To celebrate, let’s make some fireworks. It’s almost July 4 anyhow.
Start off by creating a new composition in After Effects, in whatever resolution you wish to work in (File > New Composition). In the Composition Settings dialog, set the Duration to 4 seconds (0;00;04;00).
Create a new solid layer in your Comp by selecting Layer > New > Solid. In the Solid Settings dialog, click Make Comp Size and then click OK.
Go to the Effects menu and select Simulation > CC Particle Systems II. RAM Preview and you’ll see some sparks.
We’re actually not gonna have to do all that much to make this look real pretty. What we’ve got now is a constant stream of sparks. Let’s set some keyframes for the Birth Rate of these particles to give us a single “pop”. Drag the Current Time Indicator (CTI) in your timeline the beginning of the comp and then set an initial keyframe for Birth Rate by clicking on the stopwatch to the left of its name in the Effect Controls Panel.
Set the Birth Rate to 40, then move the CTI ahead 5 frames and set the Birth Rate to 0. RAM Preview again and you’ll now see that “pop” but we still have some work to do in order to make this more convincing.
Twirl open the controls for Physics and set Gravity to 0.2 (which will keep the particles from falling away so quickly) and set Resistance to 10 (which will keep them from traveling too far away from their point of origination, also known as the Producer).
Then twirl open the controls for Particle and set Max Opacity to 50%
Now let’s duplicate what we’ve done a few times to create a short sequence. First, trim back the tail end of the Solid layer to make it 2 seconds long by clicking and dragging the right-hand edge of the clip to the left until it lines up with the 2 second mark on the timeline.
Duplicate the layer by selecting Edit > Duplicate, and then change the position of the Producer by first selecting the CC Particle Systems II effect in the Effect Controls Panel, and then clicking-and-dragging the Producer in the Composition Viewer to a new location.
The Producer is a small circle with a cross inside it.
Repeat the above step 3 more times until you have 5 copies of the layer, each with its Producer in a different location.
Now to have these fire off in a sequence, select all 5 of the layers then go to the Animation menu and select Keyframe Assistant > Sequence Layers.
In the Sequence Layers dialog, make sure Overlap is checked. When one layer fires, we want the next one to fire 10 frames later, so this is basically a math problem which depends on your frame rate:
If you’re working in 30fps enter a duration of 1:20 (0;00;01;20)
If you’re working in 25fps enter a duration of 1:15 (0;00;01;15)
If you’re working in 24fps enter a duration of 1:14 (0;00;01;14)
Click OK, RAM Preview, and then sit back and watch the show.
To customize further, try changing the colors of the particles as well as playing with the different Physics parameters. Happy 4th of July everyone, and here’s to the most exciting release of video tools in Adobe’s history!
The Puppet Tool, which is one of my favorite new features in After Effects CS3, is bound to bring out the Frankenstein (or at least Frankenberry) in most people. It’s the easiest way to create animated characters from still images, and I’m going to be showing you how it works using a production still from our “Aquo” shoot up in Whistler, BC.
These little birds were just about everywhere, and I thought it would be funny to have this one peck the heck out of that bike tire. The first step here is to separate the “character” (in this case the bird) from the background using Photoshop. I used the Quick Selection tool to select the bird (you can see the selection in the image above), removed it from the background, and then used the Clone Tool to clean up the background plate (Photoshop 101 stuff.)
The bird, the background, and the cleaned-up plate.
Next, import the Photoshop file into After Effects, making sure to select “Import As Composition” in the import dialog. Once it’s imported, double-click it to load it up, then select the Puppet Pin Tool, which is that new push-pin looking thing on the right side of the After Effects toolbar.
The next step is to place pins on the character based on how you want it to move — the fewer pins you use the better the results are likely to be. First select the layer in your timeline, then select the Puppet Pin Tool, and click on the image to place the pins. For my bird, I put one on his head, foot, tail, and back.
To animate the pins, you can twirl down the controls for the Puppet Tool in your timeline and set keyframes, but the easier way is to motion sketch. Just hold down the Cmd (Mac) or Ctrl (Win) key and when you place your curser over a pin it turns into a stopwatch.
