Blackmagic Fusion: Clean Plates

Painting clean plates is another task commonly assigned to junior compositors. While roto is an easy and tedious job, paint can be very challenging. Every shot brings unique challenges, and many will require you to use a variety of techniques. A shot might require paint work in order to remove wires or other rigs that were necessary for the shot but shouldn't appear in the finished work. Sometimes lighting or sound equipment is visible accidentally and needs to be removed, or it was impossible to shoot a fantasy piece in the countryside without telephone wires visible in the background. Perhaps an effect calls for a character to dissolve into mist, and you need to create whatever set should have been behind them.

Although I use the term "paint," the Paint tool is usually not the first tool I reach for when doing this kind of work. If you attempt to touch up an image frame-by-frame by painting on it, you will almost certainly introduce chatter—pixels that dance and flicker—because it is virtually impossible to repeat a paint stroke from frame to frame, particularly if the image being painted is also moving. Transforms, warps, image filtering, and other methods are all used to supplement the Paint tool when the time comes to remove something from the frame. Let's get to work.Continue reading →

Blackmagic Fusion: Rotoscoping and Keying

The creation of mattes from moving footage is a crucial, though sometimes tedious, part of making visual effects. It is a rare shot that does not require a matte of some kind. Let's first talk about what exactly a matte is and a few methods that can be used to generate them.

First, the words matte and mask are used mostly interchangeably, although matte is not often used as a verb. A matte is a single-channel image that is used to isolate a part of an image, either to prevent it from being changed or to restrict changes to only that area. You might come across the term "traveling matte," which simply means the matte image moves, probably to follow whatever object in the scene it is meant to isolate. You might also run across reference to an "articulated" matte or roto, which usually means a matte made up of several pieces that can move independently to cover something complex, like a person.

Rotoscoping (roto, for short) uses splines, like the Polygon tool we used in the Basics lesson, to create outlines around a subject. It is a time-consuming job that is frequently assigned to junior compositors or dedicated roto artists in order to save the mid- and senior-level artists (and their higher salaries) for more demanding tasks. As such, it's an important skill to learn to do well and quickly if you want to show your worth to a visual effects studio.

lightsabergreenscreenKeying uses the color values in the image to try to separate the subject from the background. Although the most obvious use for keying is isolating actors on a green or blue screen stage, it can also be used on any object that is of a different color than whatever surrounds it. In the previous lesson, we could have used a keying operation to make a matte for the orange gun barrel and possibly skipped the tracking step entirely.Continue reading →

Blackmagic Fusion: The Interface and Tracking

The Viewer Panels

Before we get into the lesson on Motion Tracking, let's take a walk through more of Fusion's interface. We have already had an overview of the Viewers, the Flow view, the Tools view, the toolbar, and the playback controls. There are quite a few other views and functions that you will find very useful as you grow as a compositor. Let's start with all of those buttons at the bottom of the Viewer:

Starting with the upper-left, we have the SubView button, labeled "SubV." This button turns on an information panel overlaid on the Viewer, as you can see in the upper-right corner of this image. Right now, it's set to display a waveform monitor, a very useful tool for viewing the luminance range of your image. The small triangle next to the button activates a pop-up menu, which you can use to choose the specific SubView you want to see.Continue reading →

The Student Loan Problem

As of the publication of this post, I have $81,411.15 in student loan debt, courtesy of the Art Institute of Colorado (whose parent organization, Education Management Corporation, has settled at least one large lawsuit alleging student loan fraud.) The debt paid for two years of tuition, supplies, room and board at a private, for-profit art school and was supplemented a bit by grants and scholarships. My back-of-an-envelope calculations suggest that a four-year degree at a state University would cost a similar amount. A student attending an in-state public University and living with their parents would spend about $36,000. A student living in a dorm at an out-of-state public University could spend upward of $135,000¹. So $80,000 does not represent an atypical debt for a student graduating within the last five years. I therefore consider myself well situated to talk about this topic.

It might be expected that I would be all for any plan to forgive student debt. Who wouldn't want $80,000 added to their net worth in one swell foop? The trouble is that such a move is just moving beans from one bowl to another. It relieves borrowers of their responsibility for their choices (bad, in my opinion) and potentially serves to increase the federal budget deficit (bad, in almost everyone's opinion). It would also spur an even bigger money grab by certain Universities. It's a bad idea, and not one that I see ever making it through the legislature, even if the Democrats had locked away the election.

