Join Mark Christiansen for an in-depth discussion in this video Essential 1: Know how to match, part of After Effects Compositing 01: Intro to VFX.
- This lesson provides a quick and easy introduction to the color matching methods that I use throughout my courses. At the end, I'll tell you where to go to fully master this technique. So here is an incredibly fake-looking shot of a blimp over New York City. I'm going to fix it with levels. This is an effect that you've, no doubt, used every day. And in this lesson I want to show you how to use levels very scientifically, like a visual effects artist does, to match a scene together, and how to do this even if you have no sense of color.
So, if you have some sense of color, you probably think you know what to do here. That blimp needs to be bluer to match that scene, so I'll go to the Blue channel and I'll start messing around with some controls. Whoops, that's too green. So I'll just make it a little bluer. Hmm, that doesn't really look right. Let's not do it that way. Instead, I'm going to start with the Green channel. And I'm going to make it look like a good black and white photo, which it does not. It looks just as fake on green as it does in RGB.
I'm going to leave RGB on in levels. Green is the most dominant color to our eye, and so the green-matching method basically takes care of green first to just get the overall contrast correct. So, I would say that the blacks are a little bit too deep, so I could lift the blacks, or decrease the contrast, just slightly. And then I would say that the whites are just nowhere near bright enough to match what I see in that background scene. So I'm going to increase the contrast of the whites.
Now that already looks better, and if I go back to RGB, it does indeed look a whole lot better than it did before we started. But we're not done yet. From green, I go to either of the other two channels. So, in this case, I'll just arbitrarily go to red, because who knows what's going on in red in this scene. So again I'll zoom in a little bit. There are other movies in which I show how to use the Info panel to do this, but here I'm just doing it by eye.
And I can see that in red, we actually need a bit of extra contrast in the blacks, so I will raise Red Input Black. And I would say that the whites are a bit arbitrary. They can be as bright as I want, so I think I'm going to leave them alone. And I'll go to the Blue channel. Also switch my View to the Blue channel, and I would say that now the highlights, if anything, look a little bit hot, but what really looks too hot is just the center of the blimp.
There are a lot of mid-tone grays in this scene, and although the highest highlights look fine, there's kind of a missing gray area. So, that means I want to adjust Gamma, which is a really risky thing to do on an individual color channel, but we're going to go ahead and do it, for the sake of making a good grayscale image here. So that looks quite a bit better. If I look at the blacks, they also look too contrasty, so I'm going to lift them, or rather, adjust Blue Output Black, if you want to be precise about it in levels terms.
OK, let's take a look at what I've got back in RGB. Well it's too green, so you might think, well, that was a fail. But, in fact, we haven't adjusted green. I could have done this in the Green channel, but why not just look at it now in RGB and notice that by making a Gamma adjustment here, because that problem is in the mid-tones, with a very slight shift, I can nudge that green toward a warmer red, but I don't want to go too far.
And now, I have a blimp that color-wise matches pretty convincingly, and now my issue with it is I just want it to be smaller and more on the horizon rather than right here in the front of the scene, since I've been matching it more to that background. That's always what I planned to do, by the way. So, let's just scale it down.
And now, before and after, we have a blimp that plausibly does fit into that sky. Now, if you found this lesson to be helpful and you'd like to learn more about this, I encourage you to go straight over to the course called, "After Effects Compositing Essentials: Matching Foreground to Background" and just start from the beginning. The first two sections go into depth about how to use this method with a variety of shots, and how to incorporate related effects that are useful for this, including Hue and Saturation and Tint.
There is more that needs to be done to match this blimp to this scene, such as getting the grain matched. But for now, we'll leave it there. And so that's how you match a scene together, even if you suffer from color blindness.