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  • Special Effects - Morphing

    Want to see what this article will teach you to do? Then Download this short video clip Here.

    This is the first of a series of articles I have designed to show how the average computer user can create some quite good looking special effects for their movies with only a shoe-string budget.


    Before I start here are the things you will need:
    Any Paint Package (optional) or Horror makeup


    Morphing it Buffy Style!

    Have you ever wanted to transform yourself into someone else? If you are a fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer or that Angel spin off then you're gonna love this first special effect because it shows you how to become a vampire yourself. We first recorded my cousin Tony turning around to the camera and hissing like a vampire.

    The next step is to get the transformation shot of the vampire. This can be done a couple of ways. If you are quite good with makeup then you can buy one of those horror kits from a joke store. Then what you need to do is position your subject in exactly the same position as they were in the first picture and take another shot of them. This is how it is done in Buffy the Vampire Slayer only using much better effects equipment. But to get the person in the exact same position is very very hard and you need to spend a lot of time getting it right.

    The alternative way of doing it is the one I have chosen. I have simply copied the last frame of the first video clip I recorded and photo retouched the makeup on top to make him look like a vampire.

    To grab a single photo from your movie just open it in VirtualDub find the frame you want (in this case make sure its the last frame of the video), then go to Video > Copy source frame to clipboard (or just press Ctrl+1). Then open Adobe Photoshop and choose File > New and then press OK. Then just paste the image onto the canvas with Edit > Paste (or Ctrl+V).

    How to photo retouch like this is a whole article in itself so I won't go into detail. I do intend to do some more detailed guides on photo retouch in my Adobe Photoshop section, so watch out for that. For now I'll offer a brief overview of what I did to him.

    How to Retouch in Photoshop Overview

    Most video clips are such low quality that neither the colours or details need to be absolutely exact as would be the case with high quality photographs. Almost all of the work on Tony was done using the clone tool. Its almost futile trying to use the airbrush to match colours because any colour you use will be too pure and clear. We need to copy not only the exact tone but also the texture of the video, its grain and noise, so the clone tool is the easiest way.

    Note: I apologise for the low quality of these movies by the way, they are captured with a very cheap camcorder and are not really worthy of special effects like these, I'm sure some of you will do much better job of it.

    I suggest you set the clone pressure to a low setting such as 4% for most of your retouching. The most vital changes to Tony were the brow above his eyes and obviously his teeth.

    The Brow

    For the brow I selected a section of his forehead and the right of his face and clone-painted the lighter skin colours completely over his original eyebrows and into a V-shape. As he becomes a vampire his normal eyebrows will fall below this brow anyway so delete them completely. Next I select a dark shadow from the left half of his face and paint under the lowered brow that I just made. I also add some darkness above the brow and lighten the middle of his forehead, again by cloning the skin colours from the right of his face. This makes it look as though the skin has stretched and bulged with the skull shape as the brow comes down. Remember the golden rule with almost all horror monsters, they usually base the shape of their faces on the shape of the bones of the skull. Examine a skull and you will have a good idea where the bulges and hollows should appear. Of course you could copy a picture of a Vampire from TV.

    The eye socket and cheek

    Next I clone some of the shadow from the left of his face and make a slightly square shadow under his eye. This makes it appear as though his skin has stretched and made the bone of the eye socket stick out. I also do this a little under the cheekbones to make them stick out a bit. Finally I add some light blobs (lines) across the bridge of his nose for that scrunged up look! Since the shadows of the nose are so dark anyway any light coloured lines over it will appear as wrinkles.

    The Teeth

    I now zoom in really close to the mouth and clone the white of the teeth, this is tricky because its so small. Assume the tooth is made of two parts, a top part which is a thick blob and the bottom part which is a thin blob. Now set the pressure setting to very low 1 or 2% and do repeated strokes downward on the top half of the tooth until that large blob appears. Then do the same until the smaller one appears. You should almost be there by now but you can touch up the tooth shape using the smudge tool a little. You do not need to concentrate on the shape (outline) of the tooth. The shape should come like you were sculpting a piece of clay and not like you were drawing an outline and filling it in. The shape comes from careful control of colour opacity and not shape, the top of the tooth has strong opacity and gets thinner opacity as it reaches the bottom.


    Morphing is not just for vampires, werewolves do it too!

    I'm using vampires as my example but the idea of morphing your face into something else will obviously apply to anything you could imagine. We cannot do morphing that happens as a person moves about like you see on Terminator 2 because that requires detailed 3D modeling to do. You would literally have to scan the shape of the persons face and change it into another with a 3D application. Obviously this is serious work and requires expensive equipment. All we can do with our morph technique is turn one static non-moving picture into another non-moving picture.

    The old method of transforming faces used in the old black and white wolfman movies was simply putting on a little makeup, filming for a second, then pausing the video and putting on a little more makeup without moving the subject. After the next layer of makeup was applied a bit more was filmed and then it would be paused again for more makeup. This process was repeated until the final wolfman shot appeared. Since it was almost impossible to get the face to stay on the exact same position they used to fade from one shot to the next to help them merge a little better. Our vampire is done in exactly the same way as that except instead of fading between makeup jobs we are going to morph between each shot using an amazing freeware application called Winmorph!

    Like the wolfman transformation, we use as many clips as we need to morph a subject from one face to another. All you do is repeat the basic process and join the two video clips together. In our example we only need two pictures, namely the last frame of the original face and the first frame of the face with makeup on it. Copy these two frames using VirtualDub (as already explained) and save them in a folder somewhere as *.bmp pictures. You can use *.Jpg but best quality is achieved with bitmaps. The video you use should preferably be the highest quality capture you can do, it can be resized later if needed. Its better to use uncompressed AVI or MJPEG rather than DivX or Mpeg because these loose quality when edited or can't be edited at all. Once your final movie is finished you can compress it into any format you like.