Clicking and dragging records your mouse movements in realtime, and you see an outline of your character as you draw. It’s really easy to record an animation this way. You can do multiple passes, to animate as many pins as you want, and you see the ones you’ve recorded play back as you record new ones so you can easily synchronize motion.
I started out by doing a pass just wiggling the tail, and then I did a pass of his head pecking away at the tire. I then animated the scale of the scene to zoom in over time. Here’s what I got:
Now this is a really simple example, you can go in much deeper with this tool. Holding down the Puppet Pin Tool in the toolbar reveals the Puppet Overlap Tool and the Puppet Starch Tool.
The Overlap Tool controls which parts of the character cross in front of or behind of the others, and the Starch Tool pretty much does what it says it does – it keeps unwanted warping from occurring. You click on the character to apply either of these tools.
I’m finally back home in San Francisco for awhile and have adjusted to one time zone for the first time in a really long time. The past few months traveling the globe and spreading the word about Production Premium CS3 have been both exhilarating and exhausting. I’ve gotten to meet so many of you in so many parts of the world I’d never expected to find myself in and see the incredible work being done with the tools we make here at the Adobe factory.
For the next few months you won’t be seeing much of me out on the road, but you will be seeing a lot more content from me online (with a 6-week hiaitus thrown in there when my baby arrives later this summer). My colleague Jason will be grounded as well as he is in the same boat (impending Fatherhood) so you’ll be seeing some of our talented Adobe colleagues like Karl Soulé presenting at the types of events you’d normally find me or Jason at.
But enough about the minutia of my professional life. In the spirit of changes and transitions, I’d like to show you how to create an animated DVD menu transition using Encore and After Effects. One of the things that makes Encore unique is its tight integration with AE, so the process here is rather simple.
What I’ll do is create a transition so that when the user clicks the “Play Movie” button on the DVD menu, the menu will animate away to black and then the movie will begin.
I’m going to use one of the menus in Encore’s Library as the example here, so you can follow along if you wish.
The Library has loads of royalty-free content like menus, buttons, and design elements that can be easily modified, so you can do something quick like I’m doing here, or use the elements in the Library to save time when doing custom menu design. In this case we just want to see the template menus, so click on the first button on that row of buttons in the middle of the panel. That toggles the Library’s display to show only menus. By default, it shows you the menus in the General category, but you can search within any of the categories by pulling down the menu at the top of the Library Panel.
Making sure you have the General category selected, scroll down and locate the Entertainment Menu. Double-click it and you will see it appear in the Project Panel. To load your new menu in the Menu Viewer, double-click it in the Project Panel.
At this point you can customize the menu by, for example, changing the text by using the Text Tool along with the Character and Paragraph Panels (as I’ve done) or sending the menu to Photoshop for modification by right-mouse clicking (or cmd-clicking) the menu and selecting Edit Menu in Photoshop. But for now, let’s just take what we’ve got and create the transition. Go to the Menu menu (this always cracks me up – there’s a menu called “Menu) and select Create After Effects Composition.
You’ll get a dialog prompting you to save your menu as a PSD which will then open up in After Effects. I recommend you save this PSD as well as the AE project you’re about to save, in the same folder as your Encore project in order to keep everything together.
After Effects will launch and create a new project for you, with a single composition that contains all the layers of your menu. Go ahead and save it.
Double-click the Comp to open it in the Composition Viewer.
Yes, this is After Effects and not Encore — the interfaces are nearly identical . . .
At this point there are unlimited creative options as this is a standard After Effects composition. For now, we’ll do a simple transition to black using the Burn Film effect, which simulates what happens when motion picture film gets stuck in the gate and burns away. In order to have the effect apply to the all the layers in our menu, we’re going to Pre-Compose them.
Select all the layers in your Timeline, then select Layer > Pre-compose
In the Pre-compose dialog, accept the default setting “Move all attributes into the new Composition” and click OK.
Now, apply the Burn Film effect by selecting Effect > Stylize > CC Burn Film.
The main parameter in this effect is Burn. Click-and-drag on the value for Burn in the Effect Controls to see how it effects the menu.
One thing about this effect is that once it “burns away” the image, it reveals whatever is beneath, which is in this case nothing. In order to make this look like an actual frame of film burning away, we want white to be revealed. So let’s create a new solid layer by selecting Layer > New > Solid.
