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Varying Effects over Time in Studio Artist
How to add and reduce strokes in moving images

by David Nagel
Executive Producer
[email protected]

As one reader pointed out to me last week, it's been a little too long since our last look at Synthetik Studio Artist. I had promised I'd show you a post-processing technique that allows you to vary strokes over time. Let it never be said that Dave fails to follow through on his promises, even if such fulfillment does take some time. Now, this is not the same as making strokes longer or shorter over time. I'll cover that one in a future installment (just as soon as another reader reminds me that I'm lagging). Instead, this technique allows you to change the actual number of strokes that appear in your video.

Typically in a situation involving this technique, you're going to want to use it as an alternative to simple fading of the movie in and out. Rather, this will let you phase the image in and out by moving from no strokes to full strokes and back to none. If you click on the image below, you'll see an example of what I'm talking about. This shows a skydiver (actually a skyboarder) jumping out of a plane and performing some aerobatics. You'll see a white image to start with, followed by some pencil sketch, followed by a full-color image. Please keep in mind that compression for the Web has altered the look of the video somewhat.

This is not a terribly difficult technique, but, as with all things Studio Artist, it's also not readily apparent how you can go about doing it. If you don't already have Studio Artist but want to follow along and see what it's all about, visit http://www.synthetik.com to download a demo.

For this example, I'm going to phase in two separate brush stroke types: a pencil outline and a color fill. And, what's more, I'm going to stagger them so that the outline appears first, with the color filling in a bit later. I'm also going to apply a couple of my favorite Studio Artist Image Operations, which are irrelevant to the tutorial but make the movie look better. These are Image Compressor and Geodesic Watershed. I'll discuss these a little bit later on.

We're going to work this one stroke at a time to make things simple. And, while I'll be using two specific types of strokes for this example, you can use this technique with any Studio Artist preset or Paint Patches that you create yourself. In fact, I did create these Paint Patches myself, which you can download here and use yourself. Also, if you happened to like the example above, you can download my PASeq here, which will let you apply exactly the same effects to your own movies.

Phase in
Start by opening up Studio Artist and choosing the movie that you plan to process as your Source Image. Don't worry about damaging your original footage; we're not going to be doing anything to it except using it as a source for our final output. The original footage will be untouched.

Then open up the Paint Action window (PASeq window), and erase what's there. Click the Record button in the PASeq window, and then follow these steps.

1. Click the little arrow above your Canvas to set the Canvas to white. (Do this even if your Canvas is already white because it needs to be recorded in the PASeq.)

2. Choose your preset (or custom Paint Patch), and click the Action button. Don't worry about how long it runs. We'll be adjusting all of this later. So go ahead and stop it whenever you'd like.

Click the Play button in your source window
to advance to a frame that will be typical
of your movie. This will help you get your
settings just right.

Shortcut: You can use Command-Spacebar to start an action and Spacebar to stop it.

3. Uncheck the Record button in the PASeq window.

4. Click on the first frame in your PASeq timeline (the one that's colored red). Your action will automatically redraw itself; but don't worry about this, as we'll be modifying everything manually so that, in the end, you'll have only the number of strokes you want.

The first frame of each action in your PASeq timeline has a
keyframe, indicated by the red coloration. You can set
your own keyframes or modify existing ones by
Option-clicking on the desired frame.

5. Switch to the Paint Synthesizer and open up the palette called Path Start. Right at the top you'll see a field labeled "Max Strokes." Change the value to 0.

6. Now Option-click on the first frame in your PASeq timeline. You've now set the first and all subsequent frames to render zero strokes. Simple? It surely is.

7. Now you want to be thinking about how many strokes you're going to want in the full animation and how long it should take to phase in from zero strokes to that final number. The number of strokes is highly dependent upon the type of strokes you're using. So I can't really tell you that; it's a matter of taste and too many variables. Timing is also a matter of taste, but here's some advice. Animations in Studio Artist tend to look best at 10 frames per second. Why? When they get much higher than that, they stop looking like graceful animations and more like noise. This is owing to the fact that every single stroke in every single frame looks slightly different. So try to keep your frame rate in the 10 FPS range.

Tip: You can change the frame rate of your animation in the Timeline Animation palette. This will have a direct effect on how your final processed piece looks.

