Month: April 2014

Week 7: Assignment 2 – Video Effects Treatment

The Flying Whatsit

The second assignment of the semester required students to capture15-30 seconds of video footage then add a range of video effects – known in the business as VFX – treatments to it. Before I go into the where’s and what for’s of my submission, why don’t you check out the film first…here it is in all its technicolour glory…



Plot and key details

The Flying Whatsit was edited and exported as a high definition1080p video and runs for 23 seconds. I filmed the laneway scenes at a location near my apartment in Footscray, and the city scapes from my balcony. The plot is fairly self explanatory once you’ve seen the film, but basically involves a woman taking flight in a laneway and then zooming around happily over the city streets, just as Superman does, only without any pretentions of thinking she’s a superhero!

Music and sound effects

I chose quirky and suspenseful theme music to suggest to viewers that they may need to suspend belief while watching the film. The musical piece is called Mykonos and I sourced it on the creative commons website

The ‘liftoff’ sound effect when the subject becomes airborne was sourced from the same website, and is an explosion that I slowed down to around 120% using the time stretch feature of After Effects. I also added some bass and reverb to make it sound less like an explosion and more like the ‘whooshing’ sound someone might make if they were they to take off for the heavens. It took quite a bit of time to find a suitable sound, and then tweak it to sound reasonably realistic. There were quite a number of other SFX used here in the trial and error stages, but hopefully the final effect works quite well.

The wind sounds which accompany the flying woman as she soars over the city scape were sourced from, and are an effect created by Mark DiAngelo. I modified the audio levels and the start and end points, but didn’t need to do too much else to the clip to get the desired effect.

The final sound effect when the flying woman zooms off into the distance and out of view was sourced from, and needed a fair bit of love to make it work. I stretched it to give it a deeper sound and also to make the trailing off effect match the footage. I also played around with the audio levels and the placement of the audio, and think it turned out okay in the end.


By far the longest part of the process was editing the footage and creating the various effects, namely making someone fly and creating an earth ripple and a sonic boom when they take off. I found a great tutorial from on YouTube which assisted with the ‘take off’ effect at After Effects: Superman Take Off. Here’s how I achieved the feat of making a woman fly:

  1. Filmed myself walking into frame, jumping in the air, then running out of frame
  2. Split the clip just before I started to fall back to the ground and again at the point where I left the frame (creates 3 clips)
  3. Delete the full clip and ripple delete the space between the ‘jump’ shot and the ‘nobody in frame’ shot
  4. Add a freeze frame to the jump shot using time > freeze frame – this added a new layer of myself frozen in the air
  5. Using the pen tool (with RotoBezier selected to give auto curves) I traced my outline in mid-air for later use
  6. Added some motion blur for realism (see screenshot below)


A2.3 Outline keyed to start point

Creating the ground shudder

  1. I created a new solid, named it earth shudder, pre-composed it, made it square then clicked > layer settings > make comp settings, to remove the white space around it
  2. Created a circle that was just bigger than the square, then used the mask expansion scrubber to reduce it til it disappeared (minus 690), added a keyframe, moved the scrubber forward a few frames then set the circle size to zero
  3. I duplicated the mask layer > changed the settings to subtract > selected the keyframes and moved it to offset it against the first mask layer
  4. Added some rough edges using the stylise filter
  5. Turned on the 3D feature to give the circle depth and rotated it to align it with the ground (see screenshot below)
  6. Finally I returned to the main comp, selected the displacement layer, adjusted the vertical and horizontal displacement to get a ripple effect (see image below)
A2.11 Earthshudder in action

Ground shudder effect in 2D


A2.13 ripple effect

Ground shudder effect in 3D with ripple effect added


Finally I added a vignette to darken the edges of the footage, adjusted the curves to make the whites and blacks more true, added a tint and adjusted the colourisation to make the film seem dark and other worldly.

Here’s how the raw vignetting looked…

A2.14 Pre vignette


For the city scape scenes I created a new composition from the first part of the film (as described above) and copied the outline layer of me taking off into the new composition, and rotated it and added animation to make it appear that I was flying around the sky. Finally I added some rippling to give it the appearance of moving in the wind, and gave it a frontal glow to match the sun’s directional lighting on the background. This part was far simpler to achieve than the first part of the video.

As with everything we’ve done in this subject, I learned heaps and am feeling much more at ease with After Effects as each week passes.

As for improvements in the piece, of course they are many and varied, but I did the best I could with the skills I have thus far. I would have liked to have used more complex 3D animation on the flying woman and have her moving her body parts more, but I wasn’t able to achieve these effects satisfactorily so I decided to leave her as a more static figure and just use the rippling effect to give her some life!


Week 7: Planning, plotting and pilfering…

“It’s time to get serious. It’s time to set our sights on the finish line and prepare a sensational, mind-blowing piece of digital compositing for our major project. Yikes!”

We’ve reached the half way mark of the semester which means knuckling down and getting stuck into major project mode. We knocked over the easy part of the task (possibly the only easy part) which was to form a project team. Tick, done. Our team is:

  1. Rob Glanowski
  2. Tanapong Soontonbenyakul (aka Bird)
  3. Teri Cooper

We knocked around quite a few ideas and are currently leaning towards a suspense or sci-fi theme, not least because they are enjoyable to watch and are well suited to the addition of special effects. We agreed to research some ideas and come up with one concept each that we’ll present to the team this week, and we’ll then pick the best one (i.e. something that sounds interesting but is also achievable in a technical sense for After Effects novices such as ourselves) and march forth to produce it.  Should be a snap!

