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3D from 2D with Photoshop and Apple Motion

TipSquirrel.com is proud to welcome Ariane Fisher. Ariane is the Creative Director at Storymix Media. She is Apple certified in Final Cut Pro and Motion Graphics, and also enjoys dabbling in 3D with Photoshop Extended, Motion and Sketchup.

At the last meeting of our photography club, I saw a breathtaking photo by Barth Riley. His photo of Spruce Woods made me feel like going on a hike. Sooooo, I decided to ask him if I could go on a virtual hike through his photo. Time to play in Photoshop and Motion.

I first opened up his gorgeous photo in PS4 and did what my neurotic self always does first, saved it as a new file. Then I opened up that file and began to play. I copied the background layer onto a new layer.

This is a black and white photo; I incorrectly assumed it would be super easy to use the quick selection tool to create new layers. This project will take me 20 minutes, max. I’ll just select the trees, put them on new layers and animate them. Hah!

The quick selection tool laughed in my face as it went around selecting entire groups of trees. I’ll show this ridiculous tool! So, I maxed out the brightness and contrast to make it easier to see the edges of trees. This is what I then had to work with:high contrast photo of Spruce woods

Would you believe the quick selection tool would still not cooperate? Grrr, this was not going to be a 20 minute exercise any longer.

I tried the magnetic lasso. That thing just made me annoyed. I finally settled on the polygonal lasso tool (L). The delete key is your friend with this tool. It enables you to delete the last point selected, instead of needing to start all over again.

Prior to beginning a selection, make certain to zoom way in, so you can see what you’re doing. When you have your entire tree selected, go to refine edge so you can see what it really looks like against the background. The refine edge dialog box is also where you can play with feathering the edges. When you are happy with the selection, simply copy the tree to a new layer (cmd-J/ctrl-J).

Here’s what I had after selecting the first tree:lone spruce treeThis is the tree isolated on its own layer, with all other layers turned off. In Photoshop it would appear over a transparent background. Note, you cannot save transparencies as a .jpg, so you will wind up with a white background when saving for the web.

I had the pleasure of repeating this procedure 5 times. Not as much fun with the lasso tool. Now that I had all my trees in their own layers, I had to go back and erase them on the background. It wouldn’t do much good to animate them if you can still see the exact same originals remaining stationary.

Again, mistakenly thought in all my pride that this step would be simple with the clone stamp. It wasn’t too bad, but at this point I wasn’t into the details of doing a perfect job. To effectively use the clone stamp tool (S), you option click some place on the photo that you wish to copy and then start painting away where you want the photo to be replaced. Feathering is usually a good idea at this point.

Here’s my forest background minus the five trees which will be animated.Spruce woods minus five treesAt this small size it doesn’t look bad. Just don’t look too closely. To get ready for taking the file to Motion, I dumped the brightness/contrast layer and any other layers I no longer needed.

Now it’s time to play in Motion (Apple Motion, that is). I created a new file using the Broadcast HD 720P preset with a 15 second duration. I then dragged in the Photoshop file. Before releasing the mouse, let it hover a second over the canvas. A dialog box opens up asking if you want to import all layers or merge layers. Select all layers.

If you had imported the .psd file from the file browser, rather than dragging, Motion would automatically merge all the layers. Say goodbye to all your carefully layered trees.

The original photo was 4323 pixels by 2882 pixels. Motion laughed at me as I tried to import it. Yes, I could get it to import, but it would crop, pixellate, use up all my RAM, and make me want a beer quickly. So back to Photoshop I went.

I resized the entire .psd file to 2400 wide by 1600 tall. You really only need to animate photos at that ginormous size if you are doing the Ken Burns effect (super zoom) and you happen to actually be Ken Burns. For the rest of us, not working at the History Channel or PBS, a smaller size will suffice.

Ah finally, the project got to be quick and easy. Turn the photo group into a 3D layer and add a camera. Display 2 windows in your canvas, showing the camera view and the top view. Go into the top view and start moving the tree layers toward the camera. With an eye on your camera view, move the trees around in x, y, and z space until you get a spacing you like.

Next, put a keyframe on the camera at the start of the project. Go to the end, put another keyframe. Then move the camera in z-space to the point at which you want it to end. Little trick here, go to the keyframe editor and change the interpolation to linear. It defaults to bezier, which makes it look like you slowly began to walk and then came to a gradual stop. We’re going more for a hike.

I then took a break from Motion and headed over to Soundtrack Pro for some background music. STP comes with a huge library of royalty free sound effects. I selected forest.caf, loaded it as a project file, and saved it as an .aif file with a sample rate of 48 kHz (standard audio rate for video files).

Back to Motion. I added the audio file along with fades. I added some video fades at the beginning and end of our project and voila. Simple as that. And here’s our hike:

So there you go. My 20 minute project took a mere several hours, but it was a lot of fun to see Barth’s photo come to life through the technological wonders of Photoshop and Motion. The fine intricacies of compressing the video for youtube can be learned from an excellent tutorial over at Ken Stone’s site.

Update: My biggest critic took a look at the sample and exclaimed, “For all that trouble, why didn’t you just simply zoom into the photo without doing all that?” So I uploaded a sample of what happens when you use a simple zoom.

As you can see, you lose the relative perspective of the trees. So then I began to think perhaps the movement was too subtle. I spent 15 minutes playing with camera movements and rendered a new version. I lowered the camera in the y-plane, so it is closer to the ground. I then moved the camera closer to the scene so the perspective change as you pass the trees is obvious.

I promise I won’t play with this file any more. This technique can get addicting. It’s quite easy to spend 8 hours or more on one photo. Think about all the times you’ve seen this effect in action on the History Channel. It’s definitely a subtle look, but it would be a bit cheesy to see trees flying around the screen.

About Ariane Fisher (1 Articles)
Ariane Fisher is the Creative Director at Storymix Media. She is Apple certified in Final Cut Pro and Motion Graphics, and also enjoys dabbling in 3D with Photoshop Extended, Motion and Sketchup. Storymix Media works with photographers and videographers to help tell their client's story. We offer unique products to help photo and video professionals turbocharge their marketing and make them money at the same time. Ariane can usually be found producing <a href="http://pro.storymixmedia.com/">wedding DVD slideshows</a>
Contact: Website

6 Comments on 3D from 2D with Photoshop and Apple Motion

  1. Nicely done… here’s some others if you’d like to view different techniques

  2. Nicely done… here’s some others if you’d like to view different techniques

  3. Thanks Rich. Your samples are amazing. I like the boat and building best. And thanks as well for writing Photoshop for Video and From Stills to Motion. I have been recommending them both to everyone I know!

  4. Fantastic tutorial. I was wondering if you could do all this in photoshop extended?

  5. No Carl… you need Motion or After Effects…
    Need a 3D camera system

  6. Carl,

    I’m glad you liked it. Animating in Extended is quite a challenge. Although you can control the placement of items in 3D space, it’s not at all intuitive, neither is the help material provided by Adobe. It’s extremely difficult to know where anything actually is in 3D space relative to each other. I spent a lot of time banging my head on my desk when animating a 3D film projector that I had created in Sketchup. I was able to get the film reels to rotate relative to the projector itself within Extended, but it was a very onerous task.

    Although you need a 3D camera system to do the project as I laid it out above, you could cheat it and move the items in 3D space (with a stationary camera) within Extended. It would be much simpler to learn Motion from scratch than attempt to do it all in Extended though. Not kidding.

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