    Using Winmorph

    Winmorph is so amazingly easy to use but the basic concept needs to be understood. Its surprising how many people look at Winmorph an think how the hell do I morph it. But there are only three tools you can use.

    Lets start a new Morph project by going to New > Morph project.

    It will ask you to choose your starting image and then your ending image, so browse for them and hit the Choose button to select each one.

    Once you have chosen you will be presented with the following screen:

    So what now? There are three tools (as shown below); from left to right we have:


    1. The pen tool.

    The pen tool draws lines over your picture like a pen. Actually it works more like a rubber band and a bunch of drawing pins. You left-click the mouse to say where your first line will start. Then drag the mouse cursor over the picture until you find the position your line will stop and then just left-click again. Once you are happy with your line you just right-click the mouse button and it will be drawn between these points. However, if you continue to left-click the mouse you will be allowed to continue drawing on the end of your previous line from its last point. Don't be afraid to play about with this tool, its easy to get the hang of and you cannot mess anything up. Notice that by drawing lots of little lines you can draw any shape you like. In the example below I have created a circle as an example of this.

    This method of drawing lines allows a great deal of control and is really easy to use. Don't be afraid to do as many little lines as you like to make your shapes, it doesn't matter how many you use.


    Zooming In

    Notice at the top of the Winmorph screen you have a percentage box like this:

    This lets you zoom in close to see fine details of your picture. I suggest you use this tool a lot, its always better to zoom in and edit a picture close up.


    2. Edit Shape Tool.

    This tool lets you edit the lines you drew with the pen tool. Imagine you have drawn a line wrongly, to delete that line just choose the Edit shape tool and click on it. The shape will be highlighted in yellow; to delete it just press the Delete button on your keyboard.

    But lets say you have the shape you want but it just needs to be tweaked slightly. To do that we choose the Edit Shape Tool and click on any on of the points that make up the shape and drag it about like in the picture below.


    3. Transform Tool.

    The final tool Winmorph offers is the Transform tool (also called the resize tool in the old Winmorph instructions). Select any shape you have drawn with the Transform tool and it will surround that shape in the following box:

    If you place your mouse over any one of the lines of this box and left-click, you can then drag the whole shape about to any position on the screen. If you place the mouse cursor over any of the square points around this box you can squash or resize the shape as can be seen in the example below:

    That's it! You've now mastered all the controls you need to morph you picture!


    How to morph it!

    Did you notice that whenever you draw a shape over the picture on the left the same shape will also appear on the right? To morph one picture into another Winmorph changes the shapes you draw on the left to match the shapes that are on the right. To illustrate how this works lets just morph one single tooth! To do this I zoom in and draw around Tony original tooth like this:

    If you look at the vampire picture (above right) the same shape appears by the long fang-like tooth. To morph the normal tooth into the vampire fang we need to change the shape of the vampires tooth like this:

    The exact same process applies to each and every part of our vampire face. We draw around the eye in the left picture and reposition it so that the vampires eye matches. To do an effective morph you must carefully trace around every part of the face and reposition it. It doesn't matter if you draw around the Vampires face and then reposition the original or vice versa as long as the outlining is correct.

    When using Winmorph it morphs better if the whole of the face is traced even though perhaps you only want the mouth or eyebrows to morph. This is because it tends to scrunge the whole picture at once so it needs more guides to keep in line. Since matching shapes are the most important factors in Morphing two pictures you will tend to get better results if you trace around the shadows and highlights of your picture too. For example, I have simplified the picture below so its easier to see the changes between highlights, midtones and shadows.

    The more exact shape matches you make between the final picture and the start picture the better quality and more realistic your morph will tend to be. You do not need to take this to extremes but a little prudence certainly pays off! The following is the outline I used on my vampire movie:


    Rendering Your Morph

    Okay we're nearly done now! All we need to do is create our morph and join the video to the end of or previous one. First lets go to morph > options.

    Choose a name for your video. You have to use AVI really because mpeg is not very editable. By clicking the options button you can use any codec to compress but I strongly suggest you use uncompressed for compatability.

    Now just enter the number of frames for a transformation or/and the seconds you'd like the transformation to last. If the number of frames is below a second (24fps) then it will ignore seconds and use just frames as its amount. For a realistic vampire transformation that takes a fraction of a second we are only gonna need three of four frames in the transformation! If we use too many frames the transformation will be nice and smooth but the results will not look realistic. In my example I started with six frames but cut it right down to only two frames - sometimes less is more!

    The morphing will probably take a few minutes to process. Once you are done just follow my VirtualDub joining guide found Here to tack the amazing transformation onto the end of your original clip.

    Please bare in mind that VirtualDub will only join video clips of the same format. This means that if your original movie had audio then you'll have to save the first video clip again without audio and then join them together. Then you can open the original clip, save Wav and add the original audio back to the joined clip. As a bit of trivia the vampire hissing sound effect I used come from the movie Alien Resurrection. I ripped the DVD, extracted the audio and added it to my vampire example.

    Well I hope you enjoy this special effect. Winmorph does have a few advanced options as well as the basic morphing that I explained. It also has the ability to distort and Warp pictures! For details on this and more I suggest you check the help files provided with it and perhaps I will explain more about these in a future guide.

    If I wanted to realistically use the vampire effect in a home movie, to make it work well I'd have to show the transformation and then quickly switch camera view to another shot as soon as the transformation was complete, this new shot would have him with all his makeup on of course! This method actually does work very well and, provided that the video quality is good, no one would ever know that it wasn't just another episode of buffy =o).

    Duplication of links or content is strictly prohibited. (C) NICKY PAGE 2000