This also has a direct effect on timing. At 10 FPS, your transition should be complete somewhere in the neighborhood of frame 20 to 30 (two or three seconds). For this example, we're using frame 25 to mark the full phase in.

So for this example, I now want to click on frame 25 in the PASeq timeline and enter in the final number of strokes. Then I will Option-click on frame 25. Studio Artist will handle everything in between for me, adding strokes from frame 1 until it reaches the final stroke count I've set at frame 25.

Phase out
If you want to fade out the same way, the process is similar. First, you're going to need to know the total length of the piece you're going to process. If you're creating your PASeq with the footage that you plan to use for your final render, then Studio Artist has already given you an appropriate number of frames in your PASeq timeline. If you're not using your footage for this, you're going to have to do some calculating. Multiply the length of your movie (in seconds) by 10 to get a frame count that correlates in Studio Artist. If you are working with a 10-second piece, that's 100 frames. By default, Studio Artist's PASeq window only gives you 20 frames to work with. You can change this number in the Timeline Animation palette.

Note: Extending the bar in the Timeline Animation palette gives you a maximum of 100 frame. You can manually enter a longer number in the frame filed.

So let's say you're dealing with 100 frames, and you want a 25-frame fade out. The first thing you want to do is Option-click on frame 76. This will let Studio Artist know that you want to maintain maximum strokes until frame 76, at which point it will start decreasing strokes to whatever number you set at frame 100, which is your final frame.

To set the value to 0 at frame 100, click on frame 100 in your PASeq timeline. Then go back into the Paint Synthesizer and enter 0 in the Max Strokes field, and then Option-click on frame 100.

You now have a complete phase in and phase out.

So now let's say you want to add in a second set of strokes that phases in at a different rate from the first set. It's almost exactly the same process, but with one exception.

First, check the Record button in your PASeq window again; select your preset; and click Action. When you stop it, this new action will appear in your PASeq window right underneath your first one. Set the first frame to zero strokes using the method outlined above.

Now I want this second set of strokes to begin phasing in just as the first set finishes (frame 25). So after I've set my first keyframe at zero strokes, I'm going to add another keyframe at frame 24 just by Option-clicking on that frame in the PASeq timeline. This tells Studio Artist to draw zero strokes from frame 1 to frame 24.

I want my second set of strokes to phase in after about two seconds, or 20 frames. This means I'll set my next keyframe at frame 44, using the method explained above. To fade this out, we'll also just use the method described above.

Additional effects
I mentioned earlier that I'm using two additional effects in my example for this tutorial–Image Compressor and Geodesic Watershed. These are my two favorite Image Operations in Studio Artist. They're called Image Operations because, unlike Paint Patches, they do not use individual strokes. Rather they process an image much like a Photoshop filter does.

Image Compressor is to an image what a compressor/limiter is to audio. That is, it restricts your image's colors to a certain range based on the color on your Canvas. The effect is similar to saturating an image. In fact, the Image Compressor I used for this footage was set only to affect saturation. The image was a bit muddy without it, so I thought it would help.

Before (top) and after using the Image Compressor.

Geodesic Watershed is another Image Operation, but this one makes your image look kind of soggy. You can see the before and after images below.

Before (top) and after using the Geodesic Watershed effect.

Processing your movie with PASeq
One final note: I mentioned earlier that Studio Artist animations look their best at about 10 frames per second. But what if the footage you're processing has a higher frame rate than 10, which it almost certainly does? Studio Artist gives you the option of processing movies at their native frame rate or at Studio Artist's frame rate. To make sure you're processing at the frame rate you want, open up the Process File Settings dialog (located under the Movie menu), and select "Timeline Animation FPS."

That's it. Save you PASeq for future use by selecting Action > Export Paint Action Sequence. To test out your animation (or do the final processing), select Movie > Process Movie File with PASeq > To Movie. Remember, this will not overwrite your original footage. It will create a completely new uncompressed QuickTime file. After you name your new file, you'll see each frame of this great technique rendered right before your eyes.

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Dave Nagel is the producer of Creative Mac and Digital Media Designer; host of several World Wide User Groups, including Synthetik Studio Artist, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe InDesign, Adobe LiveMotion, Creative Mac and Digital Media Designer; and executive producer of the Digital Media Net family of publications.