Archive for November, 2006

The Mask of Shame

When the “Cops” style shows were at their peak of popularity, flipping through the TV channels was like it is with poker tournaments today — you couldn’t get away from ‘em. Quite often a few of the faces involved in whatever scuffle was being shown would be blurred out “to protect the innocent” (or, more likely, to protect the broadcaster from getting their pants sued off for the lack of a signed “talent release”).

Well, thank goodness that fad has mostly died out (although the poker tournaments are still with us like a bad hangover on a red-eye home from Vegas). But there are still situations where editors need to obscure something (or someone) in a shot, and there are a few different ways to do it. How it gets done depends on if your subject is moving.

I’ll start with an example that answers a question posted in a comment here a few weeks ago (BTW, for those of you posting comments, I need to personally approve the comment before it shows up on the blog, and due to the massive volume of “comment spam” I get on a daily basis I’m only able to sort through and find the real, non-spam comments every week or so – that’s why it can take so long to see your comment appear). The writer of said comment had a project where he was shooting a computer screen with a spreadsheet on it and he wanted to blur some “sensitive” parts out. I assume this was shot locked-down with a tripod (if not, it should be) so this would be a non-moving subject. We can take care of this one in Premiere Pro.

I’m going to use a different visual example, a locked-down shot of a car with a licence plate I want to get rid of. You need to start with a clip that’s already cut into a timeline. Locate that clip on your timeline, click to select it, then select Edit>Copy. Move the Current Time Indicator (CTI) to the first frame of your clip, and select the video track above it by clicking on the track’s name (it will turn highlighted indicating that it’s selected). Select Edit>Paste, and you’ll have a duplicate copy of your clip sitting right above the original.

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Go to your Effects Panel, and in the Contains field type “Gaussian Blur”. Locate the Gaussian Blur effect, then click & drag it to the duplicate copy of your clip on the timeline. Then, go to the Effect Controls Panel and twirl down the controls for Gaussian Blur. Change the Bluriness value to 30 (or whatever value sufficiently obscures your shot).

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Now, it’s time to crop this layer so only the area we want blurred out is blurred out, and the un-blurred original copy of the clip is visible below. Go back to your Effects Panel and type “Crop” in the Contains field. Drag the Crop effect to the duplicate clip in the timeline, and then in the Effect Controls click the name of the Crop effect to select it. This will reveal the direct-manipulation Crop controls in the Program Monitor (it’s the outline around the frame with the boxes at each corner). Drag the corners of the Crop controls to isolate only the area you want blurred out.

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And that’s all there is to it, as long as you have a locked-down shot with a non-moving subject. If you are dealing with motion, though, it’s time to go over to After Effects. You can select your clip in the Premiere Pro timeline, select Edit>Copy, then Edit>Paste it right into an After Effects timeline.

Over in After Effects, I’m going to use a shot with some actors walking around and blur one of their faces out. The way I’m going to have the blur follow the face as it moves around the frame is by using the Motion Tracker. If you’re using the Standard version of AE then you don’t have the Motion Tracker – so if you need to do this sort of thing you should upgrade to AE Professional.

First, create an Adjustment Layer above the video layer in your AE timeline by selecting Layer>New>Adjustment Layer. Then, go to your Effects & Presets Panel and type “Gaussian Blur” in the Contains field, and drag the Gaussian Blur effect to the Adjustment Layer. Select the Adjustment Layer, go to the Effect Controls, and change Blurriness to 30.

Then, go to the Toolbar and select the Elliptical Mask Tool by holding your mouse button down on the Rectangular Mask Tool and selecting the Elliptical Mask once the pop-up appears.

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Make sure your CTI is at the first frame of your timeline, then in the Composition Viewer draw a mask around the face you want to obscure.

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To soften the edges of the masked blur, click on the Adjustment Layer in the timeline, hit the letter “F” key on your keyboard to reveal it’s Mask Feather property, then change the Mask Feather value to 8 or so.