In the Solid Settings dialog, click the Make Comp Size button, and make the color white, then click OK. Then, in your Timeline, drag the new White Solid layer below the Pre-comp layer.
There we go. Now for the finishing touches. Let’s have the image start to burn away from the area of the Play button by moving the center of the effect. Select the Pre-comp layer, then go back to the Effect Controls. Click on the name of the Effect CC Burn Film, and you will see a cross-hatch appear in the center of your Comp. Drag it to the middle of the Play button.
Now it’s time to animate the transition. Three seconds should be about right, so select Composition > Composition Settings and in the Duration field select all the timecode and type in 300, which represents 3 seconds and 0 frames.
When you’re done, click OK. Next, set an initial keyframe for the Burn parameter by clicking on its stopwatch in the Effect Controls, and then set its value back to 0.
Move the Current Time Inditator (CTI) in your timeline to 2 seconds (0;00;02;00) and change the Burn setting in the Effect Controls to 100.
Select Composition > Preview > RAM Preview and see what you’ve got.
The last step will be to have the transition fade to black at the end, so make sure your CTI is back at 2 seconds and select the White Solid layer. Hit the letter T key on your keyboard to reveal its Opacity settings, and then click on the Stopwatch for Opacity to set a keyframe.
Move the CTI to the end of the timeline and change the Opacity setting to 0. RAM Preview and here’s what you should have (click to play back):
Now, let’s get this baby over to Encore. All you need to do is click and drag the Comp from the AE Project Panel to the Encore Project Panel. This can be done by arranging the apps side-by-side, or by using the cmd-tab or alt-tab keyboard shortcuts to toggle between applications.
You can also go to Encore’s File menu and select Adobe Dynamic Link > Import After Effects Composition, then drive to your AE project and select the comp.
Finally, let’s weave the transition into the navigation of the DVD. For this next step you’ll need to import a piece of video and put it in a timeline, and this will be our “Main Movie”. Go to your flowchart and click-and drag from the Play button in the Menu to the Main Movie timeline.
Then set the transition for the Play button by going to the Properties Panel and clicking the Transition tab. Click on the Pickwhip (the little swirl) and drag it to the After Effects comp in your Encore Project Panel.
You’ll see a Transition icon appear in the Flowchart, in the link from the Play button to the Main Movie timeline. To preview your navigation, right-mouse-click on the Menu and select Preview From Here. Click the Play button and watch the magic happen.
Other ways of incorporating animated transitions into your menus is to do them from one menu to the next (e.g. to transition from the Main Menu to the Scene Selection menu). With some imagination, this can be one of the most creative and fun parts of DVD creation.
Hey, would you rather see these tutorials as a podcast as opposed to written in my blog here? Please send me comments and let me know . . .
If anyone’s seen my camera, please let me know, I seem to have lost it. I’m not joking –it’s a Canon Power Shot that’s been scratched up really badly from getting knocked around in my travels. I turned my office upside down yesterday looking for it, and in the process came across a disc with some photos from the CS3 demo asset shoot with UVPH that we did in NYC late last year.
So let’s talk a little bit about what’s going on in that photo above. Our actor friend is standing on a treadmill that one of the UVPH guys found on the street. They took the control panel off, and that’s what the guy kneeling on the floor is playing around with. They also painted the treadmill Chromakey Green to match the psyche which is painted the same color. The whole idea is to key all that stuff out so we wind up with a shot of the actor running in “mid air”.
A few takes with the right framing is all we needed. We did lots of scenes like this with several actors, all doing various activities. Have a look.
Pretty neat, huh? Here’s how we shot the rock climber:
Some stuff painted green and some imagination is all you need.
A short note – I was interviewed this week for an NBC TV program called Tech Now. It will air this weekend in the following cities and times: Saturday at 6:30 p.m. on KNTV San Jose/San Francisco; Saturday at 5 p.m. on KNSD San Diego; Throughout the week on WNBC Digital (4.4) New York (which is available on most cable systems there).
You can also watch the podcast here no matter where you live.
I’ll be in a story about the 30th anniversary of Star Wars, talking about how anyone can do “Star Wars type effects” themselves using After Effects.
