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In After Effects CS5 Essential Training, author Chad Perkins discusses the basic tools, effects, and need-to-know techniques in Adobe After Effects CS5, the professional standard for motion graphics, compositing, and visual effects for video. The course provides an overview of the entire workflow, from import to export, as well as detailed coverage of each stage, including animating text and artwork, adding effects to compositions, working in 3D, and rendering and compressing footage. Exercise files are included with the course.
Folks, I am really excited about this chapter. We're going to be covering Color Correction, which is such a huge deal in After Effects. Whether you're selling a product, like making a commercial or something, or whether you're making just like a cool animation or whether you're working on a film - no matter what you do in After Effects, color-correcting it with the tools that we'll be going through in this chapter, it really has the ability to take your work from just kind of okay to absolutely phenomenal. First, in this movie, we're going to be talking about brightening dark footage and also darkening shadow areas, which may be a little bit too bright.
I'm also going to give you some artistic warnings here as we're going. So, what I'm going to do is go to this arrangingFlowers composition, select the arrangingFlowers layer, and then what we're going to do is search on the Levels effect. So, go ahead and double-click the Levels effect, with that layer selected, to apply the Levels effect. The Levels effect now in CS5 has kind of two categories, or two ways of looking at this little diagram called a Histogram. This bottom button shows us the Brightness information. And when we click on this top button, it shows the color information for each color channel.
For right now, it doesn't really matter which one you choose, although I'm going to leave this selected at the bottom circle here so we can just see this one gray histogram. Now the histogram looks pretty complicated. It's actually not very complicated. What this is showing us here is the shadow values on the left-hand side and the highlights on the right-hand side, and the middle values in the middle. The height of the chart is comprised of pixels or content in the footage that is of that brightness level. So, right now, what this is telling us is there is a lot of shadow area and dark midtone stuff, but even of regular midtones and of highlights - there is nothing.
This line is flat. So, there really are no highlights. So, what we're going to do here is grab this right triangle, which indicates our highlights, and we're going to drag it to the current brightest point of the image, which is right about there. And then that tells us that that bright-gray is now white. And look at our scene. It looks fantastic. We could also go to this Midtone slider and click and drag to the left to make the midtones brighter and drag to the right to make the midtones darker if we wanted to. But the cool thing about levels is that Shadows and Highlights stay where they are.
When you adjust any one of these triangles, the other two do not move. So, it looks like we're brightening the entire thing and darkening the entire thing by adjusting this middle triangle, but we're not. Highlights and Shadows stay exactly the same. That is really why I like using the Levels effect. If we were to use, say, for example, the Hue/Saturation effect, I'm going to type in Hue, to get the Hue/ Saturation effect and apply that really quick. You have to follow along with this. I just wanted to show you this as an example. And actually, we'll be looking at the Hue/Saturation effect in the next movie, but this is one thing that you probably wouldn't want to do with that.
If I increase Master Lightness, what that's going to do is it's going to universally lighten every pixel. So, you see the difference? Even the shadow areas and the midtones. Everything is lightened. Likewise, if I take this to a negative number, I'm darkening everything. So, the highlights get dim. So, this is bad brightness correction. This is not what we want. See, this is really bad. We started losing the contrast, losing the shadows, as opposed to Levels, whereas we move the slider around, the shadows stay where they are and only the midtones move. Anyway, I am just going to delete Hue/ Saturation by selecting it and hitting the Delete key.
We're going to come back to this example in just a moment. I'm not done with this yet. There's a warning I want to tell you about this. But for now, go over to the yummy doughnuts Composition. And here we have some yummy doughnuts, probably the greatest doughnuts I've ever been to, Voodoo Doughnuts in Portland, Oregon. This is footage that I took with my new Canon 7D camera, and it was brand-new. This is like the first video that I took with it. So, the focus is - we were just kind of playing around with it. But it's still beautiful footage of some really awesome-looking doughnuts. So, let's apply the Levels effect here, and go ahead and apply that.
The histogram looks a little bit different. So, let's examine what this is telling us. Remember that the height represents the amount of that value in the image, and right now, there is some bright midtones, but not any pure highlights. There is not pure white here, and we really don't have any pure black, nothing in the Shadows. So, what we do here is drag this left slider to the right. At the first sign of a pixel, so the first little, tiny bump here is what we want to line up that arrow with. And then on the right-hand side, we want to bring this into the left.
