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Read the full article Burning Down The House.
Hi, this is Paul Del Vecchio for Videomaker Magazine and this is what we’re going to be creating today. More specifically, we’re going to be doing the fire in the window, not the light saber, not yet at least. That’s another tutorial.
So anyway, let’s go ahead and get started. Grab our footage, drag it into a new comp. Just so you know, if you drag your footage into this button right here it creates a new composition the length of the footage.
So we have this clip and I think we’re just going to trim it. I don’t know, about ten seconds is good. So you hit End on the keyboard. That’ll bring your work area to your current time indicator. And then right-click on the work area bar and then do trim comp to work area. So now we have a ten-second composition.
Okay, so, from here what we want to do is add our fire element, and how we do that is the following: We take our DV square flames front-two footage, just drag that out, and as we see it’s from Detonation Films.
And before I go any further you can check out detonationfilms.com and they have a whole bunch of different fire elements shot against a black background. And you can see this is an example.
They’re relatively cheap, 18 bucks for, I don’t know, what, like, six or so – I’m not sure. They have different package deals, but, you know, you get the front angle and also the three quarter view, and a whole bunch of different types of footage. There are different box sizes.
And let me go back to After Effects so I can show you. As you can see here, it’s footage – it’s fire shot within a box so you can put them inside of a window. So that’s great for what we’re doing.
But, yeah, back to Detonation Films real quick, this is the hi-def collection. It’s a little bit more expensive. I think it’s only $10 more, but I think the other ones are, like, $8 to $12, and you get – the other ones are standard definition.
This is – again, this is high definition. Choose whatever you need, whatever footage you need for your particular project, and, you know, it’s really cheap so it’s a great investment.
Okay, so, now the reason why these fire elements are shot against a black background is so that we can take out the black background and still have the fire through luminance keys and different transfer modes. But there are different ways of doing this.
Probably the best way of doing it is doing it with a plug-in called Walker Effects. They have, like, an alpha tool and you can just remove the black background without adding too much transparency to the fire.
But if you don’t want to go out and spend – I think it’s 150 bucks. If you don’t want to go out and spend the money, we can do it – everything within After Effects, so I’ll try to save you some money here.
But what we can do is just take our transfer mode – and if you don’t see it you can hit F4 to toggle the transfer modes. If you’re in After Effects CS3 you can hit this button right here. It’ll toggle your switches.
So we want to – what we want to do is take this and switch it to Screen or Add, but for our purposes I think Screen is a little bit better and I’ll show you why.
If we switch it to Add you can kind of see that whenever we pass over a brighter kind of object, like a white object, our fire is just getting over-exposed and we lose a lot of detail there. So if we switch it to Screen you can kind of see that we keep more of the fire detail and it just looks a little bit better.
Our next step is to fit the fire footage inside the window. As you can see right now it’s a little big, so what we want to do is we want to scale it. Now, you can scale it – you can kind of just scale it with the width and the height, and you can kind of get away with a little bit if you distort the footage a little bit but, you know, what – I think what we want to do for our purposes – we probably want to scale it – the best way to do it is to drag a corner, and you can kind of scale the width and the height.
But if you hold Shift it scales it uniformly so it doesn’t really distort the footage. What I mean by that is that if you shrink it down, I mean, that doesn’t look very convincing. And again, if you kind of just make it short and wide it doesn’t really work either, so you want to scale it uniformly. So grab a corner, hold Shift, and just scale it so it fits in the window pretty well. And then you can just drop it in there. And that works pretty well.
So as you can see it kind of looks pretty good so far, and we’ve hardly done anything. So let’s just make this look a little bit better. We’ll take the – well, we’ll study the footage first. And as you can see that’s what you want to do. You want to make sure that, well, what is different about the fire element and my background footage? And there are a lot of things: The grain and just the color in general.
But even before we do that we’re going to add a subtle effect. This is something that it – not 100 percent necessary, but just to add more realism. And, you know, when you start adding little small touches that’s what makes the thing come to life.
So what we want to do here is actually pre-compose our fire element. What that does is makes a new composition and nests that composition within our current composition. And the only thing we want to add to that – the nested composition is this footage, the fire footage.
So what we did here with the screen mode was just to make sure that we fit it in properly. So now let’s just change that back to normal. And now that, you know, our black background comes back and then we want to pre-compose our fire layer.
So we can do layer pre-compose or use the keyboard shortcut. And what we want to do is move all attributes into our new composition, and we need to select Move All Attributes into the New Composition otherwise the next step won’t work.
