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Levels

From: After Effects CS5 New Creative Techniques

Video: Levels

Another nice updated effect in After Effects CS5 is the Levels effect. I mean who doesn't use Levels all the time? I'll set my footage and apply Effects > Color Correction > Levels and immediately you'll notice we have a lot more colorful of a Histogram. To explain these colors, let's go back to our RGB color wheel. You see that when we take the primary colors, red, green, and blue, and mix them all together we get white. If we mix just red and green, we get yellow.

Levels

Another nice updated effect in After Effects CS5 is the Levels effect. I mean who doesn't use Levels all the time? I'll set my footage and apply Effects > Color Correction > Levels and immediately you'll notice we have a lot more colorful of a Histogram. To explain these colors, let's go back to our RGB color wheel. You see that when we take the primary colors, red, green, and blue, and mix them all together we get white. If we mix just red and green, we get yellow.

Just green and blue, we get cyan. Just blue and red, we get magenta. Once you memorize those relationships, the Histogram makes lot more sense. Any area that's white in the Histogram is where red, green and blue are all present in equal strength. If we I see something like a bit of magenta, that's telling me that both red and blue are both equally present there in equal strengths. The white area below show that there is green mixed it in at a lower level and here we can see where red is little bit stronger or blue is little bit stronger.

Same with the yellow area here. Red plus green equally mixed or the green is more prominent. So in this image, we are seeing that the blues are really prominent in the highlights. That's the blue sky. But we also have some nice dark blues down here in the dark blue water, and then we have got some cyan, which is blue and red mixed together in those shadows as well. So it's useful information when we trying to dissect this file. By the way, if you find this to be too psychedelic, just click on it and it will change back to the old luminance -based display you are used to.

But I am finding this gives me a lot of information particularly when used in conjunction with other effects. I use Levels all the time not just to process footage, but also to tell me what's going on with another effect and to help me learn another effect. So, let's apply something like Effect > Color Correction > Color Balance. Drag it before Levels. Now, when I make adjustments in Color Balance, I can see more clearly what's going on. For example, see this bit of green component somewhere between midtones and shadows? Reducing the green shadow balance moves those green spikes down to the left to the darker colors in the Histogram.

Increasing the green shadow balance moves that peak of green colors up through the Histogram to brighter levels. So it really helps with a visual feedback to see what's going on in an effect. This is particularly useful with a brand-new selected color effect. If you are trying to understand just what all these adjustments mean, apply Effect > Color Correction > Levels after it, and now as you say, okay let's go to the red channel and let's boost the cyans, you can see that it's decreasing the red in the image.

If I decrease the cyans, it's making the reds more prominent in the image. It will really helps you get a visual connection for what's going on besides just trying to look at an image and decide for it. You can see in the Histogram how you are really affecting that image. Remember the magenta was a complementary color to green? Well, if I decrease the magenta, you'll see the green spikes in Histogram increase because it's a complementary color and vice versa. Push the greens down. So, Levels is a very handy diagnostic effect.

You can also use it just to help you figure out what's going on in an image. Let's go ahead and open up this really brightly blown-out film clutter shot. So, as I step through, you can see each frame is changing quite a bit. Well, if you really want understand what's going on in this shot, apply Levels and watch the Histogram. Right now when the frame is mostly white, you see that almost all of these spikes are pushed to the right to the highlights. Blue is not as strong as green and red, green and red are mixing to show this yellow spike.

I step forward the frame. And as I step through by pressing the Page Down button, you really get an idea of how this color components are mixing in the shot. The blues is weaker than the green, the green is weaker than the red, green and red mix together to create the yellow in the shot. It's very useful for helping you understand what color components make up the final image you are seeing. Now the one down side of the new Levels effect is that unfortunately it has the same bug as the old Levels effect. You notice as I have been stepping through these frames, the screen cache bar is showing me what frames have already been cached in the memory.

If I were to back up, press Page Up, and move to frame that's already been cached, you'll notice that the Histogram is not updating. The reason is After Effects is saying hey, I've already cached this frame. There is no need to recalculate it. I'll save some time. We'll part of that time savings is it does not bother to redraw the histogram. So whenever you go into new frames, you will get an updated Histogram to show you what's going on, but whenever you go to the an old frame, you won't get an updated Histogram.

And a quick fix for that is just to toggle Levels off and on again. Basically clear out your cache to now see what's truly going on in the shot as you step through it. It's been there forever, it's still there with new Levels. Well, we can't have everything, can we? But otherwise it's a nice update to the Histogram in Levels. If you have been working in the Camera Raw dialog in particular, you have already seen this. It's a nice new tool that they put in.

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After Effects CS5 New Creative Techniques

35 video lessons · 18065 viewers

Chris Meyer and Trish Meyer
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