Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Adventures in Rotoscoping!

I have been working in Adobe After Effects ever since I took a course in college that focused primarily on motion graphics.  I was hooked immediately. At that point, I had only been editing for three years, and After Effects was a welcome challenge.  Up to that point I had only worked with Final Cut Pro and  the only graphics I had used were the basic text generator.  I never concerned myself with anything too flashy since my aesthetic at the time was very French New Wave.  In fact I still don't prefer movies with insane graphics, but upon discovering what you can do in After Effects, I was smitten with the ability to create more complex effects that you usually only see in big budget films.  I was always aware of the limitless possibilities of AE, but I never ventures farther that 2D animation, Green Screen, compositing, and motion graphics.  However, in the last two years, the clients I work for have become more demanding.  People want to see what they saw at the cinema replicated in their projects.  This means drawing less from Godard and more from Marvel Studios.  This brings me to the video below.  Cole just had his Bar Mitzvah, and like many Jewish kids, he wanted to be brought into his party in style.  His family hired our company to create a Matrix themed short that would be played before his gran entrance into his party.  Simple enough right? I have edited several projects of this nature.  I have made a kid fly and turned an ordinary girl into a pop star, but Cole wanted to something slightly more complex: He wanted to recreate the "Neo jumping off a building" scene from the first Matrix film.

While this can usually be faked in camera with some clever angles or on a green screen, our client wanted us to shoot on a roof and composite their child leaping off the side of the building.  I knew from the moment I read the script that this effect would fall on my shoulders.  Anytime there is tricky compositing in our studio, I get the call. I also knew that it was going to require me venture into rotoscoping.  This was one of the more complex comps I have ever worked on. The shot was simple enough.  We used a 30 foot jib, programmed the move, filmed the kid jumping from a ledge in the center of the building, and repeating the move off the side of the building.  You can see some behind the scenes shots over at the CinemaCake blog.  I was traveling at the time of the shoot, and our Media manager uploaded the footage to me via Dropbox.  I immediatly called my good friend and fellow editor, Cortney, over at Swagger Media.  She does loads of rotoscoping, and I knew I could gain a lot from her experiance.  Cortney filled me in on common protocol and tools that could be used to make this shot happen.  The actual concept is simple enough.  Separate the kid from the rest of the shot and composite him over our second shot of the ground.  I ended up using the roto brush to separate the subject from the background.  His hair ended up proving difficult.  The background was muddled with shadows and did not offer a lot of separation so the roto brush had a hard time tracing around his head.  I ended up making another layer where I manually masked his head.  I thne used a mask to remove the ground he jumped over and replace it with the 13 story drop.

Finally, the shots of hime falling where filmed in a green screen studio.  As always, there was more I wanted to do on this, but being my first roto job, I took it as a learning experiance.  The film premiered at Cole's party on June 7th.  Aside from the jumping scene, I was please with how the rest of the turned out.  We ended up doing three video for the same child.  You can view all three films at CinemaCake's gallery.

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