Now you’ll need to move the Anchor Point of your layer to the center of your mask (because that’s where we’ll need the motion to be centered). Click on the Adjustment Layer in the timeline once again, then select the Pan Behind tool (it’s the one just to the left of the Elliptical Mask Took). Click-and-drag the Anchor Point of the layer, which by default is dead-center in your Comp, to the center of the mask.

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Then, deselect the Pan Behind tool by hitting the letter “V” key on your keyboard.

Okay, now it’s time to motion track our actor’s face, then apply the tracking data to the masked Adjustment Layer so it follows the actor as she moves through the shot. Call up the Motion Tracking workspace by selecting it from the Workspace pulldown menu in the upper-right corner of the interface. Select the video layer in your timeline, then, in the Tracker Controls panel, click the Track Motion button. The Layer panel opens (should be nested with the Composition Viewer) showing the video and a Track Point. Drag the Track Point on to the nose of the actor (or whatever point is appropriate).

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It’s worth mentioning here that you’ll have different tracking challenges based on the footage you’re working with, and you’ll want to try and find something to track that has a good amount of contrast. If your track point moves out of view – e.g. the subject turns their head away – you can always track your shot in sections.

Making sure your CTI is at the first frame of the timeline, click the Analyze Forward button in the Tracker Controls – the button that looks like a “Play” button.

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The Motion Tracker plays through the shot and tracks your subject. If it isn’t tracking well on your footage, try adjusting the sizes of the inner and outer boxes of the tracker, or clicking on the Options button and checking “Track Fields”. More info on tweaking the AE Motion Tracker for optimal results can be found in AE’s help system by selecting Help>After Effects Help.

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Once you have an accurate track, click the Apply button in the Tracker Controls to apply the tracking data to the masked Adjustment Layer (you may need to click the Edit Target button in the Tracker Controls first to make sure that the Adjustment Layer is selected as the target). Click OK in the dialog that appears and your masked blur now follows the motion track.

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If you need to get your finished shot back into Premiere Pro, simply use the Dynamic Link feature – drag the Composition from your AE Project Panel and hover it over Premiere Pro on your Windows Taskbar, then drop it into the Premiere Pro Project Panel.

Motion Tracking is a major timesaver for tasks like this (imagine having to manually keyframe that mask over a really long shot) as well as any situation where you want to have an effect or a layer or any other part of your composition follow a moving object within footage. It can also be used to replace entire elements, such as an ad on a moving bus or the contents of a computer screen, by using the Perspective Corner Pin tracker. It’s definitely worth learning how to use, and you’ll be able to say “we’ll fix it in post” with a much higher degree of confidence.

Snacks of Learnings

I had to learn how to come up with headings like that during my first venture in book authoring a few years ago, before I joined Adobe. Doesn’t look like I learned much, does it? Grammatical ineptitude aside, it’s an unusual challenge to have to come up with interesting headings, especially when you need to write 125 of them in a matter of weeks. That was my challenge when I wrote said book, as it consisted of a few hundred different tips & tricks, each requiring a “clever-ish” heading. And that was besides the content of the tips & tricks themselves, which ranged from 1/3 page to 2 pages long. Definitely a challenging book to write, but the positive feedback I got from readers (largely due to the book’s “easy-to-digest” format) made it worth the effort.

One of the great things about a tips & tricks book is that you can pick it up anytime and glean a couple of nuggets without having to get into anything heavy. I got e-mails from readers of my aforementioned book saying they enjoyed being able to pull it out on the train ride to work, during downtime in the edit room, and . . . well . . . in another room located down the hall from the edit room. While “deep dive” tutorials (such as my series from Total Training, oh yeah, it’s plugs-o-rama today) are great when you’re starting out, a tips & tricks book can help bring your skills to the next level once you’ve got some basic proficiency.