Yep, I’m making up words again. That’s jetlag talking. But through the jetlag I’m going to try and show you how to create a 3d model from a photograph using some new integration we’ve done with Photoshop CS3 Extended and After Effects CS3.
A lot of what we do here at the “factory” is try and take things that would take you hours or even days to do and give you ways to do them in a matter of minutes. Sometimes that takes looking within and seeing what bits of this app could be used to help someone working in that app. The “secret sauce” in this case is something called Vanishing Point Exchange (vpe).
You might be familiar with a feature of Photoshop called Vanishing Point, which is typically used when working with still images to define the perspective of a scene or object. What vpe does is let you take the geometry data generated by Vanishing Point and make use of it in other applications. In Creative Suite 3, you can now export the vpe to After Effects where before your very eyes a 3d scene is automatically created, something that would’ve taken huge buckets of time in the past.
I’m going to be starting with a photo I just snapped here in my SF office:
Thrilling, isn’t it? No, really, we do have a very beautiful office here – it’s just that I wanted to start with something simple for this tutorial – something with good, clear corner perspective.
You need to have Photoshop CS3 Extended to export the vpe, but you can still follow along with the next step, which is to create your planes in Vanishing Point, if you’re using the Standard edition.
With the photo open in Photoshop, select Filter > Vanishing Point. You will start by defining a plane in the photo, and you want to look for the easiest one to define. In my photo, it is the wall on the right side. It’s a matter of clicking on the 4 corners, lining up each edge with the edge of the plane you’re defining, and you’re done. If your plane is red, Photoshop is telling you it can’t get a read on your plane, so try again ‘til you get it (just use the hard edges in your photo as your guide). Once you’ve got a good plane it’ll look like this:
If you look at my cursor, on the right, you can see I am dragging to the right to extend the plane just past the edge of the photo – that’s about where you want to be. You can adjust the first plane after you’ve drawn it, and do take advantage of that capability because it is imperative to get this first plane right. If you don’t the whole rest of this will be messed up.
The second most important thing is to get the second plane right. For this I’ll use the left-hand wall. Create a new plane by holding down Cmd (Mac) / Ctrl (Win) on the left-hand control point on the original plane, and drag a new plane to the left (if your second plane is in a different direction than adjust that instruction accordingly). It is important to add your additional planes in this matter, as the planes need to be connected in order for this to work.
If the plane doesn’t line up right, you’ll need to rotate it. Hover your curser over the same control point you were just using, and hold down Opt (Mac) / Alt (Win) – your curser turns into a little bendy arrow. Use it to adjust the angle of your second plane – a task you can also accomplish in the “Angle” widget at the top of the Vanishing Point UI.
Continue adding and adjusting planes, repeating those steps, until you’ve got your planes all defined. If I weren’t in such a hurry to write this, I would’ve also refined this by adding planes to those brown columns on the left-hand wall, which would add more realism, but you can go ahead and do that on your own time 😉
Here’s what I wound up with:
Now it’s time for that “secret sauce”. Go up to your fly-out menu (that little triangle-in-a-circle that you see in all Adobe apps) and select Export for After Effects CS3 (.vpe)
Create a new folder somewhere on your hard drive, because Photoshop is going to spit out a bunch of .png image files (one for each plane you drew) and a .vpe which holds all the geometry data. Go ahead and save. Then close out of Vanishing Point and save your PSD, you’re done there.
Now, switch over to After Effects CS3 and select File > Import > Vanishing Point (.vpe)
You’ll see a bunch of new stuff in your Project Panel, including a new Composition. Double-click the Composition and you’ll see that AE has built for you a 3D scene based on the vpe. It has arranged all the exported planes (each of them an individual layer in the .png format) in 3d space.
Select your Orbit Camera tool (letter “C” on your keyboard) and rotate your scene to see the 3d glory. I did a quick animation on my camera and got this:
You can also see that there was a bunch of white space where my Vanishing Point planes extended past the edge of my photo. That’s fixed easily by selecting the layer in the AE Project Panel, then selecting Edit > Edit Original which opens that layer in Photoshop.
Then it’s generally time to use the Clone Tool, Healing Brush, or whatever tool suits the need. In my case I used the Clone Tool to “fill in the blanks” (here it is “in progress”).
