Consider this your Monday post come early. 😉 I spent my Friday evening, until midnight, working on a new intro clip for my YouTube channel. I didn’t get it anywhere close to what I wanted. So I spent most of Saturday working on it too, to the exclusion of gaming. 😐 If you aren’t familiar with an intro clip, it’s a sort of branding, which is a distinctive design unique to your channel, that YouTube automatically places in front of all your videos before they play. It can only be three seconds long, so it isn’t a put off, and as always it can’t contain copyrighted material unless you own the copyright.
The first step in creating an intro clip is to decide what you want to have represent your channel. Hopefully you’ve done some thinking about branding. I know I have. My blog and YouTube channel branding are coordinated on what I think of as the Blue Marble idea. If you look at the blog header above you’ll see what I mean. That picture is one of the most famous on the planet, and is fortunately not copyrighted. It is Earth Rise taken my Apollo 8 while orbiting the moon for the first time in human history. Here’s a recreation based on the astronaut’s conversation recorded during that moment in history.
So for my intro clip, I wanted something similar. But a still photo of Earth isn’t going to translate to a video very well, and I wanted something a bit more complex. What I had in mind has been done many times by many other video creators, but I’d never done it myself. I wanted the text “Mabrick’s Movies” orbiting the earth with a satellite like sound playing as it went by. And I wanted it to be authentic. I didn’t want an “artist’s conception.” Artist conceptions drive me crazy. Created by people who don’t always understand what they are trying to depict, they often get it wrong. I didn’t want my intro clip to be wrong in that way.
So I did some searching through the NASA archives. You’d be amazed at what you can find. In the Visible Earth Catalog, “a catalog of NASA images and animations of our home planet,” I found the Blue Marble animation. This is not an actual time lapsed video of the earth rotating, but it is the next best thing. The animation is based mostly on data gathered by the MODIS satellite, but other sources were needed as well. Click the link I’ve provided for all the details and full credits. The work is not copyrighted, but accreditation is requested. And yes, I did so on the finished products below. Look for it at the very end of the clips.
I downloaded the loss-less HD version of the file (actually half HD or 720P) and got to work. I use Adobe Premiere Pro CC for video editing and it happily imported the Quicktime formatted Blue Marble video file, once I installed Quicktime to get the correct CODEC. 😳 Then I got to work on adding the orbiting text to it.
Do you ever get involved with something thinking, “how hard could it be,” and quickly realize that your expectations are way ahead of your experience? Yeah, that. I figured I would add a title to the sequence then apply motion tracking key frames to get the effect I wanted. Sorry, no, I haven’t the time to provide a Premiere Pro tutorial in this post. This post is aimed at those who already have a basic understanding of video editing, and is more of a how-do-you-go-about-realizing-a-concept post. There are lots of very good tutorials on the nuts and bolts of Premier Pro (and some not so good ones) available on the Internet. I can truthfully say most of what I know about video editing has come from those tutorials. But back to the motion tracking key frames, even with manual manipulation of the Bezier curves, it’s frankly impossible for a human being to produce a smooth circular orbit around a central point. It’s just not going to happen.
And there is another issue with motion tracking a simple title. The title is flat, as in it doesn’t curve, as in it looks really horrible orbiting a sphere or tracking along any curve. It’s like really old B rated movie sci-fi special effects where the ship’s perspective is just all wrong as it flies through space. You’ve seen this many times if you’re a Trekkie. All those original series opening credit flybys suffered from gross perspective issues. So no, creating a motion tracking title was not going to get me what I wanted. I had to find something else. And the Internet provided.
Via the Internet, I was introduced to the concept of an adjustment layer. This is a place holding layer within a sequence which pulls its content from another Adobe program. Because though Premiere Pro is an excellent video editor, it has only the most rudimentary 3D capabilities. There is another Adobe product for creating all the really fancy 3D effects. It’s called Adobe After Effects, and I’ve always wanted to try it. This weekend I got my opportunity. If you right-click on an adjustment layer in Premiere Pro, there is an option in the menu to “Replace with After Effects Composition.” Clicking on that option takes you straight into After Effects and links the Premiere project to the after Effects composition.
