A Guide To Visual Effects

If you want to know anything about how visual effects in film and video are achieved, there’s one word you should keep in mind…layers. All visual effects and optical illusions are constructed on the bases of images layered on top of each other. Before the advent of computers, visual effects were achieved by placing paintings in front of the camera, appearing on top of the action in order to create bigger and more fantasized locations. Another method was to reprint two layers of action into one single image to create an optical illusion.

matte

As technology advanced, filmmakers perfected methods to composite images together to create optical illusions. These advances came with the advent of motion controlled cameras and chroma keying (also known as blue or green screening). The ability to remove a single colour (blue or green) from one image, and replacing the colour with another image.

before-after-green-screen

We’re now in the digital age, we use computers for nearly everything, and so do filmmakers. Computers are now used for compositing images for optical illusion. They’re also used to create computer generated images. The most recent advancement is motion capture technology, giving a performer the ability to give life to a computer generated character. Whatever the method, the images created are always layered and composited from a range of sources to create a visual effect.

Lord Of The Rings Two Towers: the character Gollum who's role is crucial to the journey of Frodo and Sam--Gollum's movements are performed via computer program by actor Andy Serkis.  Photo: New Line Cinema
Lord Of The Rings Two Towers: the character Gollum who’s role is crucial to the journey of Frodo and Sam–Gollum’s movements are performed via computer program by actor Andy Serkis. Photo: New Line Cinema

Are you thinking of creating a visual effect for your film or video and unsure where to start? Then here’s my advice. Start by drawing the shot you’re trying to create. Now break it down into sections, this could include location and background, performers, and anything else that is moving in your shot. Think about what sections of the image you are definitely able to capture in camera on a one to one scale. Now think about the sections of the image that are more of a challenge to capture in camera. Could you use miniatures, puppeteers, animation and/or computer generation? It’s in this section where blue or green screening becomes an effective method of separating your elements and compositing them together into one image.
Things to keep in mind when creating your images are the lines between where one section of your image meets another and the one to one scale elements you can not miniaturize which are light, water and fire.



A Guide To Colour Grading

Before continuing with the subject of this article, I would like to acknowledge that the reason this article has been long over due is to the amount of exciting work that has been happening recently. There will be some case study articles to be released in the days to come and I cannot wait to share the behind the scenes info with you. Now onto the subject of this article, colour grading.

Colour grading is a post-production effects based process for your film or video project. The creative process of your project means having complete control over the look and feel of your images, colour being a part of this process.

Before continuing with this article, let us take a step back to something I mentioned in my previous article on The Guide to DSLR Video…The Picture Style. The picture style is the final outcome of what you are filming, and the information you can work with in your editing suite. In this article I will specifically talk about what you can edit when it comes to the information of light and colour captured in your images. This is why the Neutral Picture Style or the Technicolor Picture Style is a popular use among camera operators, because the style provides a dynamic range of image information to correct and adjust afterwards.

colorgrading

Primary Colour Grading

The first thing you want to make an adjustment to is what’s called the primary adjustments. This is the actual correction part of the process, making sure the light is balanced. In colour grading tools, a histogram should be visible, to aid you in making these adjustments. I always find starting with the dark areas helps. For dark areas you want the bottom peak of the information in the histogram to just touch the baseline. Then with lighter areas, you want the peak of the information in the histogram to just about touch the 100 line. There will always be some overexposed areas with the whites, so it doesn’t have to be exact. Have the video showing to make sure it looks correct. As an extra tip, I find making the image black and white helps as a guild to getting your definitive contrast between light and shadow, and then restore the colour afterwards.

Don’t change colour saturation until you are ready to move onto the secondary colour grade. The last thing you need to do before moving on to this is to correct any colour balance issues. Is there too much of a singular colour in your image, is it too green or blue. Using the three colour wheels in your toolbar, make adjustments to balance the colours in your image.

Secondary Colour Grading

Now that your image has been corrected, it’s on to the secondary adjustments. This is the aesthetic process of your colour grading, the design of how your image is meant to look and feel. Let’s look at your image as a whole, how colourful do you want it to be. Colour grading also has an emotional effect over your audience. Desaturating the colour will give an expression of sadness and gloom, where as high saturation in colour can uplift the mood of your audience.

Now I want you to break down your image into every single colour that is there. Which ones do you want to be more saturated and which ones do you want to be less saturated, or not in there at all. Your colour grading tool can allow you to achieve this. Using a mixture of markers, geography and colour wheels, you can manipulate your image to get a balance of the only colours you want in your image.

