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Rick Gerard reviews Walker Effects 2.0

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Rick Gerard reviews Cinematography: Image Making for Cinematographers, Directors, and Videographers

Rick Gerard Rick Gerard
Gerard Productions, Roseville, California USA

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Article Focus:
Rick Gerard takes a close look at Stephen Walker's latest set of Plug-ins for Adobe After Effects®. Walker Effects 2.0 is the second release of a serious toolset for the compositor that needs channel, matte, and color control tools to simplify the workflow and improve the final product.

Steven Walker introduced Walker Effects™ 1.0 in March of 2002 as a dozen tools for compositing work and a fabulously fun plug-in called Stargate that simulates the slit scan effects Douglas Trumbull used to mesmerize us in "2001: A Space Odyssey." Most of this year has been spent upgrading tool set, introducing a hand full of new tools, improving the interface, and optimizing the entire set for speed and the latest versions of After Effects®. Walker Effects 2.0 is available in three sets. Basic Edition ($89), Designer Edition ($199), and Professional Edition ($349).

Let's start with the tools in the Basic Edition:

we Alpha Tool (previously known as Premultiply) gives you additional control of alpha channels. It's kind of Unmult on steroids with the added ability to use a second layer as a matte source. A very handy tool for both compositing the final shot and for creating things like lens flairs with their own alpha channels for adding to a scene at a latter time. This tool makes adding stock footage of fire and explosions to your compositions a single click solution.

we Channel Viewer is a very fast rendering channel extraction tool that works with RGB, YUV, LAB and even CMYK color space. I extract channel data in nearly every compositing project to use as mattes, remove noise, clean up compression artifacts, and create displacement maps. Channel Viewer is my new favorite tool for this kind of work.

we Color Composite provides a quick and easy solution to isolating and replacing a color range in your footage. If you classify AE's leave color effect as an entrée, then Color Composite is a 7 course banquet.

we Color Fill is another example of how Steve Walker has cleaned up and simplified the AE timeline. One of the clever uses if this filter in his gallery demonstrates adding color and an alpha channel to a black and white shadow pass. Producing the same final effect in a composite without this filter would require at least two additional layers. Color Fill is a great timesaver for anyone creating composites from multiple pass renders.

The Designer Edition:

we Channel Offset is a good place to start. The ability to shift individual channels in 2D space as well as in time give you a single plug-in solution to designing all kinds of custom transitions and visual effects. Channel Offset scores a 9.5 on the cool meter. The only down side I can find in this effect that it is so much fun that it's easy to forget about the clock.

we Color Space solves an amazing number of problems with poorly lit, over compressed, and improperly exposed footage. You can quickly jump into YUV, LAB, CMY or just about any other color space, analyze the problems with your footage, make corrections to individual channels, then combine the corrections into a seriously improved image. Not only is we Color Space great for fixing problems, the possibilities it opens up for color effects are seemingly endless.

we Colorize - what can I say? For me, this one plug-in is worth the price of the whole bundle. Do you want your footage to have the color look "Oh Brother Where Art Thou?" OK, add this filter (click 1) Pick a color (in my case from the footage - click 2) Select a transfer mode (click 3) and finally, adjust opacity (Click and drag). There you go. Perfect!   A "look" applied to your footage in about 15 seconds. If you Change your mind and decide that you want the cold feel of "The Matrix" then pick a blue color from the color palate, apply it in various saturation levels to shadows, mid tones, and highlights, change the transfer mode, adjust the opacity and Bingo! - A whole new look. The most amazing thing about this plug-in is how fast it renders. I've just scratched the surface. To achieve the same results without using any third party plug-ins would take at least 3 copies of your footage and at least 2 solids as well as a handful of effects.

we Crazy Stripes is just plain fun and useful for creating an amazing variety of arty backgrounds from footage or stills with a single click. A few minutes of experimentation brought up several great ideas for transitions that I've never seen before. This plug-in is loads of fun.

we Gradient Designer - just about everything you'd ever want in a gradient tool plus the ability to apply alpha channels and layer maps to control where the gradient appears. A great tool for designing your own custom sky.

we Stargate is much more powerful than I though it would be at first glance. Stargate not only creates stunning eye candy with a click or two, it is a great tool for turning still images into dynamic moving backgrounds. The F18 Lightwrap project from Walker's website contains a stunning example.

