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Variable-width mask feathering

From: After Effects CS6 New Features

Video: Variable-width mask feathering

Next, I'd like to show you a long-requested, very much-appreciated improvement to masking in After Effects, variable-mask feathering. We have a very moody shot here of a guy standing at the end of the pier. Let's say we want to tightly crop around the pier itself but put a nice heavenly halo around the man. I am going to do Command+Plus or Ctrl+Plus to zoom in a little bit to see what I am doing and quickly select the Pen tool. The shortcut is G. I'll just do some quick corner points for this mask: there, there, cut up, come across, go down, crossed, up, up, to his feet.

Variable-width mask feathering

Next, I'd like to show you a long-requested, very much-appreciated improvement to masking in After Effects, variable-mask feathering. We have a very moody shot here of a guy standing at the end of the pier. Let's say we want to tightly crop around the pier itself but put a nice heavenly halo around the man. I am going to do Command+Plus or Ctrl+Plus to zoom in a little bit to see what I am doing and quickly select the Pen tool. The shortcut is G. I'll just do some quick corner points for this mask: there, there, cut up, come across, go down, crossed, up, up, to his feet.

Then I am going to start dragging out some Bezier handles on a few points. There, hold down Command on Mac, Ctrl on Windows to break that Bezier handle, and then just do some nice soft masking around him. There is a little point, Command or Ctrl to break the handle, come around to his head, Command or Ctrl, break the point. Let's go ahead and pull that out a little bit as well. Continue clicking around, click and drag. It's fairly straight here, and I am just doing a rough mask, and close the mask.

If I want to, I can see the transparency grid behind him, but this is fine for now. Now, the problem with feathering--and I'll type F to get that Feather parameter-- is that it's equal all the way around a layer. Now what I want is a sharp border around the wooden part of the pier but a soft border around him. Well, there is a new tool in town. I'll click on the Pen tool, and now we have the Mask Feather tool. I'll select that and click anywhere on the mask path. Note that it does not have to be where an existing mask vertex is. I can add a feather vertex anywhere I want.

I drag out and you see I initially have feathering all around. But I want to close down the feathering right around the guy, like this. So I'll just drag those points in. Now I have a nice soft feather halo glow around him and tight around the rest of the object here. And by the way, you can drag points in or out. The same point obviously can't be in and out. But if you want an inner feather, just click anywhere else, drag it in and now you have a falloff from that inner defined line to the outer defined line.

I can go to transparency grid to give an idea of what's going on here. I'll turn that off, and I'll actually undo to get rid of that inner feather. It's very easy to move these masked feather points after the fact. For example, I can go ahead and have a tall halo on him here and then either click on this mask path or click on the feather path and pull in the halo just to reshape it, say like that. I'm going to do Command+Plus again, just to see what's going on in more detail. You have to be careful with this feather path, because it's going to try to automatically create a path for you, but you can create some pretty crazy kinks.

The nice thing is is that you have the ability to change the tension of any of these feather points. If you've worked with RotoBezier before, you know that if you hold Option or Alt while you are over a point, you'll get a tension control. Well, it's the same thing with the feather. You can go ahead and make a hard falloff or very broad falloff. Over in the Info panel on the right, you can see it says Feather Point tension. You can also right-click on any feather point and manually edit Tension, Radius-- for example make it a little broader of a feather.

Now I have a nice big balloon look over his head, but I'll undo. There's another very useful command that's not available by right-clicking on the feather point and that is, what is the feather falloff like from the inner to outer mask? To see what's really going on, I am going to switch to viewing just the alpha channel, so I see my black-to-white icon. With my mask selected, I'll go to Layer > Mask > Feather Falloff. The choices are Smooth, which is the default, and Linear.

Linear is a straight gradient of 100% at the inner to zero percent at the outer. And you might think that's what you want; however, there's an interesting visual phenomenon with the Linear, particularly if I turn off the mask outlines. Even though this is a perfect falloff from this point onward, that sharp transition results in what looks like a sharp line around your object. If that's not what you want, with the mask selected, go back to Layer > Mask > Feather Falloff > Smooth, and you get more of an S-shaped falloff, which will avoid those hard lines around where the feather falloff starts. And I'll turn on my mask outlines back on again.

Go back to viewing the RGB channels. I'll actually do Command+Minus to go back down to see this whole layer again. There are some other cool things you can do. For example, if I pull out another feather point here, it either interpolates around until it sees the next feather point, say maybe there, or by right-clicking on any one of these points, you can create a hold. What that basically does is, keep the same feather, rather than interpolate, kind of like keyframes, until it hits the next feather point.

That means I can go ahead and drag this out or in and you'll see there is a sharp falloff of transition when it reaches that next mask feather point. Undo, undo, undo to get rid of those points. The other cool thing is that you can drag out a whole edge and feather it. You see, normally if have the feather over a line like this, I get a plus symbol, indicating it's going to add a mask feather. But if I hold down the Shift key, I'll get a double plus. The double-plus means pull out a mask feather for a line segment from the vertex on the left to the vertex on the right.

And you see and I have a hold from this point to that point. You can also select multiple points and drag them that way. I'll hold Shift and drag this edge out as well. And so that's another little convenience inside there. If you find this feather boundary to be annoying, by the way--you just want to see the normal mask outline--you can go up to the normal View Options for your Comp panel and separately turn on or off Mask Feather Boundaries. So you'll see just the mask and still get your points, but you won't get the dotted line for the feather falloff.

After you're used to the idea of what feather is and that it exists, I personally find that these points by themselves are enough for me to know what it is I am doing. I don't necessarily need to see that dotted line. But if you are new to feathering, it's useful to go ahead and get that dotted line of the feather boundaries so that you have a better understanding for exactly what is going on with that feather outline.

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After Effects CS6 New Features

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