• Welcome to The Spark
    The Spark is a blog curated by the staff of the Multimedia Project Studio (MPS) at Duke University. We are a small group of highly talented students and staff well-versed in the language of multimedia. The Spark is a resource for helpful tips, tutorials, specific concerns of the lab, and general inspiration.

Keyframing Basics in Adobe After Effects

If you are looking to spice up your videos with some unique titles or maybe dive into the world of special effects, then look no further! Keyframing is a fundamental tool for all video editors, and it can be combined in infinitely many unique ways to create cool effects and solve problems in ways you may not have thought of. Follow along with this video tutorial in which I lay out the basics of keyframing step-by-step, ultimately bringing everything together to create a unique title in a few easy steps.



Best of luck!


-Richard Seehausen

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How to Make Convincing Overlays in Photoshop


One of the most useful applications of Photoshop is the ability to create overlays of different images.  Whether you want to make subtle touch-ups to your photography masterpiece or put your friend’s face on the body of various farm animals, Photoshop is a powerful tool that enables one to create convincingly doctored overlays. Here’s how:

Part 1: Creating the Basic Overlay

  1. Open the file containing the portion of the image that you would like to have superimposed on a different background.
  2. Select the portion of the image that you would like to overlay – for most purposes, the three most common methods of selection include using the Lasso tool, the Quick Selection tool, or the Magic Wand tool

Quick Selection tool:


Out of all of these options, I personally prefer the Quick Selection tool – it is the most versatile out of all of them and the least tedious.  Once you have set the parameters for can quickly and intelligently make your selection of the image.

Lasso tool:


The lasso tool comes in three flavors: the standard lasso tool, the polygonal lasso, magnetic lasso.

The standard lasso tool is personally the tool that I use the least, as its accuracy depends solely on the steadiness of your hand.  The Polygonal lasso tool is great for selecting straight edges as it makes the entire selection out of straight edges.  The magnetic lasso tool is useful when there is a strong contrast between the portion of the image that you want selected and its background.

Magic Wand tool:


The magic wand tool is the most straightforward to use out of all of the selection tools, making the selection based on similarity of adjacent pixels.  This is the fastest method of selection, though might yield the roughest selection.

In this case, we’ll be using the Quick Selection Tool:


Note that we can adjust the size of the tool’s radius to efficiently make selections of varying size within the image.  In this case, I used 90 px to select the player’s chest and 6 px to select his finger.

  1. Once you have made a satisfactory selection, copy the image under Edit>Copy or Ctrl+C
  1. After you have copied the selection, open a new project in Photoshop under File>New… or Ctrl+N
  1. When the “New” window pops up, make sure that “Background Contents” is set to “Transparent”.
  1. Paste the object onto the new file. The purpose of creating this new file is to that the selection can be stored without having to reselect the images and easily resized.
  1. Open the file that you want to use as your background in Photoshop.
  1. Now, paste in the object onto the background. This will automatically create a new layer on top of the background with just the selection from the first image.  You may notice that the selection from the previous image once pasted in is disproportionate to the background.  If you need to resize, go to the new file containing the selected image, and adjust the dimensions under Image>Image Size… or Alt+Ctrl+Q
  1. Once you have the image of appropriate size, paste it in again. You can move it around with the move tool at the very top of the side toolbar.


Part 2: Making it look convincing

  1. In order to make this new image look more realistic, there are several things that one can do:

Given the positioning of Kanye West, it would make more sense in the picture if his hand were in front of the soccer player.  To do this, using the Quick Selection tool I copied Kanye’s hand to the clipboard.  Then, I made a new layer (Ctrl+Shift+N) and pasted the duplicate hand onto a layer on top of the referee.


Adjusting the Color:


Under Image>Adjustments, there are various color correction tools that can make the superimposed image pop out less and look more natural in the background.  Under Image>Adjustments>Color Balance, I reduced the levels of green on the referee layer to remove the green tinge from the soccer field lighting from the original photo, and increased the blues to match the environment of the VMAs.  Adjusting the color balance on the background image can also help.

Creating shadows:

Duplicate the layer that you want to create a shadow for under Layer>Duplicate Layer.


To make this duplicated layer into a shadow, under Images>Adjustments>Threshold drag the histogram’s slider all the way to the right.

Now, you can adjust the shadow’s dimensions and rotation under Edit>Free Transform.  Dragging the square anchor allows for the selection to be resized, and moving the cursor slightly outside of the square anchor and dragging allows for the selection to be rotated.  One you have made a satisfactory adjustment, press “Enter” to commit to the changes and exit the free transform tool.

In order to make the shadow look more realistic by making it less dark and defined, apply a Gaussian blur to the shadow’s layer by selecting Filter>Blurs>Gaussian Blur, and adjusting the opacity of the layer:


If the shadow is cast on more than one object, make sure that it is only cast on nearby objects, and not the distant background.  This will make the shadow look more realistic, and can simply be done by viewing only the background layer and the shadow layer (hide the other layers by de-selecting the eye on the layer panel.  Looking at just the background and shadow layer, use the lasso tool to cut out any shadows that are cast on distant objects.  In the case of this image, the referee’s shadow cast on the audience and background was removed, with the only remaining shadow cast on Taylor Swift.