My research so far has led me down some interesting paths, with the website (referenced in week 6 by our Digital Compositing lecturer Todd Anderson-Kunert), being a wealth of information and great ideas.

I find myself very drawn to editing techniques that bring historical events to life by compositing contemporary actors into very old footage, as was done in the 2012 HBO film “Hemingway & Gellhorn”. I’ve admired Martha Gellhorn ever since reading Caroline Moorehead’s 2004 biography, “A Life”, which chronicles her fearless 60-year career as a war correspondent (she covered every major 20th century conflict from the Spanish Civil War in the 1920s through to the American invasion of Panama in 1989 when she was 81 years old – no mean feat!). Her private life was almost as interesting as her professional one, with numerous high profile romances dotting her life, the most notable, and the reason for the existence of the footage below, being her fiery marriage to Ernest Hemingway from 1940-1945.

To provide context, here is the trailer for Hemingway & Gellhorn…


…and here is an expose on the special effects used throughout the film (due to privacy I can’t add the clip directly but you’ll find it a few paragraphs down via this link).


You can see that by using ‘green screen’ the editors have been able to seamlessly insert Nicole Kidman (who plays Gellhorn) and Clive Owen (Hemingway) into original 1940s footage, to great effect. This is something that our team project may consider using.



Week 6: Motion Tracking Madness

Ever wondered how they get the words “zoom zoom” to follow a Mazda as it hurtles over cobblestoned streets in a nameless European city at 120 km an hour? Well, tonight we learned how to do exactly that!

The effect is called “motion tracking” and it basically involves pinning an object (such as text, a shape, a video or whatever) to a fixed point in a video composition – called the “attach point” – enabling the object to follow that point, in a scaled and proportional way, for the duration of the video. The golden rule is that the attach point needs to be visible at all times during the video, otherwise the effect tends to go a bit pear shaped, and we definitely don’t want that.

Rather than telling you, i will show you what I mean. In the first video below I’ve pinned the words “Big Black Bag” to my, well, big black bag. This is an example of a 2D effect whereby the subject moves but the camera remains static.

Big Black Bag


And here’s another one, also in 2D.

I Like Bins


And last but not least, an example of 3D motion tracking where the camera moves around a stationary object. In this case I tracked some text to the top of the subject (a tripod) and added a couple of shape layers, onto which I added images (sourced from the web) of the Mona Lisa and the character Lucy from Peanuts. You can see how the tracked objects maintain a realistic scale and perspective as the camera moves, just as they would if they were real objects attached to the tripod.

Mona Lisa Goes Peanuts


My examples are very basic but this exercise did give me a glimpse into the myriad potential uses of After Effects to spice up, personalise, brand and enhance video content. Below is something far more schmick, sourced from Vimeo…

Week 5: Masking Unmasked!

Tonight’s tutorial was all about masking, which is a technique that enables you to hide certain sections of a video clip while blending multiple clips together to create a special effect. The video below shows one of many such effects – I’ve created multiple versions of myself in a video!

It was an amusing exercise to undertake, and took a bit of tweaking to ensure that I visualised the final layout while acting out each scene so as not to interfere with the places you intend to carry out the other scenes. An example of where I didn’t get this quite right was where my waving arm blocked the place where I needed to be in the following scene. I got around the problem by turning one of me’s upside down which does look quite ridiculous, but never mind.

Here’s the final result of two hours of effort!

The music in the video was sourced from a Creative Commons website and is called Walkampfchampagne by an artist called Erdbeerschnitzel. No more need be said about that!

Here’s an example from a random dude on YouTube of effective use of masking to create the effect I tried to emulate above.



Assignment 1: Motion Graphics Video – “Mister Muddle Kerfuddle”

Here’s a little yarn I wrote which I hope is well suited to the kinetic text motion graphics format. The tale itself concerns a lovely but hapless chap called Mister Muddle Kerfuddle, who’s mixed up world causes him – and his loving wife – constant trouble and confusion. The moral of the story can be wrapped up by the notion that nothing is as bad as it seems, if only you’ve got someone close at hand who understands you! A good motto for life perhaps.

In technical terms it was certainly more challenging creating an engaging, edgy motion graphics video, than it was to write the original story! Although I’m very much a beginner with this software I did find that through the course of creating the video many elements of the process started to gel with me. Aspects such as rotating, scaling, moving and zooming groups of text to add vibrancy to the video initially proved problematical and I often had to repeat the process several times to get it right. I found that placing keyframes in the right place, and doing the actions in the right order, were usually the cause of my difficulties. This repetition did serve me well though, and I am feeling more confident with the software than I did previously.

Still a long way to go though as we are only just touching the very tip of the capabilities of this very powerful software package. I don’t plan to ever be an expert or full time use of After Effects, but I’m really looking forward to being comfortable enough with the program to know what colleagues and clients who use it are up to, or to advise clients on what they can achieve with the program.

My motion graphics video is pretty simplistic and reflects my current level of aptitude with After Effects software, but it is a marker on my pathway to greater proficiency and that is the important thing. Here we go…

Note: All works original by Teri Cooper. The background music was sourced via a Creative Commons website, the track is called “Ants”