Behold, my friends, the first such book for Adobe Production Studio, which I found sitting on my desk this morning upon returning from the long holiday weekend. Adobe Digital Video How-To’s, 100 Essential Techniques with Adobe Production Studio by
Jan Ozer offers up a wide variety of tips & techniques covering the individual apps within Production Studio as well as the workflows of using the apps together.

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Jan covers many ways to work more efficiently, like creating custom project presets & UI workspaces, and using the various monitors & scopes in Premiere Pro to accurately color correct. He clearly explains technical issues like interlacing and encoding for the web, as well as craft-related topics like 3 and 4-point editing. It’s a great collection of knowledge for anyone using Production Studio, in easily digestible bite-sized bits and pieces, written by one of the top authors in the field.

Having written this sort of book I understand what an endeavor it is to come up with such a large collection of tips in the first place — and then the work of writing them all in a consistent, easy-to-understand way (along with creating the screen captures – yep, we authors have to do that ourselves). So I’m really thankful to Jan for putting in the months of work that went into this book — a much-welcome addition to the wide variety of training resources available for Adobe tools.

Kuler Than Thou

The new technology just keeps rolling off the assembly line at Adobe Labs. It seems like every time I return from traveling (was working in Mexico City last week) there’s something new to talk about — and this time it has to do with . . . (hold on to your hats, folks) . . . Color Theory!!!!!

For those of you that think I’ve geeked way too far out this time, stay with me. Color Theory is one of the fundamentals of graphic design (including motion graphic design), and since most people come into motion graphics on a “sideways” path (i.e. without having gone to design school) it’s something that not everybody understands. One of the many reasons you learn Color Theory in design school or art school is to help you understand how colors relate to one another, which is the first step to being able to create an appropriate color palette for a motion graphics project.

In a project for a corporate client, it’s often the case that the client will require that only their brand palette be used, so that their brand identity is reinforced. But even if you don’t work with these constraints it’s a good idea to create a working palette for your projects as it helps you to keep a cohesive look and feel. I like to use the analogy of a music ensemble — there are a set of instruments each with their own sonic characteristics (i.e. timbre) but it’s also how those instruments sound together that makes up the texture & feel of a piece. There’s a reason to use a string quartet, as opposed to, say, the Stanford University Marching Band to convey the mood of serenity. I think you get my drift.

So, being that having a color palette for a motion graphics project is important, and being that our goal here at Adobe is to create tools that make you more creative & productive, we rolled out a new web-based application called Kuler last week. It’s free to use and you can access it at kuler.adobe.com

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Kuler lets you create and share color palettes, as well as browse & download palettes created by other Kuler users. It’s designed to help you create palettes based on the rules of Color Theory, so even if you haven’t got a clue you can create tight, logical palettes with just a few clicks of the mouse.

When you first launch Kuler, you’ll see the screen above showing some of the highest rated palettes created by the growing community of Kuler users (you can see one I created based on the colors of the old “Good ‘n Plenty” candy box). To create your own palette, click on the Create button and you will be presented with Kuler’s easy-to-use palette creation interface:

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To start with, adjust the sliders under the first swatch to set your base color. In my example, I’m using red. Then, you can create several color palettes based on the rules of Color Theory by clicking on the names of the rules, which are (with examples):

Analogous: Matches colors with adjacent hues
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Monochromatic: Focuses on one color with varied intensity and lightness in a single hue
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Triad: Spaces your colors in a triangle around the wheel for a contrasting theme
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Complementary: Uses the opposite two colors on the color wheel for a simple theme based on two hues
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Compound: Combines interesting colors from multiple hues
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Shades: Creates subtle variations of the base color’s hue
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Custom: Lets you drag individual color circles around the wheel with complete freedom
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It’s easy to see, from the examples above, how many possibilities there are just staying within the rules of Color Theory. But it’s also easy to expand on this by dragging the color circles when you’re within a rule – thereby using the rule as a jumping off point to creating a palette that will look cohesive and pleasing.

