Creative Cloud Helps Me Fulfill My Creative Vision

In my last post, I proclaimed my love for Adobe Creative Cloud. This post will show you the reason why. I was playing around with some of the aerial footage I captured last week in San Francisco. Just for fun, I wanted to create a HUD (heads up display) to add to the first-person experience of the video. My inspiration was the HUD created for The Avengers & Iron Man, which was created using Adobe After Effects. This turned out far better and far more interesting than I could have possibly hoped, and it is all thanks to the power of Adobe Creative Cloud. Here’s the final video complete with special effects, and below I will discuss how I used Creative Cloud to get to this. (Best experienced at 1080p, with audio – preferably loud, with lots of bass.)

First things first, I had to design the HUD. I used Photoshop to pull in a still from the video footage, and started layering elements on top of it. I Googled images of real fighter jet HUD displays, and used those as inspiration. I obviously didn’t have all of the same information, so I couldn’t make my HUD absolutely real, but I could make it look “good enough”.

HUD Design in Adobe Photoshop
HUD Design in Adobe Photoshop

I got the mockup to a point that I thought looked good, and then it came time to implement it for real in the video. It turns out my initial design didn’t work great in the final implementation, so I came back to Photoshop played with colors, and sizes, and chopped pieces up into separate image assets that I could pull into the final composition.

Next, I pulled the video into After Effects, and started overlaying the HUD graphic elements.  I chose After Effects for this instead of Premiere because After Effects has better control over the visual output and effects – Premiere is my primary tool for sequencing multiple clips into a larger composition.

Editing in Adobe After Effects
Editing in Adobe After Effects

I added all of the HUD elements and manually animated rotation and position so that it fit well with the actual flight path. Everything seemed in place, but I felt like it needed more.

Why not have targeting indicators that follow the cars? With After Effects’ Track Motion feature, this was easily done. I created a “target” graphic, inserted it into the composition, and then used Track Motion to create a motion path for the graphic. To do this, select the video layer that you want to use for motion tracking, and go to a frame that has the object that you want to track. Then click on the “Track Motion” button in the “Tracker” panel. You’ll have to select an area that will be tracked. When you analyze frames, it will detect the movement of your selection over time, and translate that to x/y coordinates, which are applied to the motion target that you choose (the “target” symbol).

I repeated this step for a bunch of vehicles, and it started looking much better. Once I had the red target indicators in the HUD, I thought “that looks cool, but it’s still not enough, and it’s not believable.”

I added some color correction using After Effect’s Tritone color correction.  This made the HUD really stand out from the video, and gave it a nice cinematic look and feel, but I still wanted more.

I thought to myself… If you’re going to go “over the top”, you might as well go “way over the top”, so I started getting creative/ridiculous. I had this robotic fighter jet feel in the video, so I figured that something needed to blow up. I found this explosion and that’s when things started getting really interesting. I added one, then two, then three explosions to the scene by leveraging After Effects’ Linear Color Key effect so that the explosion was overlaid without the background. Add some color correction on the explosion, and voila… you have an explosion on top of the video with minimal artifacts.

Note: Keying is the process of removing pixels from the background based on pixel colors. You can also remove pieces of a video clip using the rotoscoping tool – it’s like a Photoshop selection over time.

This was really starting to come together. Since I had explosions, I needed more smoke. I first tried the After Effects particle system for producing smoke, but it didn’t seem real enough for this specific use case. I found some stock footage of smoke plumes and ambient smoke, and started going to town. Pairing the stock footage with Track Motion, I was able to add smoke to the landscape that followed buildings as the camera rotated to focus back on the building.

Like I said earlier, I wanted to go “way over the top”, so of course, why not add a flyby from some jets. So I added some stock footage of computer generated jets flying overhead, again with Keying to remove the background.

At this point, things were really coming together for this scene, so I wanted to add an intro title and some music… enter Adobe Premiere.

Composing/Sequencing in Adobe Premiere
Composing/Sequencing in Adobe Premiere

Here I added the title, and started adding the static effect overlaid in the beginning and the ending of the composition.  Next, I needed background music and sound effects.  Sound is critical to the experience of video.  It can help convey emotion, and tie everything together.

I pulled in some background music from Audio Jungle. Things were starting to come together really well, but I needed more sound effects… A while back I stumbled across, which has a bunch of Creative Commons sound effects.  This has been a goldmine for me. I pulled in sound effects for the explosions, the ambient aircraft noise, ambient machine guns, and radar beeps.

Then I pulled some of the sounds into Adobe Audition for some fine-tuning…

Audio Processing with Adobe Audition
Audio Processing with Adobe Audition

Once I had everything sequenced where I wanted it, I just exported the video from Premiere, uploaded it to Youtube, and started sharing it.

The best parts of this entire process:

  1. I did this whole thing start to finish in a little over one day.  I started working with the video on Monday night, and uploaded it to YouTube this morning. Creative Cloud has an insanely productive workflow.
  2. My background is in software development, not in video production… I do that for fun. By using Creative Cloud, I already had all the tools I needed to put everything together.
  3. Creative Cloud helps me fulfill my vision.

Now, get out there, get creative, and have fun doing it!

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