Make a (2-D) Virtual Stage



Introduction: Make a (2-D) Virtual Stage

I like to dabble in all things, not the least of which is film. Unfortunately, coupling an over-active imagination with a ridiculously tight budget makes producing most of my videos pretty difficult. As such, I've been looking into the magic of computers to try and smooth over any gaps in my movies where someone ought to have put some money... And so here we have a faux set (to compliment a lecturing mad scientist), built entirely in Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, and After Effects, in lieu of a piricy, hand-built set.

So, for this project, you will need a computer with:

1)Internet access or a very large selection of usable photographs
2) Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, and After Effects (Here, I use Adobe CS5)

To then use your virtual stage, you will need:
1) Actor(s)
2) Camera
3) Additional Video Editing Software

This Instructable will show the basics all the way through, and then reference additional step numbers for individual components of the space as I constructed them (just like a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure).

Before you begin, please note that I'm not going to teach the basics of using any of these programs. Do not attempt this project until you have at least a working knowledge of Photoshop, Illustrator, and, most importantly, After Effects. You should have no significant difficulty with the project then.

Step 1: Collect Your Images

Even if you're not already working from a set script, you should have some idea of what you need. Hit the Interwebs and start to compile your images. A good resource is Google Images, but make sure that you've got your settings set for Large Images only, especially if you plan to work in HD.

These images will probably need some work, isolating the desired images and deleting their backgrounds and such. This will be done in Photoshop. My preferred method is to open the file in Photoshop and use the magic lasso as much as possible, then saving the cleaned up image, sans a background (and converted into a separate layer for that nice, transparent backgorund), as a PNG file.

Step 2: Constructing Your Background

Feel free to head on back to Google to download some free vector patterns, like bricks and stone and such, and then get started on using Illustrator to create your architecture.

For my project, the background needed to be porous, letting the viewer see whatever footage is in the background, so a bay window set-up was drawn by arranging a series of rectangles in an architectural pattern. Using a brick pattern fill and no stroke, plus using effects like skewing the blocks helps to create a sense of realism.

You can also use texture patterns for the floor and stock images for the ceiling; really, though, it all depends on how much of each part of your background will be visible in the video, and how interactive you need different bits to be.

Step 3: Compositing Your Set

By now, you ought to have everything you need ready to put together in After Effects... And if you don't, you can check out the next few steps, which each show how to create certain effects seen in the video below.

Import your background PNG image and align it however you need it to be. Begin to lay your object in the room, having been sure to keep anything animated or interactive as a separate file for later use. You may need to scale things down or tweak their positions.

Any background footage should be inserted above the placeholder green solid but below everything else.

Notice that the metal table is in the foreground; when you bring in your actor, they should be in front of a green screen... But behind a green cloth draped over a comparable table, bringing your faux table to the second layer in AE.

For the:
Exit Sign, go to step 4
Sliding Door, go to step 5
Lightning Generators, go to step 6
Holographic Screen, go to step 7 (not visible in preview video)

A lot of these things use the same basic techniques. Thanks for reading, and remember to have fun with the project, no matter how tedious the construction might seem or become.


Step 4: Flickering Exit Sign

You'll want to start out by using the rectangle tool to create two new layers. The bottom layer should be medium grey, the top almost black. Use the bevel effect on both layers, and use opposing angles for light/shadow/whatever to create a sense of depth. You can also add a texture to the layers, but you're going to shrink it down so much in the final stage that you really don't need to go through the effort...

Now, using the type/test tool, type out "EXIT" to create a new ext layer. Add the glow effect and then add the wiggle expression to the "Intensity" setting. This will basically give you a randomly generated number for the intensity of the glow, and this in turn will give you that nice flickering effect. I also played around with the glow radius settings (again, the wiggle expression) and duplicated the layer with an offset on this layer's effect timing to make the effect more apparent and feel more natural.

Step 5: Sliding Door

This is probably the simplest effect. Simply import your door image as a PNG with a transparent background, and set it into your composition as a separate layer. I added a slight bevel effect to give it some depth, but this isn't expressly necessary. The sliding effect is achieved by clicking the little clock/timer thingy next to the position effect and setting a starting and ending point, in this case starting in the position filling the door frame and ending off-screen.

Step 6: Lightning Generator(s)

If you haven't already, hit the Google and find yourself a good image. Bring it into Photoshop and clean it up, colour correct it, whatever. In a new composition, bring it in on as an object on it's own layer, then create a new black solid. The solid is going to get all of the effects. Bring up the lightning effect, set it to bi-directional, and play with the other settings until you've got the look and animation you want.

Step 7: Holographic Screen

In a new composition, create a blue solid. Tweak the opacity and set it to somewhere between 50 and 80 percent. Add a grain effect and a glow effect, using the same Wiggle Expressions on the same glow intensity and glow radius effects as we saw in Step 4, the Exit Sign.

After that, create two new rectangles and give them subtly beveled edges. Place one, darker coloured, on the layer belowthe screen. Place the lighter coloured one above it. These are the base from which your screen appears. To have the screen slide out from the bars, use the scale and position controls. Scale the screen down disproportionately to its expanded size and use the time-vary stop watch to tool to set in and out positions to animate the screen, watching it go from collapsed and barely visible to fully extended and vice versa.

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