In summary you can make the colour in your film or video look the way you want by:

  • Balancing the light and shadow in your image.
  • Correcting the reds, greens and blues in your image.
  • Making changes to the saturation in your image.
  • Break down your image into objects and their colours, which ones should change and be enhanced.


A Guide To Video Editing

Hello

2 Bee Videos have been away for a couple of weeks due to a big project in the editing suite. It is now complete and I will be releasing a case study article about the project sometime soon. Now that I’m back it’s onto this week’s main article.

 

So you have finished filming your content, now you’ve got to cut it together. In this article I will go through the processes and techniques professionals use to create the structure of their final film and video projects.

An Introduction To Video Editing
The way your video is edited together is something that should be thought through in the pre-production process when choosing how you are going to capture your subject on video. We all process information sequentially, so the job of the video editor is to make the audience forget they’re looking at a screen filled with a series of images and concentrate on the fact that they are watching a story. In summary the video editor has to hide the fact that they have created cuts, this is called seamless editing. This is done by joining two separate shots that have a physical or emotional connection between them. So if you make a list of shots contained in your video, you are also creating cut points and how the video is edited together. It’s important to know how your shots will be cut together before you start filming.

Before I move on and talk to you about the different kinds of cuts between shots, I should mention one more thing. Just like when I mentioned in my previous article about framing shots and how it has an emotional effect on it’s audience, the same is said for video editing. If I have less frequent cuts and/or a long shot duration with no cutting, then the video gives a slow expression. This intention for not cutting very much is perfect for scenes of a calm nature because the slow nature of the editing matches the emotion of the scene. It’s the same for more frequent cutting, lots of cuts between shots gives a fast expression and is perfect for past paced action scenes because the fast nature of the editing matches the emotion of a fast paced action scene.

Before, On & After
Most cuts in film and video happen around a specific action within the frame. Simply put, you can cut before an action, on an action or after an action. Each way of cutting effect the emotional outcome of how an audience reacts emotionally to the scene and the story.

Match Cutting
Match cutting is a technique in which two images that have a physical likeness are cut together. Edgar Wright is a brilliant film director and a master when it comes to staging shots for the edit. A good example of match editing from “The World’s End”, the use of empty pint glasses on a table outside during the day with someone walking past frame is used to cut into the next scene starting with someone walking past frame to reveal full pint glasses on a table inside during the night. The two shots are framed perfectly so that the table and pint glasses physically match the same space they occupy on screen, as a way of transitioning from one scene to the next.

edit1-1 edit1-2

Using The Frame Or Camera
Using the camera and frame in order to make a cut is a great way of making seamless cuts. This is done by matching the movements of the camera or frame from one shot to the next. A great example I’ve used previously is the camera swipe cut. This is using the camera to pan quickly in one direction at the end of a shot, and then continue the same movement at the start of the next shot to create a transitioning cut between the two.

Cut-in & Cutaway
A cut-in and cutaway edit is the cutting together of two shots with the same angle but at completely different lengths. The use of and effect of a cut-in edit is to identify details that the camera cannot see from a distance, and the visa versa for a cutaway.

edit2-1 edit2-2

Scene Transitions
There are two typical uses for transitioning from one scene to the next. The first is cross dissolve, involving blending the end of one shot to the next with a fade. The other is to fade the end of one shot to black, and then fade from black into the next shot. The effect of both these transitions shows the movement of time and space in the story.

Using Light
The use of light can be used create edits also. Most commonly a crescendo in overexposure at the end of one shot and cutting into an overexposed shot ascending in exposure. The effect has a thriller intention with the film’s audiences.

Editing On Sound
Using sound as an edit point is also used to create effective cuts. Usually in a dialogue scene the cut is made on the moment the sound of the other person starts talking, not before, to create a more seamless cut. Matching sounds from one shot to the next is also a good way of editing between two scenes.

 

In summary you can make a great edit for your video or film using the following kind of editing techniques:

  • Cutting Before, On or After an action.
  • Creating a Match Cut using two shots with a physical resemblance.
  • Using the Frame or Camera to create an edit point.
  • Enhance details by using a Cut-ins & Cutaway.
  • Using cross dissolves and fades to create Scene Transitions.
  • Using Light or overexposed shots to create edit points.
  • Editing On Sound to create seamless cuts.


A Guide To Sound Design & Mixing

Happy New Year!

How was your Christmas and New Year Celebrations? Hope it was festive. Now on with this weeks topic, sound design and mixing.

