I recently posted a composite photo to my Flickr account and my friend asked me about the editing process. Just for kicks I decided to use Adobe After Effects as a still image tool. I know, I know, people now days refer to any image manipulation as "Photoshopping." I understand how tech society takes nouns and makes them verbs just as the case with "Googling", "Emailing", or "Texting", but jeez...it isn't the only tool in the shed. Pixels are pixels. After Effects has a couple advantages for still image editing even though it was designed for video. First, it has complex processes combined into 3-D capable "Effects" that would take multiple layers to do in Photoshop. It has an easy to use scripting language called "expressions" that can link one layer's effects to another layer. You can "parent" an effect to a simple "slider" control or other layers for easy experimentation. 3-D integration is native and dynamic, so establishing a look by creating a camera and selecting lens aperture (to control depth of field) is easy. The effects are also non-destructive, so you can tweak the composition design easily at any time.
Truth be told, I used a combination of Photoshop and After Effects because some operations are still easier in Photoshop. So first, let's start in Photoshop. Yep, that's Larry and I holding up Tina in Larry's living room (aka the extreme high end photo studio!). You'll also notice our unbelievably expensive high end wind machine at the far right sitting on a chair. The first operation was to create a mask layer and get rid of those horrible looking extras in the shot.
The remaining steps mostly happen in After Effects. The first operation in there, besides importing the Photoshop document of Tina, was to add a background. I happened to have a shot of some graffiti under a bridge in Pisa that would lend itself toward the image.
One of the great things about After Effects is that you can easily re-light a scene. In the above photo all I had was available light, which was flat and boring. By recreating the light coming from the upper right the background matched the lighting from Tina's photo. I actually had to do this with a couple lights because there's the highlight in the lower left and then the ambient fill that would normally be associated with any location.
Next I added Tina into the composition along with a touch of color correction for contrast and to make her hair color pop out. I also added a subtle lens flare on the tip of her pistol because I wanted to make it look like her left gun was firing. It would have been more difficult to make it look like the right gun was firing because the bullet trajectory was partially over her body and the gun was tilted up...which doesn't make sense.
Then I had to add the muzzle's smoke and fire. I opted for the subtle approach to not make this composition too cartoon-ish. By adding two layers: the first being a set of blurred convex particles for smoke, the second being fractal noise for the muzzle fire, the effect was sort of like a split second after the bullet leaves the muzzle. I wasn't worried about color here because color correction came later.
To add a little action to the photo there are a couple layers of concrete wall being shattered by bullets in the background. For this effect I took the background photo, shifted it a little bit, and masked off small portions to be exposed as impacted concrete. You can see the holes in the wall to the left of her lower boot, on the green bullet, below and above her shoulders. Gotta call it close to be a real action movie shot!
It doesn't really make sense to have random holes in the wall without chunks of 3-D concrete flying out, right?! To do this I just copied the masked layers where the holes are and used the built-in "shatter" effect to shatter the concrete wall. It's subtle, but effective. You have to click on the photo to look at it larger to see the effect.
Finally, I added a Magic Bullet "Quicklooks" preset and vignette to the photo just to add a bit of that comic book action movie flair to the photo. Green was a little too obvious of an homage to The Matrix, so I went the opposite direction and used a Mexican theme. The effect is basically drag and drop with a few minor tweak-able parameters.
A little sharpening back in Photoshop and I was done making Tina look like a bad ass action hero.
HOW WE DID IT: Doc Style
2 years ago