Professional Edition:

In my never too humble opinion, anyone that routinely combines 3D and live action footage in a single scene must have we Channel Lighting, we Channel composite, we Channel Noise, and we Light Wrap. I'm going to take a closer look at we Channel Lighting and encourage you to drop by Walker Effects and spend some time looking at the examples and projects posted there.

we Channel Lighting is an amazing tool that will save you hours tweaking and of rendering. There is just no easier way to precisely match the lighting of rendered 3D footage with background footage. Let me describe my simple test using only Invigorator Classic, a background photograph and AE6.

  • Step 1: Set up a new comp with a single solid, Invigorator, and a comp camera. Build the logo using Invigorator. Select comp camera and comp lights in the Invigorator ECW.

  • Step 2: Add white ambient light to your comp with about 90% intensity and render a "diffusion" pass. OK, I know that this isn't really a diffusion pass, but it's close enough.
  • Step 3: Duplicate the comp, name it Lighting pass and add two more lights. This time they are spot lights, one green, one red. My red spotlight is in front of and to the right of the logo, the green spotlight is behind and to the left. The ambient light is changed to blue and brightness set to 50%. The materials in the 3D logo were all changed to a medium gray. This comp is rendered as Lighting pass.mov.

  • Step 4: Add the rendered Diffusion pass.mov and Lighting pass.mov into a new comp, add channel lighting and a background image. Sample some colors and adjust a few sliders and you're done.
    In this example, I sampled colors from the sky for the backlight and ambient light, then sampled colors from the front of the barn for the front light. It took about a minute to get the lighting effect that I wanted on the Cow logo. I then changed the background to a cityscape, sampled reflections on the car for front, back and ambient light. A few quick tweaks of the Intensity sliders and I was done. If you drag your pointer over the image to the right you'll see the difference. Total time spent on this project: just under 15 minutes.

    I rendered a short movie that gives you a much better idea of the capabilities of this plug-in. Click here to view the movie.

    The ECW (Click to view Effects Control Window, double click to close) is easy to understand and will give you a basic understanding of how to use Channel Lighting. The HTML based documentation included with the package give complete descriptions of the function of each of the controls. I encourage you to visit Walker Effects and take a look at the gallery and sample projects. It is time to take a quick look at the rest of the effects.

    we Channel Composite is just about the ultimate tool for turning channel information into mattes and control layers. Once again Stephen has streamlined the workflow by giving you the ability to combine channels from several layers in a single layer to simplify and improve keying, multiple pass compositing and modifying alpha channels.

    we Channel Noise is a handy way to add noise to individual channels. Once again you have a single layer, single plug-in solution to complex problems like matching film grain or creating a film grain look. This is one of the best noise plug-ins I've seen.

    we Channel Range is another amazing plug-in. You can extract a range of values from any channel to create transitions and reveals that would be very difficult and time consuming to create without this tool. You owe it to yourself to check out logo reveal movie on the Walker Effects website.

    we Composite makes it possible to directly combine layers without the need to pre-compose. The workflow is simplified and troubleshooting complex projects is much easier.

    we Fast Tracker is an automatic tracker ideally suited for tracking 3D rendered motion. It can also generate keyframes which can be used in expressions. It is not a replacement for AE's tracker but a different tool that I guarantee will generate a Wow the first time you use it.

    we Glow is gives you complete control of blooming highlights with up to five color ranges using channels from other layers for control of blur and transfer modes. Once again Stephen has simplified the workflow down to a single effect on a single layer.

    we Light Wrap scores a 10 on the Cow Cool meter. How many times can I say this in a review? Stephen has done it again. Before Light Wrap it took as many as 3 additional layers and 3 additional pre-comps to achieve this kind of control. Roll your mouse over the example at the right and check out the great light wrap that I achieved with only three layers in the entire comp. Look closely at the upper left corner of the frame and the left cheek of the cow.

    I guess that about does it. You can probably tell that I loved this plug-in set. If you combine live action with computer generated imagery or you do a lot of keying this toolset will pay for itself on your next project.



    I give Walker Effects 2.0 four and a half cows. This is a must have toolset for the serious compositor. Even the Basic Edition has tools that will greatly improve your workflow and simplify otherwise difficult and tedious task of creating seamless composites. Why 4 1/2 Cows and not 5? Because not everyone needs these tools. If you're only using AE for titling or creating photo montages, the toolset is overkill.

    Rick Gerard

    More information and system requirements are available at Walkereffects.com.


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