As I said in my previous article on capturing sound, sound is as, if not more important than the visuals. Sound has to go through the same amount of cleaning and editing as the video.

Before I carry on with this article, it is worth pointing out, I only know information about the sound tools that I am using, and how they effect my audio files. I do not know the physical science behind sound, I am not a scientist. Now that I’ve got that out of the way, let’s begin.

Introduction To Sound Effects
In your sound editing software you should have a library of effects you can use to correct and create your sound. There are so many it would take me a lifetime to go through all of them and what they achieve. In this article I will start with the basics. Leveling, Noise Reduction, Parametric Equalization, Multi-band Compressor, Hard Limiter, Dynamics Processing and Reverb.

Leveling
The first stage in creating your master sound mix is to level everything contained within the sound file. For example if you have two voices in one clip and one voice is louder than the other, it’s important that both voices peak at the same level. If you read my previous article on sound recording, I mentioned the sound meter starting at -48dbs increasing to 0dbs. Your sound editing software should have the same meter and a waveform reader. Your sound should be kept between -24dbs and -6dbs. Pick a level between these numbers and keep your voices peaking at this level.

sound_levelling

sound_noisereduceNoise Reduction
No matter what microphone you use, it’s inevitable to pick up other noises. The first to look at removing is background hiss. In every sound recording there is a certain amount of background hiss. This process is simple, first highlight the only segment of your clip containing the hiss and tell your software to analyse it. Then highlight the whole clip and tell your software to reduce the background hiss. However there are some limitations. If the background hiss is quite loud, your audio will sound like it’s coming out of baked bean tin when reduced. There are settings you can adjust to get the perfect hiss reduction, but this is why it’s so important to get the capturing of sound spot on.

Now that the hiss has been reduced from your sound clip, you will notice certain clicks, pops and unwanted sound. For this it’s best to use a histogram reader whilst listening to your sound clip to become aware of them. Using the tools in your sound editing software you can reduce the unwanted noises in your histogram.

sound_EQParametric Equaliser
Simply put, the parametric equaliser tool in your sound editor is there so you can balance the frequencies in your sound file. When highlighted the graph presented to you should read on the Y axis the frequencies from 0hz to 48,000hz, and on the X axis how loud the frequency is in decibels. The line on the graph allows you to adjust the volume on each set of frequencies. As a baseline standard for vocals I like to use the preset “Vocal Enhancer”, and then click the LP on the right side of the toolbar to lower any high frequencies. This setup should be a good step in getting a nice crisp sounding vocal.

sound_multibandMulti-band Compressor
This is a different form of making sure your sound frequencies are perfectly levelled and do not peak above a certain decibel. In the Multi-band Compressor tool is the preset “Broadcast”. Once you select this you will notice a considerable jump in volume. Use the master decibel notch to take it down by three decibels. This setup will raise the desired frequencies to give you a nice crisp
sound without peaking too loud.

 

 

 

 

sound_dynamiccompressHard Limiter & Dynamics Processing
These two tools are a variation on the same job. These two tools again make sure that your sound file doesn’t peak too loud. The hard limiter is more of a harsh tool for making sure your sound doesn’t peak above a selected decibel. I prefer to set mine to 6db. With the Dynamics Processing tool, it uses a graph to create a more dynamic cut off point for loud peaking sounds. Your original sound decibels appear on the X axis of the graph, ranging from 100 to 0. On the Y axis is the final decibel output of your sound. By adjusting the line on the graph you have control over the output of your decibels. On my graph, I create my first point at X-20 and Y-20, and a second point at X-0 and Y-0. I take my second point and drop it to Y-10 on the graph.

 

Reverb
Reverb is the adjustment of yours sound’s reverberation. Noises sound different depending on the location and how the sound waves react to it’s surroundings. Reverb is an effect that allows you to adjust the way your sound reacts to it’s location, or create a location for your sound. For example you can use this tool to make something sound as though it’s coming from a grand hall, a small bathroom or a cave. Check out it’s presets and see what happens.

In summary you should now be able to create a sound mix for your vocal soundtrack and other sound recordings in your editor by:

  • Leveling your sound file using the decibel and waveform reader.
  • Reduce hiss, clicks, pops and other unwanted sound using Noise Reduction.
  • Equalize your sound frequencies using the Parametric Equalizer.
  • Level your sound frequencies using the Multi-band Compressor.
  • Create a harsh cut off point for your loud peaking sounds using Hard Limiter.
  • Create a dynamic cut off point for your loud peaking sounds using Dynamics Processing.
  • Create an environment for your sound using Reverb.