Okay, so, now, as you can see, it doesn’t seem like anything happened, but if you look here you can see that it’s a new composition nested inside our current composition, so what we want to do is change the transfer mode of this composition back to screen and now we have what we started with.
But now what we’re going to do is add an adjustment layer, and we’re going to do layer/new adjustment layer. And what an adjustment layer does is that whatever effects are applied to the adjustment layer get applied to whatever is below it in the timeline.
So, for example, let’s take color correction – Curves – and just bring this down. Now, as you can see – well, let’s bring the blacks down and the highlights up.
Now, as you can see, as I did that both the fire and the background were affected. If I were to take this adjustment layer and drop it below the fire footage, you can see that the fire is not affected but the background is.
And, so, what we want to do here is we’re going to get rid of the Curves. That was just for an example just to show you what an adjustment layer does, but what we want to do now is take our adjustment layer and add effect, blur and sharpen compound blur.
And this has blurred all of our footage, so what we want to do here is change the blur layer to the flame. And we want to do this – I’ll show you why in a second, but we’ll change that to the flame. And now you can see that the flame is kind of blurred. And what we want to do is take our adjustment layer and put it below the flame.
Now, what happens when you’re looking, I guess, through fire is that the background underneath kind of gets blurred. That’s just one of those things that happens in nature, so we want to emulate that here. Now, if – as you can see all the steps that we took, if we shut off our fire layer you can see that there’s a blur here.
And remember when I said that if we – when we pre-compose – let’s bring that up again. Don’t pre-compose anything now. I’m just showing you this for an example, but it says, “Move all attributes into the new composition.”
If we had chosen “Leave all attributes in the current composition,” this blur would actually be positioned in the middle here, and, you know, you could be, like, okay, well, why don’t we just move the adjustment layer?
But if you move the adjustment layer, as I’m doing right now, as you can see the blur doesn’t move, so if you take the adjustment layer and you try to move it, eventually the edges of the adjustment layer are going to kind of take away the blur and that’s not what we want.
So we want to bring the adjustment layer back into the position. Okay, so, basically what we did when we chose “Move all attributes into new composition” was that we chose the position of the blur.
You know, as I said earlier the blur would have been positioned here, like in the center, because it’s using the – if you just drag out this and, you know, make it fit into the composition it’s going to place the blur right here. And you can’t do anything about that. You can’t really move it, for whatever reason, so, you know, we’ll just – that’s why we chose “Move all attributes into new composition,” so that the blur would be positioned where the fire is.
And, now, so if we turn the fire layer back on it’s – the fire layer isn’t blurred. It’s what’s underneath the fire layer that’s blurred. And if I do a RAM preview here, you can kind of see that it’s emulating the fire.
And basically what the compound blur does over here is that when you choose the layer it actually takes the luminance values, meaning it takes the bright values, and adds the blur where there’s brightness, and where there’s black it doesn’t add a blur, so that’s why we get this blur that kind of looks like a flame.
And that’s great because now underneath here, underneath the fire footage, the blur is applied so – but that blur is a little bit too strong, so I’m going to bring it down to, like, four, maybe even less than that, like, two.
If I do a RAM preview on that you can still kind of see it, but it’s a lot more subtle, and that’s more realistic. Okay. So that’s fine. You know, it’s kind of like, I don’t know. I don’t know what you want to call that, heat distortion or whatever. I don’t know.
It’s just – it’s just something that happens in nature, but anyway, so let’s turn our fire layer back on and now we have our fire with the blur underneath it. If I do a RAM preview it’s there. It’s just really – it’s hard to see, but it’s there and it just kind of – if you look closely you can kind of see it.
Okay, so there are a few other things that we can do here to improve this a bit. First off, we can add a glow, so let’s add a new adjustment layer here, adjustment layer. And let’s draw a mask around the area of fire.
Okay, so, let’s just draw mask somewhere in here. Okay, so now we have a mask, and for the adjustment layer let’s go ahead and take this adjustment layer and drop it below the flame layer and below the blur layer. This way when we add effect color correction exposure and we change the exposure it affects the house only and not the flame, as you can see.
So let’s bring this up to about .5. That looks good, but as you can see we have sort of this hard edge here, so what you want to do is just press mm on the keyboard – the m key twice – and that brings up the mask properties, and then we can bring up the feather, the mask feather. And just bring it up until it blends well and looks good. That looks pretty good right there.
Okay, so, from here you probably position this to where the flame is the brightest. So I don’t know. Let’s say about there. So – then we’ll keyframe the exposure, press u on the keyboard with the adjustment layer selected, and that’ll bring up the new keyframe. And then bring it to the beginning and drop it down to .2, and then move it over until the flame is about there and drop it down to about .3.