This was done first for the referee’s shadow, and then again for Kanye Wests’.

Here’s the original product compared to the final:



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Using Components in Sketch-Up

Today I will be teaching you how to use components in Sketch-Up. Components are powerful tools which allow you to truly take advantage of Sketch-Up and get to the next level of creating 3d Models.

I will be making a temple of sorts for today’s tutorial, and to start I have drawn the base platform. I have made this a component because components work really well together, especially with solids that have overlapping faces. By doing this we can have combined solids on different layers without them interacting and messing up your model. Don’t worry about how I made this a component yet. We’ll get to it.

1I will start drawing on of our columns for the temple. To start I drew a square and extruded it with the push pull tool, and I inset the center making a simple square column.2

Alright now that this is done we will make it a component. First you select all of the elements you wish to make up your component.

3There are a few ways of making an object a component. First is through the task bar up top under the edit menu. Another method is to right click and select Make Component on the menu as you can see below.4

Or the simplest way using shortcuts just press the G key while all is selected. Once you make this Collection of objects a component a window will pop-up. Here you can edit the name of the component, the description, and a few other aspects of components beyond the scope of this tutorial.56

Once you Create this component the object will change slightly and you will see a blue bounding box surround the object.

7Your object is now a component. With this you can move this object, manipulate it, scale it copy it, etc. without having to select each individual line and face. However there is a lot more you can do. New I will copy the newly made component and make a simple row of columns with five columns.


You can copy with Ctrl C and Crtl V or you can pull the component from your component library. To get to that library you go through the Window Menu and select components.9

This window will pop-up. From this window you can access a few things including the 3d warehouse which houses many premade components which can be quite helpful but for now we will just focus on the ones made in this model. To get to those you simply click on the home icon and select In Model.1011

Once you select it you will see all the components you have made for this model.

12As you can see I have the column component along with the baseplate I created. The third object is a premade component that comes with the initial template so just ignore it.

Now we will go into the versatility of Components. Once the component has been made we can edit it. Again there are many ways to start editing. You can right click on the component and select Edit Component from the Menu or you can just double click on the object.

13From this you can see everything but the component you have selected has been greyed out. And everything but all the copies of that component has disappeared14

Once you start editing on this component. Any change you make will also be made on all other copied components. It does not matter which component you have selected. Editing on anyone will affect all others.


I have now added a little detail to this Column. How ever you can see that the one column that I have copied to the other side has the indent facing inward and I want it to match the other side and have it face the other way.


You could simply just rotate it but it would require some extra work to do it smoothly. And say I had a detail like a small circle on one side.18

If I simply rotate the element the circle is facing the wrong way, And its placement needs some work.19

However if we flip the axes under the right click menu we can mirror the Component and keep the detail on the side we want and just flip it in the xz plane by selecting flip green(y).20

21And there you have it in two clicks I have mirrored the column to the orientation I want now I can copy this row add some detail and a roof and we have a simple temple.22

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Simplest way to digitalize a drawing

Sometimes non-professionals want and/or need to create our own logos as well!

Without the help of any technical materials such as tablets and digital pens, we can create digital images simply with pen and a piece of paper along the help of our multitask friend photoshop!

Watch this video to learn how to digitalize a drawing in oder to make a logo or to create any sort of digital image!

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Scoring Videos and abiding by Fair Use

Have you ever found the perfect song for your video, but weren’t able to use the track because of copyright? Well here’s a short tutorial on how recording your own songs in garageband can help you navigate just such a problem! Also, check out this wikipedia page for a refresher on fair use, maybe you can use that Barry White song after all. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fair_use 

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Creating a Standout Resume in InDesign

One of the first steps to getting a job is creating a resume, but you don’t want your resume to look sloppy or unoriginal. The most popular program used to create resumes is Microsoft Word,  but it can be limiting if you want to create a resume that stands out from the crowd.

An alternative program you can use is Adobe InDesign (a page layout application), which gives you more control when it comes to formatting, adding logos, hyperlinks, and more.

Read More »

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Illustrator vs. Photoshop: When to use which?

Although Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop may seem similar at first, both have very different specialities. Learn through this introductory video the basic differences between Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator. Topics of discussion include vector and pixel based images.

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Tips for Sharing Designs

Disclaimer: for this tutorial, I have used the Duke University logo as an example. Please use this post as a tutorial for sharing designs and not for how to use the logo. For full details on how the Duke logo should be used, please refer to the Duke Style Guide.

As a designer for the Duke Innovative Design Agency, I have had experience designing logos, T-shirts and posters for organizations at Duke. I have corresponded with apparel companies about designs many times. I even help my friend’s mom, who works for a custom merchandise company, with designs she is sent. Often, customers send her designs she can’t translate into prints because they’re missing some key characteristics. To help you (and the company you’re using) the next time you have a custom design, I’ve written a checklist! The program I am using is Adobe Illustrator CS6.

