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If you're already used to drawing paths in Photoshop or Illustrator, you probably find Bezier paths very easy to deal with. I go ahead and play around these handles to move my points after the fact, by holding the Command or Ctrl key, moving my points and moving my handles. However, if you're new to masking, this whole concept of clicking-and-dragging to create mask shapes maybe a bit fiddly and it doesn't feel quite right. Well, there is an alternative in After Effects. First I am going to get rid of this. Layer > Mask and Remove Mask.
And with the Pen tool selected, I am going to enable the RotoBezier option. What RotoBezier does is it eliminates the handles. All you need to do is click a few points in a window and After Effects will automatically calculate a smooth path between them. You don't need to drag handles while you're drawing. However, it is still possible to adjust what is happening through those individual vertexes. I am going to go ahead to Layer > Mask > Remove Mask again.
Zoom in on the bottom part of this flower. I'll give you quick demonstration. Okay, I've got RotoBezier selected. Now I will click and just start defining the outline of this petal. I tend to click the peaks and valleys and let After Effects smooth out my points. However, there are certainly some sections of an image where automatically rounded points don't work, like these hard bends of this stem.
Okay, let's go back and fix some of this. With a normal Bezier mask, if you want to create a sharp corner, you will need to bring out the Convert Vertex tool and break the handles through that particular point so you can have a discontinuous mask shape. With RotoBezier what you do is you hold down Option on Mac or Alt on Windows and you get the change direction cursor, but this time with a dual arrow along its bottom. That indicates you are about the change its tension. While you're doing that, keep a close eye on the Info panel, because it will show you what's happening as you drag.
I'll hold down Option or Alt, start dragging. As I drag in one direction, it gets a squared off path. So I drag in other direction, I get a nice smooth path. See the differences here between sharp and smooth corner. So I get my sharp corner, then I hold down Command on Mac or Ctrl on Windows to get the Selection tool, this solid arrow, and drag it into shape. And now I have some purple points here. So I'll just go ahead and click with the Minus symbol, get rid of those points, hold down Option or Alt, drag to create that sharp corner.
Hold down Command or Ctrl and reposition this the way I want. Option or Alt, change the tension, Command or Ctrl, reposition, no modifier key, delete, Option or Alt, squared off. Command or Ctrl and start dragging these points back to where I want them to get a nice shape. And again, I'm not having to drag out the handles anymore. After Effects is calculating the curve for me. Hold down Command or Ctrl one more time, select my last point, and continue clicking along the outline of my shape.
Again, if you don't have a lot of prior experience using the Pen tool and drawing Bezier masks, I bet you're going to find the RotoBezier tool a bit easier and less fussy and more intuitive to use. You will need to just do some things like square off corners when you've got sharp edges, but in general it's faster than editing Bezier handles. It also animates smoothly. A lot of people like to use RotoBezier for rotoscoping, when they're animating the mask shape as it changes while say a person on screen moves.
Regardless-- and I'll repeat myself-- masking takes practice. Don't do it while the client's looking over your shoulder. Go ahead and get some interesting images, flowers, people, buildings, and get a little bit of practice in and get a degree of comfort using the Pen tool. That way it'll be that much faster and more intuitive and less frustrating on a real job.
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