But that was only the start of my learning curve. The Adobe Suite, which comprises all the Adobe products, is a very sophisticated tool set. That means there are at least three different ways to do anything you want. You just have to figure out which way works best for you. In my case, I wanted an orbiting 3D text string to go around the Blue Marble Earth animation.
My first thought on how to accomplish that was to project the 3D text onto a sphere with a larger radius than the Blue Marble Earth, and then motion track it in the appropriate plain. That is possible but there is one caveat. The text has to be two-dimensional. It can’t be done with 3D text. And if you do decide to compromise and go with 2D text, the sphere distorts the text by pinching it at the poles and spreading it too much near the equator. It turns out with text, a cylinder works hella better. But I quickly ruled the sphere mapping out as I really wanted 3D text.
Interestingly enough, you can attempt the same motion tracking methodology I spoke of above concerned Premiere Pro within After Affects. You actually have a bit better control over your key frames in After Effects, but that doesn’t make the human any better. We just do not possess the inherent mathematical precision of a computer algorithm. I should have known better than to attempt it, but you know, you can’t fault a would be Vulcan for trying. 😕
So back the Internet I went. And buried deep down a thread in some comment section, I discovered that it is extremely easy to do what I wanted – of course. There is a preset for the effect in the Effects & Presets tab, you just have to know where to find it. It isn’t under 3D. It isn’t under Text. It isn’t under perspective. It’s under Animation Presets –> Text –> 3D Text –> 3D Rotate Around Circle. That’s obvious. But hey, once you discover the preset your life becomes so much easier. In fact, you can create the 3D orbiting text in far less than an hour once you know how it’s done. Isn’t that the way with everything?
So I finally had my 3D text rotating a common center with my Blue Marble Earth. Hooray! I had only one thing left to do and it is the easiest of things. I needed a background of stars for my rotating Earth and text string. That’s easy if you’ve been using Premiere Pro as long as I have (really, it’s only been about 2.5 years since I got Adobe Suite but adding a background is about the first or second thing you learn.) So I went back to NASA, found an actual picture of what the star field behind Earth looks like if you can see the Arctic, and added it to my Premier project.
Did you really think it was going to be that easy? At this point I discovered the Blue Marble animation has no Alpha Channel. What’s an Alpha Channel you ask? Yeah, that’s what I asked too. In 2.5 years of using Premiere Pro I’d never run into a video that had no Alpha Channel, so I hadn’t a clue what was wrong. The Alpha Channel is the transparency layer in a video. Without it backgrounds are not visible through a video. You get a big black rectangle like a Minecraft Space Amoeba has eaten everything.
So, back to the Internet I went. There is lots of advice on how to export a new video file using Quicktime or Microsoft AVI format to create an Alpha Channel. They didn’t work in this case. Even though the original Blue Marble animation has “millions of colors” (an Alpha Channel prerequisite) in its properties, it would not pickup an Alpha Channel.
I did some more searching. I finally found some interesting comment threads on the use of mattes in videos. And since I was dealing with a limited set of colors I needed to eliminate, namely black and near black, it seems like matte manipulation might just do the trick. The effects I’m on about are located under Keying in the Effects tab of Premier Pro. And since it was a (mostly) single color I wanted to eliminate, I drug the Color Key effect over to the Blue Marble video and plunked it down on it. I used the convenient eye dropper tool to select the part of the video I wanted eliminated and then started adjusting the color tolerance until the black “disappeared” but Earth remained. As you can see, a tolerance of 3 did the trick. This may have eliminated some pixels in the planet itself, but as the star field background is mostly black it is unnoticeable.
So, with all the hurdles hurdled and the final composition looking good, I exported the full eight second video in both full HD and 4k+ resolution. “But didn’t you say the intro clip had to be three seconds or less,” you ask? Yes, it does, but the original Blue Marble animation was eight seconds so that’s what I worked with. After I got the eight second clip done, all I had to do was change out the added audio (the satellite like sound effect if you remember,) and crop the sequence to three seconds. It’s the same video (except for the added audio) with five seconds edited off the front and back-end.
Now you know what it can take to come up with just eight seconds of video. The next time I do something like this, I am certain it will take a lot less time though. I learned a great deal about Premiere Pro and After Effects this weekend. Still, there is so much more to learn. I like learning, but I think it’s time to play some computer games. But before I do, here are the two clips I produced. I think they turned out quite well.