Monday, December 3, 2012

Dissecting the Video: MGM-Style Film Open (Part 1)

Building an MGM-style film open in Adobe After Effects.
Building an MGM-style film open in After Effects.
I recently built my own version of the MGM lion using my dog, Max. It was a quick project to produce, a lot of fun to make and I think Max nailed it. It's a very short piece and would be a good start on what I expect may turn into a series of blogs - Dissecting the Video. I will discuss what was required to build this clip at each stage of the project.

For this project, three footage or image elements were required:
  1. Video of Max doing his "roar". Max is shot against a black bed sheet. Having a green screen would have made things a lot easier, but you make do with what you have. The video was shot with a Sony HDR-FX7 and recorded directly into my MacBook Pro using Firewire and Apple Final Cut Pro. Final Cut Pro makes the capture easy because it creates a QuickTime movie as it captures, eliminating the need to export (all of the work will be done in Adobe After Effects).
  2. A Photo of Max's collar. This will mimic the circle that MGM uses to enclose the lion. The collar was shot with the name tag at the bottom of the circle, even though this can be rotated once in After Effects. Adobe Photoshop was used to separate the collar from the background.
  3. A Photo of Max's leash. The leash is arranged to resemble one half of the base of the MGM lion's enclosure. Again with the leash, Photoshop was used to separate the leash from the background.
Separating Max from the Background in After Effects with a Linear Color Key.
Linear Color Key and Mattes.
Each of the elements is imported into After Effects. The image files are imported as merged layers. Both of the image files have alpha channels built-in by way of Photoshop, so the first thing to do once the elements are in, is to separate the video of Max from the background.

To do this, I place the video of Max on two layers, on one I do a Linear Color Key for the outline of Max's body and on the other I bring back parts of Max's face that were lost in the key. I use a garbage matte to outline Max on the key layer, as shown in the illustration (click to enlarge). The top layer in this comp is an adjustment layer to warm up the tones. You may notice I have a Blue Solid in the bottom layer - I occasionally turn this on while building the comp to check the edges of my key. Make sure it is turned off before your final render, or set to be a Guide Layer.

After Max is properly separated from the background, this comp can be put aside and work can begin on the Leash and Collar comps. We'll get into greater detail on that as we continue the "Dissecting the Video" blog next week with "Dissecting the Video: MGM-Style Film Open (Part 2)".

In the meantime, below is the effect we're going for - Max doing his best impression of the MGM lion.

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