a key. Color Key, Luma Key, and Keylight are just some of the base effects plug-ins that ship with the software, but ,when you add 3rd party offerings such as BCC Chroma Key from the Boris Continuum Complete suite or Primatte from Red Giant, things can begin to get a little overwhelming. Having tried just about every keyer I can get my hands on in the After Effects realm, I’ve come to the conclusion that the perfect key really depends on the clip and even clips from the same shoot may require completely different keyers to produce a desired result.

This keying flexibility has recently played a major role in the large amount of green screen footage that I have been working on for my independent film Choices. Due to weather, the availability of actors, and the lack of desired locations, we had to do more green screen shots than I would have liked, but, in the end, you just have to make it work as you can.

The process, thus far, has utilized Keylight, Primatte, and BCC Chroma Key to varying degrees with the results proving to be more than satisfactory. I have found that by creating effects combinations of Remove Grain, Saturation, Levels, Curves, and Colorama with the aforementioned keying plug-ins and saving them as animation presets in After Effects, the process can be streamlined to an extent. This approach of developing keying presets within After Effects has allowed me to focus more on the minor tweaking for each shot as well as the inevitable rotoscoping that always seems to come into play despite anyone’s best efforts.

So there really is no skeleton key that can pull or promise the perfect key for your green or blue screen footage, but taking the time to set up a few presets and making minor adjustments to them can really streamline the process and allow you to spend even more time with everybody’s favorite post-production nightmare – rotoscoping.

Recent Project – RN to BSN Online Degree Program Promo

Just finished this project last week before the holiday and thought I’d share the outcome. The shoot, aside from the community clip, was completely unscripted and originally presented to me as a locked down, simultaneous, two camera shoot. In an effort to make things a little more interesting, I suggested that we utilize a pair of wheelchairs to serve as camera dollies.

Once the shoot was completed I was also presented the issue of how to incorporate SD NTSC footage shot with a Sony Betacam with HD 1080p 30 fps footage shot in the other room with a Sony HXR-NX5. Obviously, the HD footage would have to be scaled down from its captured resolution to be edited with the SD footage, so I brought the HD footage down to a D1 Widescreen Square Pixel resolution and, subsequently, de-interlaced and scaled the SD footage to the same resolution in After Effects.

Once I edited the clips together into relevant sections, I opted for a more subdued motion graphics sequence than I typically put together in the effort to convey a more relaxed atmosphere for the promo. Finally, I rendered out a master copy and resized that to 720p.

Thanks to Josh Elliott and David Currie of the ETSU eLearning department for filming with the second camera and their fine wheelchair driving skills!

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