Cut It Out!

Ah, the words of Dave Coulier have never resonated stronger in my life than in recent days. Sure there were times on the playground in 4th grade when Full House lingo may have been more frequent, but not until I started editing did I consider Uncle Joey’s catch phrase to become a way of life. In a situation where a nice After Effects sequence or a Motion graphic project could jazz up a portion of a video that needs a little jazzing, I look to my go-to secondary editing program: Photoshop.

You could say that I’m not skilled enough in After Effects and Motion to utilize them enough so I resort to Photoshop. Well, that would be mean to say, and you know what, I think your shirt is ugly and you have poor taste in restaurants. I like to think that I use Photoshop in a good enough way that it could be the program I look to for sprucing things up, just by cutting up and rebuilding photos. So despite what my Dad insists, Photoshop can be used for more than eliminating red eye in pictures of his dog.

What I mean by cutting up and rebuilding photos is exactly what it sounds like. Bust out the lasso tool, and cut out multiple objects in the foreground of the shot, make them their own individual images, then build them back together like a puzzle. In certain situations where you need just a little extra spark in a video that is supposed to be a little more lively than the untouched footage has the capabilities of, cutting things out of images can be a cheap and easy way to do so. I know this is nothing new to anyone, it’s not like I invented the equivalent of Goober PB&J sandwich spread, but I think it works for brief moments where, again, you need something more than a dissolve to a panning photo. Some people think it looks cool, you may not think the same, and in that case, I think your shoes are stupid, so there. At the very least it is more interesting than dissolves and zooms.

Here’s an example; I needed a moderately flashy opening for this video about this dude, and I had a bunch of shots of him playing instruments, so I thought I would take a still image from the video of him playing the drums, and isolate them, and make him fly onto the drum set over a background.

So I took the first frame of the shot I was planning on playing out after the photo work, and I cut out the drums with a combination of a bunch of the select/cutting out tools, mainly the polygonal lasso tool. It takes a little time to get it to look pretty good, as a rushed job would look pretty noticeable I suppose, so just zoom in real close and trace around the drum set. I love doing this kinda stuff, when I was a kid I loved to draw, and I would draw all the time, but the only thing was that I was a horrible artist. So for my birthday one year, probably in an act of sympathy for my lack of artistic talent, my mom bought me a big notebook of tracing paper. I loved it, as it made me appear as if I knew how to draw. All it really did was raise my childhood self esteem by doing a quasi-talent (kind of like being good at Guitar Hero, but terrible at actual guitar). Anyway, the same fun principal applies here, just trace around the drums until you’ve got a good outline, and shift-drag it onto a transparent document of the same size.

Well now there is a cut out of the drums on the guy’s body, because obviously this isn’t an x-ray camera that can magically see through the drums and fill in the body. But cut out the guy’s body from the background anyway, shift-drag him to a different transparent document of the same size, and start filling in the gaps with the clone stamp and paint tools. It will look crappy most likely unless you are the Picasso of computer painting, but in this case it doesn’t matter because I’m going to have him fly across the screen in roughly one second of duration, so no one will really be watching for it.

So then in Final Cut, put both of the isolated transparent images in the timeline with the back end of it right before the actual start of the moving video (which should be starting with the same frame as the stills).

Then put a center keyframe at the back end of the guy’s image, and go to where you want him to come in, and pull him off screen. Now he will fly from off screen and settle in on the drum set. Put a little move on the front of the drum set and you’ve got yourself a neat little movement going on. It’s actually pretty easy. [you can look at the video after next example]

Later in the video I was told I needed to make a file cabinet do something cool. A file cabinet?! Alright. Same concept as the drums, take the first frame of where you want the moving video to start, make it an image, and start cutting away! Trace around the files in the file cabinet and make them all their own individual transparent images of the same size.

Now once again the image that had stuff covering it in the foreground (the cabinet sides) has some transparent gaps in it, so use clone stamp and paint and blur and whatever else you need to to get it to look like it is it’s own object that didn’t have anything on it to begin with. I put in a large black abyss on the right because I thought it worked.

Then again in the FCP, put all the layers down on top of each other (with the cabinet structure on the bottom) and build on the files themselves as you see fit, and when it’s lined up correctly with the start of the video, it will seem like your still image has COME ALIVE…! It’s an easy effect, and it makes a file cabinet look more interesting than just transitioning the shot onto the screen

In this excerpt from this other video, you can also build on pictures while they’re moving by cutting out the foreground objects that you want to build on, then put them all in on top of each other where you want them in the timeline. Then disable the foreground layers, and put whatever move you’d like on the bottom layer (which is the full uncut picture), then enable the other layers and copy the keyframes from the one you put the moves on to the foreground layers. Then cut them at the front of the clips where you want them to build on. (Also, I didn’t pick this song, I don’t even know who the artist is, and it got changed to a Michael Jackson song in the end, but I like the timing better on this song for certain areas [like the ones I’m showing you here]. But yeah, just saying, I listen to Lou Reed and The Clash, just trying to save my musical credibility…)


Then in this last example, I just cut out a bunch of photos for this highlight video into three layers each, and just mashed them together into a sequence. I tried to get the photos to play off of each other when I could, and have them flow to a degree. My initial idea (which may or may not have come true) was to achieve “a subtle Ken Burns effect on cocaine”. It’s very simple in execution, by just building on the layers one at a time until the full picture is revealed, then putting a move on the full picture.

I thought it looked cool in the end. I was going for “wacky” so I sort of went insane with the transitions, but you could tone it down if you wanted to do so, I don’t see why you couldn’t, it’s a free country for the most part. So, I just timed it all to an awesome song by The Cars, and in my opinion it is better than just Ken Burnsing the photos into a sequence. It might be too unsubtle for some people’s tastes, but it could work however you want it to work. And again, it really isn’t that hard to do any of this, you just need to have the time to cut the pictures out. And for this particular project, as the Stones would say “Time is on my side… yes it is!”

The SuiteTake

This is not a new concept to anyone, but perhaps you can do a variation of this to solve a problem of how to make a still image a little different in a video where you need something a little different. Maybe my examples aren’t your cup o’ tea, but I remember two things from my vacation to Disney World in the 2nd grade. I got to meet April O’Neal from the Ninja Turtles (whom I had a crush on at the time), and I also remembered the words of Dr. Dreamfinder and his pet dragon Figment, “Imagination is our key to unlock the hidden wonders of our world.” So maybe you can come up with something better yourself! (by the way, have you noticed how Disney hasn’t exactly been pushing the imagination theory on kids nowadays, like they did with my generation in the late 80s/early 90s? Every kid I see lately is a mindless dullard…)

And if you don’t like the effect at all, then well, I think you’re singing talent is mediocre and you have a less than satisfactory body odor.


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