By Brady Betzel
In this tutorial, I’m going to breakdown Avid’s inability to import video with pre-multiplied alpha channels and also show you how to use blending modes inside of Avid’s Media Composer — with and without third-party plug-ins.
For those who don’t know, an alpha channel is a way to designate what is cutout of a particular graphic, typically white is the part of the image you will see and black is part you see through (sometimes they are reversed) and inside of the Avid Media Composer’s import settings you can invert alpha channels.
Unfortunately, those of us who are Media Composer/Symphony users know we can’t import pre-multiplied alpha channels. It’s a fact. In simple terms, pre-multiplied alpha channels help blend the image to be composited over the background by using semi-transparent pixels. Think of a black and white gradient where black slowly fades into white; the grey areas would be semi-transparent if it were a matte. So that takes care of what an alpha channel is or isn’t.
At some point, you will be given graphics that have pre-multiplied alpha channels. So if you are working in Media Composer, you’ll have to reach out to the graphic’s creator and ask him or her to either create straight alpha channels or give you the matte and the fill layer needed to create your own Matte Key inside of Media Composer. What will probably happen is the graphics creator will in a smart-ass-like way say, “Why can’t you use a pre-multiplied alpha? Maybe you should use Premiere or FCP.” But that’s another discussion.
I originally ran into the pre-multiplied alpha dilemma head on when I first reviewed Rampant Design Tool’s Extreme Drive particularly with FlareFX (now known as Indie Essentials) I learned how to get around Avid’s premultiplied alpha importing limitation after watching a great video tutorial by Kevin P. McAuliffe where he goes through Avid’s built-in tools (Color Correction and Matte Key Effect) to fix this (which I will be borrowing from in this tutorial). Essentially we will be creating our own pre-multiplied alpha channel inside of Media Composer.
The Rampant QuickTimes were created with a pre-multiplied alpha channel, so when I dropped one of the beautiful flares on top of my footage it had a halo-like effect that wasn’t intended; this was Avid interpreting the alpha channel straight even though it was pre-multiplied. Sometimes it’s not a big difference but most of the time it just doesn’t look right.
I’m going to be going through a few different ways to either use a blending/composite mode like Add or Screen, or create your own “pre-multiplied” alpha channel using Boris FX Boris Continuum Complete and Avid’s built-in Color Correction and Matte Key Effects. After that I will show a quick example using Rampant Design Tool’s latest product, Rampant Distortion Toolkit, to make a title using blending modes inside of Media Composer without third-party products. This will include annoying an assistant editor when working in an offline/online workflow by replacing the fill layer of an Avid Title (this is more of a what not to do, and if you do end up doing it you better know how to fix it, otherwise your assistant editors may not like you too much!).
1. Making your own pre-multiplied alpha channel using Avid’s built-in FX: Color Correction and Matte Key:
Add the footage you want to make a matte and fill for to V2 and V3 over the background footage.
The content on V2 is what will be the fill layer (the actual overlay image). V3 will be the matte layer (the cookie cutter). Add the Color Correction effect to the video on V3 (Image > Color Correction) and under HSL>Controls>Master, pull the saturation to 0.
This will create a black, white and grey image — perfect to become the “premultiplied” alpha channel. On top of the Color Effect on V3 add the Matte Key effect (Key>Matte Key) by holding alt+click and drag the effect over Color Effect, then in effects mode under “Foreground” check “invert key.”
TIP: You can also use Segment Mode, highlight the clip on V3 and alt+double click the Matte Key effect. By using the alt+drag or click method it will essentially nest the Color Effect.
Now you should have a properly cutout image over your background. If you think it needs a little tweaking or matte choking you can go into effects mode and adjust the Gain, Gamma and Setup to adjust the Highlights, Midtones and Shadows on the Color Correction Effect.
2. How to use blending/composite modes inside of Avid Media Composer:
Before I begin, there is a caveat to this technique: prior to Media Composer 8, Avid included the software AvidFX with purchase. Now you must purchase it separately from www.borisfx.com (called Boris Red — it costs $995). If you own AvidFX from a previous Media Composer install it; will continue to work, but otherwise you must purchase Boris Red. To be completely honest I rarely use Avid FX because it’s a little confusing to use but it does have a few perks, including the one I’m about to show you. [If you like how it works go to http://www.borisfx.com/videos/RED where they have some good tutorials that will get you up and running.] AvidFX is an “After Effects-like” plug-in that works inside of Media Composer, adding the huge benefit of not having to jump out of Media Composer for certain effects like importing EPS files, extruding text, drawing masks, etc.