Here it is, cleaned up a bit (not 100% yet, but with 5 min. in Photoshop I was able to get it 95% of the way there – in 15 more minutes it’ll be perfect).
I want to do a users gallery of this kind of stuff, so please send me comments if you’ve done anything cool with this technique.
This year was my 10th consecutive NAB, and for the first time I didn’t get to take a vacation immediately thereafter (therefore protecting my sanity – meaning I no longer have my sanity as I went directly from NAB to the AsiaPac Creative Suite 3 Launch Tour). There are so many things that went on at NAB that are just starting to emerge from the crevices of my brain.
One of those things I’d like to share with y’all today, a gem of a tutorial created by Steve Holmes who took the new Shape Layers feature in After Effects CS3 to a new level. If you saw any of his presentations in our NAB Theater, then this’ll be a step-by-step reminder, if not, then you’ll want to try this out yourself in the AE CS3 Public Beta (which you can download now for free if you’re an owner of AE7 or Production Studio).
You’ll need to start with a piece of video that has an alpha channel (like, for example, the footage I’m using which is an actor we shot on greenscreen then chroma-keyed to create the alpha).
Then, you need to create a path (i.e. outline) of the alpha for each frame, which AE can do automatically with the Auto-trace feature. The general idea is that you can create a Shape Layer by copying and pasting a path from things like a piece of Illustrator artwork or the traced alpha of a piece of video.
Make sure the layer containing your video is selected in your timeline, then select Layer > Auto-trace and the Auto-trace dialog appears.
Make sure you have Work Area selected at the top of the dialog, and check the Preview button at the bottom. You’ll see a preview of the outline – if it looks good to you then accept the default settings and click OK. If not, you can modify the settings until the outline looks the way you want (the settings let you make the outline more or less refined – I’m using the default settings myself but do feel free to experiment here).
It may take awhile for Auto-trace to think if you have lots of frames (it is going frame-by-frame and creating a mask based on the alpha for each frame). Once it’s done, you’ll see your first frame with its brand new mask. Drag the Current Time Indicator to the right in your Timeline and you’ll see that you now have an “animated mask” of the alpha of your video.
Making sure your layer is still selected in your timeline, hit the letter M key on your keyboard to reveal its Masks properties. Twirl down Mask 1 to reveal the Mask Path and its keyframes.
This is what you will need to copy and paste into your shape layer. Click the words Mask Path to select all its keyframes and copy to your clipboard. Go ahead and delete this layer, you don’t need it anymore.
Now, create a new shape layer by right-mouse-clicking (or ctrl-clicking) in any empty space in your timeline. Twirl down its controls, and from the “Add” flyout menu that appears on the right, select Path.
This creates a path for your shape layer which is what you will be pasting the copied keyframes into. Twirl down the controls for Path 1 to reveal its Path parameter. Click the word Path to select, and paste in your keyframes (note, you must have “Path” selected, otherwise you will be pasting the keyframes into the Mask of the layer, which will make this whole thing not work).
Now you need to add a Fill and/or Stroke to your layer, which you can also do from the Add flyout menu. The swatches for Stroke and Fill will appear at the top of the UI — in addition to selecting solid colors you can apply gradients by opt-clicking (mac) or alt-clicking (win) the swatches to cycle through different gradient types. Here’s what I chose:
RAM preview and see what you’ve got.
Then, for added dimension, add a Repeater from the Add flyout menu. Twirl down its controls, then the controls for Transform: Repeater 1.
Manipulate the Scale property (start by scrubbing the X value – i.e. the first number – to the left) to stack the copies closer together. Then, add more Copies.
At this point, it’s up to you to experiment. Try playing with the other controls in Transform: Repeater 1 to see how you can make the copies fade off into the distance, twist around, and animate in an uniimited number of geometric patterns. I keyframed my Anchor Point, Rotation, and Offset to get this:
Thanks again to Señor Steve Homes for coming up with another great gem.
First on the hit parade of new features in CS3 is a big one for After Effects users. It’s not an “eye-candy” feature, so you won’t see it in our shorter product demos, but it means so much to so many people since the number one request by After Effects users is to make the app render faster.
One of several ways in which we’ve made After Effects CS3 both RAM Preview and Render faster is with support for Multiprocessing.