And you'll notice, if you look at the highlight areas in this footage, you'll see that those areas are becoming a little bit brighter as well. So, now we have kind of a well-balanced image. At least we have a pure white and a pure black in our image. We have good shadows and highlights. Then we could adjust this midtone slider as we see fit. We can darken things by moving it to the right, brighten things by moving it to the left, base it according to your taste. Now we really didn't move the triangles that much, and the footage may look very similar to you. But if you click this little fx icon, seeing the before and after, you'll see a pretty significant difference. If you zoom in here a little bit, maybe you could see this a little bit better, but look at the contrast of the colors in the back and the depth of the shadows are the dark-colored doughnuts on the right-hand side here.
If we turn this effect back on, things just appear so much more rich. So, again, before and after. So, essentially then, the same process that we use to brighten dark footage is the same process that we use to darken rich shadows as well, the same effect. That's basically how you brighten dark footage or darken shadows. So, if that's all you understood in this movie, go ahead and close this movie now. But for those of you that are interested in learning a little bit more about the art behind things, then I invite you to keep watching. You might have noticed that I shot this very washed-out, like the colors were not very rich.
When I'm shooting video, I like to do this intentionally, because it gives me more dynamic range. A lot of times with cameras, they force everything to be really high contrast, so you get like a sexy- looking image right out of the gate. I don't like to shoot this way. I like a washed-out, what they call a flat image. So, that way you have more control over in postproduction. So, if I have a flat image like this, where the highlights are not too bright and the shadows are not too dark, then I have more leverage that I can use when I come back in here in After Effects and play with the colors. I could do a little bit more to it. But oftentimes, when you get really, really bright highlights and really, really dark shadows built into the image that the camera takes in, then it's very hard to come back into After Effects and fix that.
As a general rule when you're shooting video, film is kind of like the great standard that everyone aspires to. You always want to try to get your stuff to look as much like film is possible, because of the dynamic range of the film is so beautiful. And basically, film does have this kind of like washed-out look, which gives you a lot more flexibility to play with in post. Now another artistic tip: going back to this flowers shot here. It's beautiful what we did to this, I think. We really like brought out the brightness and restored a lot of this. Again, if we take off the Levels effect here, we have the before and the after.
No question, it looks a lot better afterwards. However, there is a little bit of a caveat here you've got to be careful with. This image singularly looks great. But if we play this back, especially zoomed in, I want you to pay close attention to the wall in the background here. As we play this, notice the jitter that's happening here. Hopefully, you're seeing that on the Internet. But if you look all over the place, especially in the dark areas, you'll see tons of jitter from the noise that's going on here. When you shoot something that's underexposed, it is possible, like we just saw with the Levels effect, to bring some of that back to lighten it up. But the problem with that is that the extra noise that comes from shooting underexposed, where it's a little bit too dark like that, it just creates all this noise.
It's almost impossible to get rid of. The challenge there is that when you cut this next to a shot that does have less noise, that is well-lit, like these candles here, we're still seeing some noise in the wrappers and other dark areas, but it's not nearly significant. So, then when we cut these two shots together, it's jarring to the viewer, because this shot would look so clean, and this shot that we've color corrected would look so dirty. So, my point is, is that while you can go in and lighten footage, and After Effects is amazing in what it has the capacity to do, you need to be aware of the way that it is shot. Sometimes it dictates whether a shot is really, ultimately usable or not.
And truth be told, I actually learned about this the hard way. In 2009, I directed a music video. I am not a cameraman by any stretch of the imagination, but I decided I would shoot it myself. And I shot a lot of underexposed shots knowing that in After Effects, I can just fix it. I can just fix it in After Effects with these same color lightening tools we've covered in this movie. But what I realized is there were shots that I exposed well. When you cut those next to the shots that were underexposed and really grainy, it just looked really terrible side by side. Again, just looking at still images, it's not that bad, but when you actually play these back, the difference is really shocking how clean this looks on the left and how really noisy and grainy this looks on the right.
So, be aware that the quality of the source footage really does play a significant role in the quality of the output.
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