Quite often, our job is to take a client’s footage and make it look better. Over the years, we’ve developed a number of techniques to do this; most revolve around placing a second clip on top of the original clip, and compositing it using a blending mode of some kind. Unless this second clip is predominantly white or black, the first mode I usually reach for is Overlay. Below is an example of this general approach:
Above left is an “ordinary” piece of footage (Artbeats clip FWR102), which would go in the lower track; the above right is an abstract “lighting” clip (Artbeats clip SF109) that we would place in the upper track. Set the Blend or Composite mode for the lighting clip to Overlay, and the result (at left) has hyped-up colors and contrast.
Overlay increases the contrast and apparent saturation in the final composite. It looks at the color values in the pixels of the second and clip and makes a decision: If the pixel is brighter than 50% gray, the resulting composite is brightened (using Screen mode); if the pixel is darker than 50% gray, the resulting composite is darkened (using Multiply mode). If the second clip is 50% gray, the layer underneath is left unchanged. Or at least, that’s the theory.
Below are the same two clips as above, this time with the lighting clip set to 50% Opacity, which should cut the intensity of the lighting effect in half. In Apple Motion or Adobe After Effects, the result is as you would expect; in Final Cut Pro (at least, through version 6.0.5), the result looks a bit washed out:
Next, we reduce the Opacity of the layer on top (in Overlay mode) to 50%. Above left is the composite inside Motion; above right is the same composite inside Final Cut Pro.
To double-check my work, I replaced the lighting layer (the clip on top) with a 50% gray solid, set its mode to Overlay, and set its Opacity to 100%. The result should be no change in the original shot in the layer underneath. In Motion and After Effects, there indeed is no change. In FCP, again, the result is a bit washed out:
Above, the lighting clip has been replaced with a 50% gray solid, set to Overlay mode, with Opacity set to 100%. The above left image is from Motion (After Effects gives the same result); the above right image is from FCP. The FCP result is worse if the Opacity of the gray solid is reduced to 50% (at left).
This is disappointing, as it hamstrings my use of one of my favorite techniques. Fortunately, it’s not as severe of a problem if I use Opacities closer to 100% or 0% for the layer on top, and I have not noticed the problem with other modes – but it’s still something I hope Apple has noticed and will fix in the next version. (And while you’re at it, could you add Color Dodge and Color Burn?) This is not a case of my After Effects bias coming through; all I ask is that it works the same as Apple’s own Motion!
If you want to learn more about composite modes and techniques based around using them, we’ve written a number of articles on the subject, including:
- an overview of composite modes in Final Cut Pro
- Spinning Gold, a column on some of our favorite tricks to improve substandard footage
- Adding a Filmic Glow: the infamous “instant sex” technique (a PDF on Artbeats.com)
- Artificial Lighting: the lighting trick touched on above (also a PDF on Artbeats.com)
If you prefer video training over text, we’ve created video versions on Lynda.com of the “filmic glow” technique for After Effects, Motion, and Final Cut Pro, and are currently putting the finishing touches on video courses that go into the lighting trick in greater detail for all three programs. If you don’t have a Lynda.com subscription, click here for a free all-access 7-day pass.
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