… for Visual Effects

Tip #394: Why Use Vignettes

Vignettes conjure emotions of the “old times,” romance, and warmth.

A vignette applied to a wedding photo.

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A vignette, in film, darkens the edges of the frame to focus the attention of the eye on the brighter portion of the image at the center.

In the old days, photographs created these automatically because the lens was not particularly good at passing the same amount of light across the entire exposure. The center was always brighter than the edges.

Since those early days, lenses have improved tremendously, which is why we associate vignettes with older images, romance, or something historical.

This screen shot illustrates a vignette – see the darkening from the center out to the edges of the image? It also illustrates a typical use – to subtly highlight the subject at the center, while lending a feeling of warmth and romance to the image.

To be most effective, a vignette should be subtle; it’s a darkening of the edges, not a spotlight on the center.

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… for Visual Effects

Tip #450: What Does Sharpening Do?

Sharpening adjusts the apparent focus of a clip.

The top is unsharpened, the bottom is significantly sharpened.

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Sharpening adjusts the apparent focus of a clip, without actually changing its focus.

Sharpening adjusts the contrast at the edges of objects in an image to improve their apparent focus. What our eye sees as “focus” is actually the sharpness of the edges between a foreground object and the background. If the edges are sharp, our eye considers the image in focus. If not, we consider the image – or that part of the image at least – blurry.

Unsharp Masking (which is the preferred method of sharpening) enhances the contrast between two adjacent edges. Our eye perceives that improved contrast as improved focus, though nothing about the focus of an image has changed.

When using Unsharp Mask, a little goes a long way. A Radius setting between 1.5 and 4 will yield perceptible results without making the image look like bad VHS tape.

… for Visual Effects

Tip #340: Quick Green Screen Lighting Tip

The sun makes a great set light.

Using the sun as a set light is OK by me.

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Looking for a fast way to evenly light a green-screen background?

Move outside.

Let the sun light both your talent and background. However, to avoid screaming at your screen during editing, make SURE your green – or blue – background is as smooth as possible. Wrinkles are almost impossible to key well.

… for Visual Effects

Tip #338: How to Create Retro Looks

These can be used in Premiere Pro, After Effects, Final Cut Pro X and Media Composer.

An image from a Red Giant tutorial on using Universe.

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This tip – featuring Red Giant Universe effects – first appeared as part of a YouTube segment from Kelsey Brannan, showing how this can be created in Premiere Pro. However, these effects can be applied in recent versions of Final Cut Pro X, Avid Media Composer, and After Effects, as well.

Select the clips to which you want to apply a retro look.

NOTE: A “retro” look is one that makes your footage look like it was shot years ago, using older technology.

  • Search for Universe Stylize in your Effects browser.
  • Within the folder, select uni.retrograde
  • Inside uni.retrograde, browse the presets to view a selection of 8mm and 16mm scans
  • To give a bit more “stuttery” effect to movement, select 18 FPS
  • Adjust frame, vignette, grime, and color treatment settings to create a more realistic effect


Here’s the link to Kelsey’s original video.

And here’s the link to learn more about Red Giant Universe.

… for Visual Effects

Tip #435: Faster Still Image Rotoscoping

The secret is to let Photoshop figure out where the edges are.

The girl was rotoscoped, then the color was removed from the background.

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Rotoscoping allows you to select a portion of an image by tracing the edges of the subject you want to isolate. The problem is that rotoscoping is really, really tricky; especially when hair or other soft edges get involved.

While this tip involves Photoshop, I’ve used it constantly to extract images for my video projects.

  • Open the image you want to rotoscope in Photoshop.
  • Convert the image to a layer; click the small lock icon on the right side of the layer.
  • Choose Select > Subject. (I don’t know when this feature showed up, but it’s magical.)

Photoshop makes its best guess and selects what it thinks is the subject. At which point, you can do whatever you want with it.


To create this screen shot:

  • Convert the image to a layer
  • Chose Select > Subject
  • Inverted the selection
  • Deleted the color from the selection

Took me 15 seconds. And, yes, I remember how hard this was in the past.

… for Visual Effects

Tip #436: What is a B-spline Curve?

B-splines are used to create shapes with no sharp corners.

An example of an open-ended B-spline curve.

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B-spline curves (short for Basis spline) are frequently used to create shapes because, unlike Bézier curves, B-splines have no corners.

A B-spline is a combination of flexible bands that pass through a number of points (called control points) to create smooth curves. These functions enable the creation and management of complex shapes and surfaces using a number of points. B-spline and Bézier functions are applied extensively for shape optimization.

B-splines can be open (where the ends are not connected, as in this screen shot), or closed.

The shape of the B-spline is determined by moving the nodes, the red dots in this illustration. These act as magnets, attracting the shape of the curve as the nodes move.

Neither Premiere nor Final Cut support B-splines, but After Effects and Motion do.


An extension of B-splines are NURBS (short for “non-uniform rational B-splines”). The big benefit to NURBS is that they can exist in three dimensions. I’d, ah, show you the equations for these, but they make my brain hurt.