I think, however, that there are some very fair ways of helping to reduce the burden on students.Continue reading →

Blackmagic Fusion: The Basics

The following article is a chapter in a forthcoming compositing textbook. There are references to chapters and appendices that have not yet been written. As those chapters are completed, I will link to them. For now, please be patient.

Last time we covered importing footage with Loaders, handling color space with the Gamut and CineonLog tools, the Viewports and Time Ruler, and rendering out the finished product with a Saver. There wasn't much in the way of actual finished product to be had, though, so this time around we'll construct a simple composite and learn about some of the most important tools in the compositor's kit: Merges, Color Corrects, Transforms, and Masks.Continue reading →

Anatomy of an Image

I am not entirely certain whether this information should be a chapter of its own, an appendix, or be sprinkled throughout the rest of the text. For now, I'm going to treat it as an appendix to Chapter One. Maybe it will just remain as an article on the blog to which the main text will refer by link and reference.

It's tempting when someone starts going on about LUTs and gamma and gamuts to let your eyes just glaze over and then ignore them until they go away. Unless you're one of the nerdiest nerds who loves to talk about bit-rates and logarithmic response curves, you're probably eager to skip all off the color management stuff and jump straight to the Art.

Bad news: You're going to have to learn at least some of the tech stuff if you're going to be a good compositor. You can be an adequate compositor without all of this, but who wants to settle for merely adequate? You don't have to learn it all in one huge bite like I'm giving it to you here. Read through it, but if you don't understand something right now, don't worry about it—you can come back and read pieces of it again once you've got some better context.Continue reading →

Card Wipe Transition for Fusion – Developer's Diary

The Glitch Tools macro collection I am working on is, in large part, based on a template for After Effects that we have at work. I am not sure where the template came from, probably VideoHive. In any case, one of the glitches depends on After Effects' Card Wipe transition. That's the kind of thing that Fusion doesn't have right out of the box, but that I think I can reconstruct using the 3d system. Since I have had a number of questions recently about macros and expressions, I thought it might be instructive to document my process on creating this thing.Continue reading →

Blackmagic Fusion: Getting Started

Getting Started in Blackmagic Fusion

These articles are mostly based on Fusion 8.2 build 2 running on Windows 7 with an nVidia GPU. There are some slight differences in the interface between Fusion 8 and previous versions. I will do my best to highlight them as they come up throughout this series. For the first couple of lessons I was using Fusion 7, though, so some of the screenshots will look a little different from your interface, regardless of which version you are using.

A note for Mac users: As is typical with most software, the Windows Control key is Mac's Command key. As I am sure you know that already, I won't continue to insult your intelligence by pointing it out every three paragraphs.

This lesson covers importing footage into Fusion, converting it to linear color, viewing and playing it, and exporting it back out in the file format of your choice. Where Fusion differs greatly from Nuke and After Effects, I will make note of it. Continue reading →

Blackmagic Fusion: Expressions

In order to get some early feedback on this chapter of a forthcoming book, I am publishing it early. There are references to other chapters that have been written but are not currently published. 


Computer Graphics is half art and half science. Some practitioners lean more one way or the other, but all of us blend both disciplines in our work to some extent. Expressions are one way in which you can bring a little bit of engineering into your compositing workflow. They allow you to automate animation, to connect the properties of one node to another, and to use programming techniques to make your tools more responsive and interactive.

In this article, I will take you through several applications of expressions and start to set up a foundation on which we will build a solid understanding of tool development, scripting, and automation in Fusion.Continue reading →

Face Replacement with PFTrack, 3DS Max and Fusion

The first year of my time at Muse VFX was spent almost exclusively on the Disney's Dog With a Blog. For those not familiar with the show, it's about a talking dog that (surprise!) has a blog. In a half-hour sitcom, there were typically 30 – 40 shots of Stan with a CG face. By the time Season 3 came around, we had a pretty bullet-proof and fast pipeline in place.

G. Hannelius as Avery Jennings and Mick as Stan the Dog. Copyright It's a Laugh Productions and Disney Channels Worldwide. Stan's brows, eyes, muzzle and jaw are CGI. His ears, nose, and parts of his cheek are real.

I won't give you all of the pieces here, but I would like to describe one particular technique that made many other things possible.Continue reading →