Wednesday, March 1, 2017

3D Tracked Text on Buildings

Recently, I worked on a project for my school that really focused on communicating our mission statement. I had some great interview footage, but I needed a creative way to introduce the viewer. I immediately went to drone, but I wanted something different. Last year's video started with a drone montage, which made it awesome, but that was last year. I needed to take it up a notch. So, I thought I would somehow arrange people, cones, dirt, or whatever I could find to create the big words of our mission statement. Also understand that I was thinking BIG. I mean, if anything is going to show up from a drone shot 100ft above the ground, it has to be pretty big. While flying around our campus and viewing all the new things we had built, I would bring the viewer's attention to the big words in our mission statement: Christ-centered, exemplary, equipping students as disciples and leaders, service and success, and in the 21st Century. Well, with about four weeks left, I brainstormed with a student drone pilot and without me saying anything, he suggested using After Effects to put the text on the ground and even the buildings themselves, brilliant! After that, I went home and started learning. It turns out that it's not that hard. Here's the final product:

Now, I say it was easy, which is somewhat true, but it depends on the surface you're trying to add the text to. Here's what I learned:
  1. The surface that you put text on has to have elements on it that the software can track. The "Service and Success" title at 0:34 was a pain because there's NOTHING (lights, marks, etc.) that would allow the software to add a tracking point. I ended up using tracking points from the windows below and then moving the text until it worked. After a few tries, I got lucky. I wasn't 100% happy with the final text (notice the word Service is slanted), but it was the best I could get.
  2. In order for the software to create 3D tracking points, you need a surface that looks 3D. I had great difficulty adding text to the tennis courts. I had originally put "Equipping Students" on each court, once on each side (8 total). It looks great on the one side but as soon as I duplicated it to go on the other, it wouldn't track right. Since the court was super flat and there wasn't a lot of distinguishable 3D features on the court itself, I think it didn't track well. I tried and tried to get my first plan to work, but I resorted to putting the text long on each end. 
  3. Blending modes really sell the effect. This may seem like a no brainer, but I learned how much a specific blending mode can sell an effect. Stark white text doesn't look good on our baseball field. I even used the dropper to match the color of the baselines, but it still looked out of place. I think it was because no one has text on their infield like that. So, I decided to blend it to make it seem like it was just slightly mowed into the turf or something. It still doesn't look 100% natural, but I like it more than stark white text. The most powerful blend though was the disciples and leaders shot at 0:29. Disciples isn't all that impressive, but leaders is. It had just rained the morning we took the drone shots, and there were a few water puddles on the rooftop. I thought it might be problem, but as soon as I started playing with blending modes, I found one that made the text look like it was below the water puddles. It blended perfectly to sell the effect.  
All in all, I learned a new effect that takes my work to the next level. At this point, I've only added flat words on fields and buildings, but I know that in the future, I could also add 3D text (to fly through or by), and 3D objects. Looking forward to experimenting more in the future.

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