… for Visual Effects

Tip #403: Blue or Green: Which Keys Better?

Green and blue background yield different results.

Typical green-screen background and lighting.

Topic $TipTopic

This article, written by Charles Yeager, first appeared in PremiumBeat.com. This is an excerpt.

Chroma key compositing is the actual technique of layering two images together based on color hues. The solid color background essentially acts like a matte for your footage. Later, in post-production, you can remove the solid color background to make it transparent, allowing for compositing.

We use green and blue backgrounds because they are the furthest colors from human skin tones. But the two colors don’t give the same results. In an EXCELLENT article, Charles Yeager explains when to use green and when to use blue backgrounds. Here are the highlights:

Green Screens Pros:

  • Results in a cleaner key because digital cameras pick up more information
  • Requires less lighting
  • High luminance is good for daytime scenes
  • Uncommon color in clothing

Green Screen Cons:

  • Color spill can be too heavy, especially on fine details and edges (or blonde hair)
  • High luminance is not great for dark or night scenes

Blue Screen Pros:

  • Less color spill is great for subjects with fine details and edges
  • Lower luminance is good for dark or night scenes

Blue Screen Cons:

  • Requires more lighting, which can be expensive
  • Common clothing color, making it difficult to key in post

… for Visual Effects

Tip #413: Mask Multiple Clips with an Adjustment Layer

Adjustment layer masks can apply to one or more clips.

Masking applied to an adjustment layer in Final Cut Pro X.

Topic $TipTopic

Both Adobe Premiere Pro and Apple Final Cut Pro X support adjustment layers; though you’ll need to create one first for Final Cut. This is a technique you can use in both.

NOTE: This tutorial explains how to create an adjustment layer for FCP X.

If you want to mask a single clip, Draw Mask in FCP X, or the masking tools in the Effect Controls panel (Premiere) work great. But, what if you want to mask multiple clips?

Well, you could create a mask in one clip, then copy and paste it to multiple clips. That works, until you need to make a change. Adjusting multiple clips is a pain in the neck.

Here’s the better way: Use an adjustment layer.

In Premiere:

  • Open the sequence you want to mask.
  • Choose File > New > Adjustment layer and match the settings in your sequence.
  • Add the adjustment layer to the top of your timeline, then select it.
  • Use the masking tools in the Effect Controls panel to create the shape and effect you want.


  • After you create an adjustment layer, you’ll find it in the Titles browser. Drag it so it is on top of all other clips in the timeline.
  • Apply Effects > Masks > Draw Mask to the adjustment layer.
  • Create the shape and effect you want.

In both software, once the mask is applied to the adjustment layer, all clips under it will be masked. If you need to make changes, you only need to change the adjustment layer.

This is a huge timesaver.

… for Visual Effects

Tip #418: What is an Anchor Point?

The anchor point determines rotation and scaling.

A repositioned anchor point in Adobe Premiere Pro CC.

Topic $TipTopic

When it comes to altering the position of an image, both Premiere and Final Cut allow us to adjust the “anchor point.” But what does it do?

The anchor point is that spot around which an image rotates or scales.

By default, it is in the center of the frame, allowing us to rotate or scale from the center. However, you can achieve some interesting effects by moving it.

In Premiere:

  • Select the clip you want to adjust. (Anchor points are adjusted on a clip-by-clip basis.)
  • Click the word Motion in Effect Controls, then drag the plus sign in a circle in the Program Monitor to where you want to reposition the anchor point. (See the screen shot.)

In Final Cut Pro X:

  • Select the clip you want to adjust. (Like Premiere, anchor points are adjusted on a clip-by-clip basis.)
  • While you can’t adjust the anchor point by dragging, you can change its position in the Video inspector > Transform > Anchor.

Finally, adjust rotation or scale and watch what happens.

… for Visual Effects

Tip #390: Super-slow Motion in DaVinci Resolve

Super-slo-mo, without requiring a special camera.

Topic $TipTopic

This article, written by Rubidium Wu, first appeared in PremiumBeat. This is an excerpt.

Using some fancy new AI, DaVinci Resolve 16 can take your 60p footage and slow it down significantly by guessing what would be in-between the missing frames.

You need to first import for 60p footage into a 24p project. Before you drop it on the timeline, select Interpret Footage and tell Resolve to use it as 24p footage. Once you drop that part of your clip, you want to slow further. Select Change Speed from the contextual menu, and experiment with the settings. To get a 120 fps effect, reduce the speed by fifty percent.

The next step is to stay in the edit page and select the Speed and Timing tab. Instead of the default Project setting, set the retime process to Optical Flow and the Motion Estimation to Speed Warp.

You’ll need to reselect the part of the clip you want to slow down, since the retiming will tamper with the part that appears in the timeline. Once you’re happy with the selected area, render it out before doing any kind of color grade or editing. Unless you have a monster spec computer, it won’t play back in anything close to real time.

Once you’ve rendered the clip, import it back into Resolve, and you’ll have super-slow, smooth, 120p footage. This method works best when the movement itself isn’t too dramatic. If the object moves too fast, the optical flow will have a hard time guessing the missing pixels.