April 22, 2007

Creative misuse of Photoshop layer alignment

By now we’ve probably talked your ear off about the useful things enabled by Photoshop’s layer alignment code–snapping together two or more layers, making it easy to blend group photos, for example; stitching together complex panoramas; and making crisper HDR merges.

After attending NAB this week, however, Photoshop engineer Mike Clifton came up with a crafty (and, to be honest, not "as-designed") use for the Auto-Align Layers command: stabilizing a chunk of video.  First, he shot some deliberately horrible footage out the window on our floor.  He then used Photoshop’s new Import Frames as Layers command* to turn the video frames into Photoshop layers.  Lastly, he selected all the frames and chose Edit->Auto-Align, telling Photoshop to line them all up.  To our surprise, the results are not half bad: check ’em out here (before, after, and cropped).

Now, to be clear, I wouldn’t sell Photoshop as a video stabilization tool, as tools like After Effects are already capable in that regard.  That said, half the fun of building this stuff is in seeing the clever ways people will deploy it, and this strikes me as one of ’em.

*Brought over from ImageReady, actually, but new to Photoshop.

Posted by John Nack at 11:33 AM on April 22, 2007

Comments

  • Nigel Moore — 1:09 PM on April 22, 2007

    Impressive demo. But, as you indicate, can already be done in After Effects. So is PSExt now After Effects Lite? ;)
    [No, that’s not the goal. The goal is to let people use what’s unique in Photoshop on video, and to do what they’ve been doing but more efficiently. (PS has opened filmstrips forever, but that method is terribly clunky. –J.]
    More seriously, if there’s anything that PSExt can do that AE can’t, that functionality should really be rolled into the appropriate app. And it’s not PS.
    [So, AE should take on all the drawing and painting tools that are in Photoshop? Maybe, maybe not. I’m sure we’d hear all about AE bloat if that were to happen. –J.]
    Just another indication of the bloat that I mentioned in another thread. What’s worse is that, if one wishes to upgrade to the Premium Design Suite (to regain the SWF animation in Flash that was dropped from PS/IR), one has to have this bloat.
    [I’m sorry, Nigel, but as we’ve discussed–and I say this totally honestly–you’re the only person I’ve met who’s used ImageReady SWF export for successful, direct-to-Web output. I’m glad it works well for you in that regard, but that’s not what it was designed to do (rather, the feature was meant to facilitate Flash integration and is obsolete in that regard). If we’re serious about combating bloat, we need to retire features that are no longer making an impact. (And as I’ve said before, if you like IR SWF export, by all means keep using it; CS3 doesn’t somehow remove ImageReady.) –J.]
    My feeling for CS4 is that photo features (e.g. stacks) should go in the standard version, and that version should be bundled with the Design & Web Suites. PS CS4 Extended should be bundled with the video suite (where most people would likely use AE), the 3D suite (along with Dimensons and Atmosphere), and the ever-popular medical suite (along with MathLab and a band-aid).
    [I think that if we can come up with less geeky ways to use stacks–and it’s a decent bet we can–then I think they make sense in both flavors of Photoshop. (Maybe we should have put them into both flavors this time, but they weren’t working until late in the game and we didn’t know all the ways they could be used.)
    One other point: The “bloat” thing is far more perception than reality. That is, the video, 3D, and techincal features have *zero* impact on the launch or runtime performance of Photoshop. They also have very modest impact on the complexity of the menus, and they don’t impact the cost of the app unless you choose to buy them. That doesn’t mean that the perception isn’t important, however, and we still have work to do to make the app feel lighter, faster, and more focused. It’s a big challenge, and we couldn’t do it in one shot. It is, however, at the top of our minds & priorities. –J.]

  • Matt Jeppsen — 1:13 PM on April 22, 2007

    Awesome! Beyond this “hack”, the new video-related features in PS are most excellent as well. We were quite impressed with the demo we got at NAB on AE and PS video integration. Keep up the great work!
    Matt Jeppsen
    http://www.freshdv.com
    [Cool! –J.]

  • Charles — 2:13 PM on April 22, 2007

    Wow, that is great. That technique is sometimes called Rotoscoping, and it’s not a misapplication at all, it’s one of the most useful things you can do with Auto-Align.
    About 15 years ago, I did an elaborate rotoscope of the infamous Rodney King video, there was a section where the camera shook and you couldn’t see what was happening, they wanted to see stabilized video of that sequence during the Federal trial. So I captured it frame by frame, imported the sequence into Macromedia Director, then manually positioned each frame with the mouse. I noticed that several stationary objects appeared in each frame (like a car tail light) so I used those as points of reference. I actually stuck little corners of Post It Notes to my CRT to help position the reference points. Then play the loop to see if any frames need a finer repositioning, tweak, play it again, repeat ad infinitum. It took several weeks of work to rotoscope just a few seconds, I think I saw the Rodney King video like 30,000 times in the process of rotoscoping it. You can see the rotoscoped video here.
    This new PS tool would have done the job in seconds.

  • Richard — 3:04 AM on April 23, 2007

    I

  • Barry Pearson — 8:06 AM on April 23, 2007

    Another potential “not intended for that!” use:
    I’ve only tried this once – I make no claims that it has industrial strength. I put a couple of high-ISO noisy images into separate layers, then used “align layers”. Then I reduced the opacity of the top layer to 50%. In the parts of the pictures where the alignment had worked (unfortunately it had a moving image in it) the noise was averaged a bit and reduced.
    (I intend to experiment with this to see if it can be relied on at all).

  • wee — 8:29 AM on April 23, 2007

    are there any chances for cs4 to get real SUBPIXEL layer translations since photoshop already has some slivers of the technology in layer alignment processor or even- as a workaround i currently use free transform with perspective nudge. but it’s a pain and very non flexible :(

  • Nigel Moore — 1:07 PM on April 23, 2007

    I’m sorry, Nigel, but as we’ve discussed–and I say this totally honestly–you’re the only person I’ve met who’s used ImageReady SWF export for successful, direct-to-Web output. I’m glad it works well for you in that regard, but that’s not what it was designed to do (rather, the feature was meant to facilitate Flash integration and is obsolete in that regard).

    I take your point, John, really I do. But my comment wasn’t so much directed at the loss of animated SWF from PS(/IR), but that if that functionality is desired (simple animated JPGs are not that uncommon), then one must now obtain Flash (or After Effects). And the most cost-effective way of doing that, if you’re locked into suites, is to upgrade to a suite that contains PSExt rather than PSStd, with a consequent plethora of pointless functionaility (unless you’re a web-designing, print-based, 3B guru with a sideline in cytology.)

  • Sylvain Lemire — 2:49 PM on April 23, 2007

    You may be interested by this stabilized version of the Zapruder Kennedy assassination movie :



    [Thanks for the heads-up. –J.]

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