So as you can see there’s a little bit of an adjustment on the exposure, so you can kind of see that. It’s almost like interactive lighting, and that works just a little bit better to sell the effect.
Another thing you could do is kind of keyframe the exposure over time to kind of, like, flicker so you can kind of just adjust the settings here, you know, but I’ll leave that up to you. You guys can do that, but it will take a bit of time.
You could also just do an expression here, but that’ s a little more complicated so we’ll just skip that for now. We’ll just keep the exposure constant on that area. You know what? Let me just bring it up to .4. Actually, you know what? Instead of that we’ll keep it at .3 and we’ll do effect/color correction – Curves – and we’ll bring down the blue channel.
Now you can kind of see it is like a yellowish, so we want to bring down the green to just a tiny bit so that it looks more orange. About there looks good. Okay. And then you could also, you know, like I said, you can make that sort of flicker by keyframing it. You can also adjust the opacity.
We’ll bring it down to about 85, and you can kind of just adjust the opacity to kind of make it flicker. Okay, so that’s looking pretty good.
One final thing that we can do here is – if you look at the flame you can kind of see it’s kind of sharp, or sharper, than the background, so we could just do – highlight the flame layer and do effect, blur and sharpen, fast blur, I don’t know, maybe .25. That helps it blend a little bit better. If I toggle this on and off you can kind of see that. It’s very subtle. Let’s just bring it into .2. So that looks good, repeat edge pixels.
Okay, so, the one final thing is that when you study the footage you can kind of see that there’s more grain in the rest of – in the background footage than there is in the fire, so what you want to do is match the grain.
So you could just select your DV square flames layer and do effect, noise and grain, match grain. What this is going to do is going to sample from this area and apply grain to match the rest of the image.
So we’ll change our viewing mode to final output and noise source layer will be the footage layer. And that just adds a little bit of a grain in there. You can tweak it, too, the intensity. You can kind of bring that up. I think the default settings are looking pretty good, so let’s just match it up to that. And that’s pretty much it for the fire layer.
I mean, let’s do a quick RAM preview. Actually, before I do that the grain is going to help it blend better, but for the purposes of this tutorial the matched grain effect is very processor-intensive, so just turn it on when you – before you do your final render. But for now we’re going to turn it off. And I’m just going to do a quick RAM preview so you guys can check it out. That’s looking pretty good.
Now, to make everything blend together a bit better we can do a final overall color correction, and what we want to do is we want to put that color correction on an adjustment layer so that we don’t have to copy and paste. That looks pretty good.
So, yeah, as I was saying the – put it on a new adjustment layer just so we don’t have to copy and paste all, you know, between the fire element and the footage. Everything below the adjustment layer, as you learned earlier, will be affected by the effects that are on the adjustment layer.
So let’s do an overall color grading. I’ll just name that. And we’ll name this to Fire Footage. This adjustment layer is the compound blur. This is the glow, so fire/glow. Now, what I’m doing here is highlighting the layer and pressing enter and that allows you to rename it. So this is our background footage
Or, you know what? To make it easier to read, BG footage, and then from here, for overall color grading, we’ll do effect, color correction, Curves and effect color correction, hue and saturation. I’ll take the hue and saturation, put it on top of the Curves, and I’ll start messing around with my Curves. So that’s looking good. Yeah, that looks good. And we can just do a RAM preview. And that looks good.
You might want to desaturate a little bit so we’ll stop that and then we’ll just pull the saturation down to, let’s say, a negative 10. Yeah, let’s do a negative 15. That looks good. And it just helps it to blend together a little bit better. Okay. So that looks good.
Another thing, you know, you might want to do like a bleach bypass look, and that, like, crushes a lot of the blacks which means the black – a lot of the shadow detail gets lost, but that also in a way helps hide and blend visual effects a little bit better.
So there we go with a super high-contrast look. And then we could just desaturate this to a negative 50, and then we have our bleach bypass look. Let’s just play with this a little bit more. Okay. So there we go. That’s just another example of how color grading is going to help us blend these elements together.
Okay, well, thank you for watching. My name is Paul Del Vecchio for Triple A Productions and Videomaker Magazine. If you want to find out more about visual effects you can check out the forum at videomaker.com.
And also, if you want to check out a step-by-step tutorial process on this procedure, you can view Videomaker Magazine, the April 2008 issue, or you can go to videomaker.com and you can look for Article 13745.
Thanks again for watching. This is Paul Del Vecchio for Videomaker Magazine and Triple A Productions. Thanks.
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