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Layers and Alpha in Studio Artist 3

Part 1: Basic setup for working with transparency on layers By Dave Nagel
In terms of workflow, Synthetik Studio Artist has always been geared more toward rotoscoping and painting from a source image (or movie) than drawing and painting from scratch. So those who come to it from traditional graphics applications like Adobe Photoshop can sometimes find it a bit confusing when trying to work with multiple layers while maintaining layer transparency. But it's actually quite seamless once you set up the program for this type of workflow.

Now, Studio Artist is an incredibly deep application with sophisticated functionality that can, at times, be daunting to new and experienced users alike. It has to be, given its wide range of applications, from straight painting to animation, motion graphics and rotoscoping. And so whenever a question comes up like, "How does transparency work in Studio Artist?" the answer is always something like, "That depends on what aspect of the program you're talking about."

So what I've decided to do is to break up an explanation of alpha/transparency in Studio Artist into multiple tutorials covering these various aspects. In this first installment, we'll look at the basic setup for working with truly transparent layers in Studio Artist. This is essentially the method for switching Studio Artist's settings from default mode to the point where it will work "just like Photoshop," with transparent layers and all. In subsequent installments, we'll take a look at other aspects of layer transparency/alpha, including eliminating visible fringe, setting up brushes to work with alpha in various ways and creating various types of erasers for transparent layers (from straight erasers to smeary brushes that only partially eliminate a layer's content, while smearing that content around.)

What you read below may seem like a lot, but keep in mind that this is a one-time process (unless you revert to Studio Artist's default settings sometime down the road, in which case you'll need to repeat this process.)

Studio Artist preferences
The very first step when setting up Studio Artist to work with transparent layers is to go in and make changes to the preferences. There are four settings panes you need to call up for the changes: one for the basic setup (in order to enable alpha on layers) and three for outputting movies with your layer's transparency to be saved in an alpha channel.

For the basic settings, go to File > Preferences > Layer Preferences. Here you'll see several parameters related to layer transparency and alpha output (meaning what gets saved in the alpha channel when you export an image from Studio Artist to a format that supports alpha channels, like TIFF or .psd).

The first setting is "Default Composite." This simply sets the compositing mode/blend mode for any new layer you create. The "Replace" setting is the equivalent to Photoshop's "Normal" setting. This is the setting you'd normally want to use. It can be changed on a layer by layer basis (just like Photoshop or any other graphics program), which we'll get to below.

The second setting is is for the default background color. This means the color that you see in the transparent areas of the canvas. Photoshop uses a checkerboard pattern; Studio Artist gives you a choice of solid colors to use. Out of habit, I use black.

The third setting is Default Save Output Alpha. Set this to "Layer Alpha." It means that when you save a layer that contains transparency, the alpha channel that is saved will be defined by the transparent areas of the layer. If you leave this set to "Full On," the alpha channel in a saved image will cover the entire image, which generally isn't desirable.

And, finally, there's the last and most important setting: Paint Alpha Fill Status. Set this to On." Without it, you won't be able to paint onto a transparent layer. (There are, however, good reasons to turn it off sometimes, like when you want to paint over existing pixels on the canvas without allowing the paint to spill outside of those pixels.)

The remaining settings that we'll change relate to outputting movie files with an alpha channel. These are only important, of course, if you intend to rotoscope a movie or create an animation from scratch and want to be able to output an alpha channel for further compositing in a finishing/compositing/motion graphics application. If you don't plan to do this, you can skip ahead to the next section, although it's probably a good idea to go through these steps "just in case."

First, there's File > Preferences > Movie Compression. If you want to be able to output an alpha channel with your movie, you must choose a format that supports alpha channels and make sure that the codec's settings are set to do so. The codecs that support alpha channels are: None (uncompressed), TIFF, TGA, PNG, Planar RGB, JPEG 2000 and Animation. Typically users choose either "None" or "Animation." "None" ought to give you the highest quality output; "Animation" will give you great quality with a smaller file size.

Once you've selected the codec, you must set the Depth to "Millions of Colors +." The "+" is the alpha channel. You can adjust the quality setting to suit your needs; it doesn't affect the alpha channel. But keep in mind that the Animation codec is only lossless when you set the quality to "Best."

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Related Keywords:synthetik studio artist, alpha channels, transparency, studio artist, tutorial

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