The first step in getting Media Composer to let you use blending/composite modes is to place the footage you want to use as the background on V1 and the footage you want to add the blend/composite mode to on V2. Then place the AvidFX filter from the Avid Effects Palette on top of the footage on V2.
Go into the AvidFX program by entering into FX mode, then click the box in the effects editor that says, “Launch User Interface.”
Once inside, twirl down Video 1’s options in the timeline, twirl down “Face” and make sure there is “V1” selected, if not click on the “V” and select it — this is the layer that will be the composited layer. Next, in the upper right you should see the tabs “Controls” and “Library Browser” if you are in the “Standard” workspace. (You can switch workspaces by going to Window > Workspace and changing to your desired layout.) Click on the “Controls” tab > “Composite” tab. Here you can access “Apply Mode” a.k.a. blending or composite modes such as Add, Screen, Overlay, etc. Once done tweaking your composite, you can quit out of AvidFX (be sure to save what you’ve done).
You now have an effect that is a blending/composite mode! Lucky you. While this may work most of the time, I suggest you dial in your settings for your different Rampant Design Tools overlays, sometimes Hard Light looks awesome for one overlay like FilmFX but sometimes a simple Add will do it, Speed Lights for example.
3. Using Boris FX Boris Continuum Complete to make an Alpha channel:
This is easy if you are lucky enough to have the Boris FX Boris Continuum Complete package of plug-ins. Set up your timeline with the overlay on top of the background layer, go to the effects tab in Media Composer, select BCC Key & Blend then either choose BCC Composite RT or BCC Make Alpha.
I won’t be getting into the differences between the RT and regular versions except to say that you don’t need to render RT plug-ins in the BCC Suite. Done! If you don’t already have the Boris Continuum Complete package, check out my review of it here.
Now that we’ve gotten through the tough parts, let’s have some fun! Rampant Design Tools recently released a package called the Distortion Toolkit, which can be purchased as a download or on a USB 3.0 drive in 2K, 4K, or even 5K formats! It’s packed full of analog and digital distortions, data stream glitches and my go-to: distortion transitions. I can’t give away too many of my secrets, but let me tell you that the show I edit is running Rampant with the Distortion Toolkit.
In Media Composer it’s sometimes hard to do complex title effects without the use of third-party plug-ins like BCC, so I often jump into Adobe After Effects to use distortion effects with titles including track mattes revealing the text and various other incarnations. I usually avoid doing it in Media Composer because of the offline to online workflow that I often work in.
Avid creates titles in a way that can be built at a very low resolution for space sake and then once the timeline is ready to be color corrected, it is brought back at full resolution including the titles. If you do anything to the title’s fill layer in an offline resolution you basically destroy the ability for Avid to recreate your titles (with your new fill layer effects). In fact they will revert to the original state losing all of the awesome fill layer you created. So here is where I tell you that you shouldn’t do what I am about to show you if you work in an offline/online type of environment unless you realize you will have to fix this or have an assistant editor pulling their hair out trying to recreate your “magic.”
In full resolution you can go inside of the title Matte and replace the fill layer. No revelation there really, but this can be very helpful when trying to create a unique title with something like Rampant’s Tools Distortion Toolkit. We will even use the compositing techniques I showed earlier.
I created a title using the Avid Title Tool, stepped into the title in the timeline, replaced the fill layer with my Rampant Tools Distortion Transition 009, added the Add mode effect from the AvidFX effect we created earlier, and placed it over my background image. (I had to use Avid’s Collapse effect – basically a nesting effect that can be found in the command palette to combine the Rampant Effect and my background image for this to work properly). It’s a pretty simple trick that can really spice up a boring title fast.
Sean and Stefanie Mullen over at Rampant Design Tools really make great products. From Rampant Music for Editors to the amazing 4K Studio Flares I save tons of time by not having to create these elements myself — and they look awesome! You can find the Distortion Toolkit here. If nothing else check out their free pack of Distortion elements on that page, you don’t have an option…it’s free.
So now that you know how to create your own “premultiplied” alpha channels and use AvidFX to embrace blending/composite modes inside of Avid Media Composer.
Brady Betzel is an editor at Bunim Murray Productions, a reality television production company. He is one of the editors on Bad Girls Club. His typical tools at work are Avid Symphony, Adobe After Effects CC, and Adobe Photoshop CC. You can email Brady at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow him on Twitter, @allbetzroff.