Once you’ve created a palette you can save it, publish it for other Kuler users to use (if you wish) and then download it as an Adobe Swatch Exchange file that can be opened in Illustrator CS2. You can also use the swatches as they appear in Kuler to sample with the eyedropper tool in After Effects, Photoshop, or most other Adobe tools. Use this as the basis for the colors you use in your backgrounds, text, and other colored elements in your projects .

As someone who came into motion graphics “sideways” and didn’t learn Color Theory until I took a post-grad class at Pratt Institute after I’d already been working in the field a couple years, I can’t emphasize enough how much better a designer you’ll become by broadening your understanding of color. Whether this is a new concept to you, or you’ve had this down cold for years, give this great new (and free) Adobe tool a spin on your next project.

Pet Sounds

“Audio is half the picture” is a filmmaking cliché that I have the tendency to overuse, but it’s not a bad mantra considering the fact that the way a viewer perceives the visual quality of a film or video is subconsciously influenced by the audio quality of said film or video. Having well recorded, noise-free, well mixed sound along with a music soundtrack and sound effects that reinforce what’s happening on screen is a key piece of the puzzle. For projects with big budgets & resources, an audio specialist (e.g. Sound Designer, Composer, Engineer) usually takes care of this end of things, but the rest of the time we’ve gotta do it ourselves.

Adobe Audition is the audio tool that we currently ship with Production Studio. Audition was formerly known as Cool Edit Pro — we changed the name when we acquired it and other technology from Syntrillium (along with some great people like Hart Shafer and Jason Levine). It’s widely used by audio engineers (particularly in radio) as it mimics the traditional audio production workflow, which is great if you happen to be an audio engineer. But if your specialty is film, video, or interactive design then you probably have no idea what to do with this:

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Audition 2.0’s realtime Mixing Engine.

What you’re looking at is a digital representation of an analog recording console. Everything is where you’d expect it to be if you’re used to working in the analog audio world, and you have everything you need at your fingers to do some serious aural surgery.

I show this to a group of videographers and their eyes glaze over.

The fact is that for those of us that do film, video, or Flash design, this is way overkill. Visually oriented people like ourselves need to work with audio, but the things we need to do on a day-to-day basis don’t require a tool as deep & complex as Audition. That depth & complexity comes with a learning curve, and if audio isn’t your main thing it probably doesn’t make sense for you to go that deep.

These were some of the things we were thinking about when Adobe Soundbooth was conceived. We decided to put the tools most relevant to visual pros right on the surface and make them easy-to-use, while leveraging the powerful technology behind Audition. Hart & crew logged countless hours visiting customers to see what the audio part of their workflow involved, and showing them early wireframes of Soundbooth to get their feedback.

But the best way for us to make sure Soundbooth will let you be more creative & work faster is to get it in your hands now, when it’s still in development. That’s the idea behind Adobe Labs, of which I’m a huge fan because it gives our customers a huge voice when it comes to how we develop new products. I really want as many of you as possible to go to Adobe Labs right now and download the Soundbooth Public Beta. More importantly, if you do download it, use it. Use it a lot and send us feedback, tell us what you like and don’t like, and give us your ideas on how to make it better.

Being that it’s a beta, not every feature works yet. But much of the meat & potatoes are in there today. Let’s have a look – first, here’s the Editor panel, which is the main panel of the interface (name of said panel and appearance subject to change before release, as is everything else in the beta).

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Soundbooth is designed to work with individual clips, be they audio only or video clips with an audio track. Once you import a clip, it appears in the Editor panel (above) where you have simple, draggable controls and buttons to do many basic tasks such as normalize the clip (which makes the volume consistent throughout).

To the left is the Tasks panel which currently contains 3 options. Clicking “Cleanup Audio” or “Remove a Sound “brings up some simple controls for removing noise, clicks & pops, and rumble from your clip, or for removing an individual sound by selecting it in the Spectral Frequency Display with either the Marquee or Lasso tool (just like selecting & modifying and image in Photoshop).