The new Multiprocessing Preferences dialog in After Effects CS3
If you’ve got a multiprocessor and/or multi-core system, After Effects farms out each frame of your comp to each processor, so it can RAM Preview and Render multiple frames simultaneously. You will need 512MB RAM for each process, since After Effects will actually launch background processes to run on your multiple processors, but as long as you’ve got enough RAM you can render 2 frames at a time on a 2-core system, 4 at time on a dual/dual , 8 at a time on some of the new high end Windows machines (and the 8-core Macs that we expect to see any day now).
Having accidentally destroyed several of my computers’ keyboards over the years by spilling liquid on them, I decided to write today’s blog entry about keyboards and the next think you know I knocked an entire container of orange juice all over my desk.
KB makes a nice line of rubber keyboard covers with keycaps for After Effects, Photoshop, and several other apps. Keycaps (i.e. key overlays that show you what specific keys do in an application) are a major helper when you’re learning keyboard shortcuts, and since you can work so much faster in AE by using both hands you should learn as many keyboard shortcuts as you can.
If you’d prefer to have a keyboard with the AE keycaps built right in, there are several on the market (Google “After Effects Keyboard”) but one of the things I like about the KB Cover is that I can easily switch it to the Photoshop version or remove it entirely if I want to do some straight typing. Then, of course, there’s that built-in-spill-proofing . . .
If you work with After Effects, sooner or later you’re going to have to get your beautiful AE composition onto a DVD (and if you don’t then what the heck are you waiting for???). I had to do this myself the other day and used an incredibly simple workflow in Production Studio that involved AE and Encore DVD to create an auto-playing DVD without any menus (a DVD that, when inserted into a set-top player or computer, starts playing automatically).
First, create a new project in Encore DVD. The first thing you’ll be asked is your Television standard. If you’re in North or South America (except Argentina & Brasil), Japan, the Philippines, South Korea or Taiwan it’s NTSC. For everyone else it’s PAL.
Next, bring your After Effects comp into Encore DVD using the Dynamic Link feature. You can either drag the comp from the AE Project Panel into the Encore DVD Project Panel, or select File > Adobe Dynamic Link > Import After Effects Composition.
If you use this menu selection, you’ll need to drive to the location of your AE project, then select the comp that you want to open in Encore DVD.
Next, you’ll tell Encore DVD what MPEG-2 encoding settings to use. All video gets encoded to MPEG-2 for DVD and you want to use encoding settings that will make your video look its best. Start by selecting your Dynamically-Linked AE comp in the Encore DVD project panel. Then go to the File menu and select Transcode > Transcode Settings > NTSC DV High quality 7Mb VBR 2 Pass. This is a great preset for most AE work (and if you’re working in PAL you’ll see the PAL presets in that menu instead).
If you know about encoding you can also select Edit Project Transcode Presets and create your own custom encoding settings. What the preset above means is that it will encode your video to MPEG-2 at a bitrate of 7 megabits per second, doing a 2-pass Variable Bit Rate encode. This is always a great place to start with MPEG-2 encoding settings.
Okay, now you’ll need to put your AE comp into an Encore timeline. With the Dynamically-Linked comp still selected in your Encore project panel, click on the New Item button (looks like a little page at the bottom of the project panel) and select Timeline.
Your video (and audio if there is any in the AE comp) will now be in a timeline. Now it’s time to tell your DVD what to do after it finishes playing your AE comp. In most cases you’ll want it to stop, or maybe you’ll want the playback to loop instead. Either way, go to the Properties panel (in the upper-right hand corner of Encore’s UI) and in the End Action pulldown select either “Stop” to stop playback or “Link Back to Here” to loop playback.
Now, click on the Disc panel, which should be nested behind the Project panel.
You need to tell the DVD what to do if the viewer clicks the “Title” button on the DVD. Go back to the Properties panel (which now shows the properties for the disc) and in the Title Button pulldown select the first chapter of your timeline.
Last but not least, it’s time to burn the disc. In the Disc panel click the Build DVD button and the Build DVD panel opens.
In this panel you can give your disc a name, specify how many copies you want, then click the Build button to burn your DVD. Encore will take care of all the AE rendering and MPEG-2 transcoding behind the scenes.