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The “Create Music” option brings up a wider set of controls which can be used to manipulate royalty-free soundtrack beds which will be a key component of the release version of Soundbooth.

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For now, you can download 3 sample soundtracks from the Soundbooth download page at Adobe Labs.

Those are some of the basics, and you can go deeper with the getting started documents included with the beta download. And no, we’re not discontinuing Audition, we’ll still be developing & marketing it for audio pros just as we have since we got it from Syntrillium.

Seriously . . .

Just returned from a few weeks of filming in several geographically disparate locations (and thus feeding my ever-increasing sense of an airline cabin being my “home away from home”). One of the things I love about my job is that despite the fact that I do Marketing I still get to produce stuff, and this time I got to shoot with some of the new tools that recently came into the Adobe fold. On October 19, when I was on said shoot, we announced that we’d acquired a software company called Serious Magic (read the full press release here). Their two products of main interest to me, and probably most of you, are DV Rack and Ultra. I haven’t had the chance to use Ultra yet, it’s a keying and virtual set technology, but I did use DV Rack extensively the past few weeks both on location and in the studio.

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Using DV Rack to monitor camera signal and capture direct to hard disc.

DV Rack has software versions of the scopes & meters that you’d have in a studio (e.g. Waveform and Vectorscopes) and by taking the signal from your camera via FireWire into your computer, you can easily adjust your camera’s iris, white balance, etc to get the best possible quality by reading the scopes & meters or using a wizard-like calibration tool. This is good stuff, since it helps improve the quality of what you’re shooting.

DV Rack is also a direct-to-disc DVR (Digital Video Recorder) that captures direct from your camera to hard-drive making for an inexpensive and powerful tapeless workflow. It can capture DV, HDV, DVCPro50 and DVCProHD. On the studio shoot in the photo above, I captured DVCProHD live from an HVX200, which I then opened in After Effects to make sure we had a clean chroma-key. When we were on location, I used DV Rack to grab shots using the video tap from our main camera for use in Premiere Pro (no that wasn’t a typo — a “video tap” is a signal that comes straight off a film or video camera for on-set monitoring, and in this case simultaneous capture).

And (if you hadn’t already noticed in the photo) I did this running Windows XP on my MacBook Pro. Bleeding edge, yessirree. Tapeless workflow, yeeehaaaa!!! I foresee bricks from videotape manufacturers flying through my office window any day now.

You wanna try? Free trial downloads are here.

Speaking of things flying through windows, I want to share one more nugget from the filming. I’m a huge advocate (and practitioner) of guerilla filmmaking, but this looked more to me like a suicide mission.

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Our friend from the local crew is about to fly down that zipline at an incredible speed, while holding that camera steady. No budget for a helicopter? No problem! No brakes on that thing? No problem! Were we carrying serious insurance coverage? You betcha!

Okay, so continuing on with the “news of significance that I haven’t blogged about until now” tip, the Soundbooth Public Beta went live 2 weeks ago — you can download that for free from Adobe Labs right here. Our thinking behind Soundbooth is that video & Flash pros need to work with audio, but don’t necessarily need a full-featured audio app like Audition (which is indeed full-featured and powerful, but comes with a bit of a learning curve). We wanted to put all the audio tools a video or Flash person would need right at the top level of the interface – tools for doing things like basic editing, music & sound effect creation, level normalization, noise reduction, etc. My next posting will be a detailed one on Soundbooth, but in the meantime you should download the beta, read the “getting started” doc, and get movin’.

And finally, we won an Emmy Award yesterday (like how I put that at the bottom of today’s post to show what a blasé New Yorker I am?). Yep, that’s right, we just won the Emmy Award for Streaming Media Architectures and Components for our Flash Video technology. Now the fight begins over whose desk the statue will live on!