Of course there is always more than one way to skin a cat. You can also Dynamically-Link your AE comp into Premiere Pro, put it in a timeline, select Window >DVD Layout, and output your DVD from there. One good reason to do it in Encore DVD, though, is if you’re thinking about adding menus or custom navigation somewhere down the line. You can use the project I just walked you through as a foundation to build on, quite easily I might add.
If you started in video after the mid-90’s there’s a good chance you never used a tape-to-tape, linear, A/B Roll system or a flatbed (I’ve used the former but not the latter, which gives my wife bragging rights in that department). Today, for most people, the definition of “post production hardware” is a computer and maybe some bits and pieces plugged into it, but in the old days you needed a roomful of expensive and complicated gear to get anything done.
Software like Adobe’s DV Rack simulates a lot of the gear you’d find in an old-school edit suite like a broadcast monitor and waveform/vectorscopes.
The first thing you learned in old-school editing school was how to read those scopes –they’re key to making sure your video is broadcast legal. You’ll also find them in Premiere Pro by opening your Reference Monitor (from the Program Monitor’s flyout menu) and selecting the scope you want from its flyout menu (the flyout menu is the little round button with the triangle inside it that’s in the upper-right corner of every panel in Adobe’s video & audio tools).
The YC Waveform Monitor and the Vectorscope in Premiere Pro.
The basic idea is that TV screens, unlike computer screens, display an image comprised of Luma (brighness) and Chroma (color). The three channels that make up a video signal are Y (Luma) Cr (Chroma Red) and Cb (Chroma Blue), also referred to as YUV. Broadcast legal for NTSC video is within the range 7.5 IRE and 100 IRE on the waveform monitor (IRE stands for “Institute of Radio Engineers” for those of you keeping score).
7.5 IRE is black, and 100 IRE is white, and everything else needs to fall in between in order for video to be “broadcast legal” (exception is in Japan where they use NTSC with 0 IRE black). You can see the IRE scale on the right hand side of the YC Waveform Monitor in the image above.
If your video isn’t broadcast legal it will not be aired, and even if it will never be broadcast it will cause many TV sets to produce an annoying “buzz” in the audio.
Now you may be thinking “my videos aren’t for broadcast, they’re not even for a TV set, and I don’t need to worry about this.” Well, one reason you should care is that video looks completely different on a computer screen than it does on a TV screen and if your video is going to be viewed on a computer monitor (e.g. on the web) or a handheld device (e.g. iPod) you should color correct it. Computers display images in terms of RGB or Red (R) Green (G) and Blue (B) so if you want your video to look its best you’ll need to compensate.
In computer land, 0 RGB is black and 255 RGB is white. The problem is that when you convert video black (7.5 IRE) to computer black it actually translates as 16 RGB, not 0 RGB where it should be. Likewise, video white (100 IRE) translates to 235 RGB, not 255. So what you wind up with is less contrast, and blacks & whites that aren’t true. Color correcting your video can fix this and here’s a quick and easy way to do it:
If you’re editing in Premiere Pro, once you’re finished and done apply the Levels effect to your entire sequence. Start by nesting your sequence in a new sequence by clicking the New Item button and selecting Sequence
Accept the default settings in the New Sequence dialog, then drag your existing sequence from the Project Panel into the Video 1 track in your new sequence (this basically flattens all the layers in your original sequence so you can apply the Levels effect to the whole thing at once).
In the Effects panel, type “Levels” in the Contains field, and drag the Levels effect onto your nested sequence in Video 1. Open the Effect Controls panel and twirl down the controls for Levels
Since your video has levels of 16 black and 235 white, change the settings for (RGB) Black Input Level to 16 and (RGB) White Input Level to 235. See the difference?
Your blacks & whites are now where they should be, and you’ve regained the full contrast range in your video.
In After Effects, the same thing can be done by creating an Adjustment Layer, dragging it to the top of the layer stack in the Timeline, and applying the Levels effect to it (using the same settings above).
Remember, if you have graphics, photos, or other elements in your Premiere Pro edit or After Effects comp, you’ll have to take that into account when applying the Levels effect – but for many cases this is a great way to make video look its best on a non-TV viewing medium.