Outline text

Outline stroke

Save in the right format and version of Adobe

Save with a strong title


Here’s the logo we’re going to use

Duke Logo

  1. Outline text

This is the Duke University logo. “Duke” is typed in Garamond and “University” is typed in Interstate. If you don’t already own these fonts, you must buy them. Duke allows its students and faculty to download the font from here. However, if you wanted to send this to a third party, they may not have the font. If you sent the file to a third party and they did not have the font on their computer, then the logo would change. Your font (in this case, Garamond and Interstate) would be replaced by fonts on the other computer. To prevent that from happening, you must outline the text.

This is how you know if text hasn’t been outlined and is still editable:

Screen Shot 2014-11-10 at 6.01.42 PMNote the blue line under all of the text

To outline it, select the text, go to Type on the top menu bar > Create Outlines. Your text should look like this when highlighted (a series of anchor points like any other object):

Screen Shot 2014-11-10 at 6.03.21 PM

  1. Outline stroke

What if your logo has a stroke? Below you’ll find the same Duke logo but with a stroke (or outline) around the letters:
Screen Shot 2014-11-10 at 6.05.32 PM

You’ll know if the stroke is part of the object, instead of being outlined as its own object when you click on an object and only the object is highlighted (not the stroke):

Screen Shot 2014-11-10 at 6.07.07 PM

To send a design to a third party, you need to outline the stroke once you’re happy with the thickness in relation to the object. Often, merchandise companies may need to scale your design to the right size so they can make the print onto the merchandise you’re ordering. Depending on the settings of the computer, the proportion of the stroke to the object may change during rescaling. It could go from what we have above to this:Screen Shot 2014-11-10 at 6.10.28 PM

Note how the lines are much thicker when we scale down the word Duke. It’s because the stroke is remaining the same weight (thickness) but the word is smaller. To outline the stroke, go to Object on the top menu bar > Path > Outline Stroke. Now, your image should show highlighted outlines around the object AND the stroke:

Screen Shot 2014-11-10 at 6.12.36 PMNote the blue anchor points around the black objects and the red stroke.

  1. Save in the right format and version of Adobe

Sometimes people you’re collaborating with or merchandise companies will own a different version of Adobe programs than you own. The version on the Duke MPS Lab computers is Adobe Illustrator CS6. If someone you’re sending the design to has an earlier version, you’ll need to save your file as an earlier version so that they can open and edit the file. In addition, some merchandise companies may ask to put the file in an .eps format or save with another file extension. To both save with a different extension and in an earlier version of Adobe, go to File > Save or command + s on a Mac and ctrl + s on a PC. A menu like this will pop up:

Screen Shot 2014-11-10 at 6.40.24 PM

Click the drop down menu next to format. In this image, it says “Adobe Illustrator (ai).” In that drop down menu, you’ll find other options. To save it as an .eps file, choose “Illustrator EPS (eps).” Then, click Save. Then, another window will pop up called EPS Options that looks like this:Screen Shot 2014-11-10 at 6.42.24 PM

The first option on this menu is labeled “Version.” Click the drop down menu there and choose the version you need to convert to. Then, click Save and you’re done!

  1. Save with a strong title

Finally, make sure your document has a strong title. The title should clearly describe the document as concise as possible. If sending the document to a company, it would be useful to put your name or the name of the organization in the document name. It would be useful to also put the purpose of the document (logo, shirt, flyer, etc.). For example, I named the document I used for this tutorial Duke Logo.

√ Outline text

√ Outline stroke

√ Save in the right format and version of Adobe

√ Save with a strong title

Use this checklist and make communicating designs with other people easier!

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How to Create Custom Animated GIFs in Photoshop

GIFs these days are a popular way to repeatedly relive some of your favorite moments, so today, I’ll show you a simple way to create your own animated GIFs in Photoshop. There’s plenty of free online tools that’ll make these for you, but being able to do it yourself in Photoshop gives you a lot of flexibility in designing your final products. Let’s get started.

1. Grab a couple of your favorite images that you’d like to include in your GIF. I’ll be using a headshot of Nicolas Cage and a pair of 8-bit sunglasses. Open up your main background image in Photoshop.

Screen Shot 2014-11-02 at 7.31.52 PM









2. Next, go to Window -> Timeline and a window like this should appear:

Screen Shot 2014-11-02 at 7.52.47 PM

This Timeline view is what allows you to make videos out of still images, frame by frame.

3. Creating the animation is a pretty manual process, but before we get to that, let’s make sure we have everything setup correctly. You’ll want to make sure that the number next to the arrow under the first frame is 0.1. This is how long that specific frame is going to last, and we set it to 0.1 so we don’t see any delays during the animation. Also, you’ll notice the sunglasses are no longer visible, that is because I’ve hidden them within the regular Photoshop window for this frame. The sunglasses are the part of the image that is going to be animated, so let’s have it start off-screen for now.

Screen Shot 2014-11-02 at 8.10.20 PM

4. Here’s the fun part: we’re going to duplicate the frame, one at a time, and each time move the sunglasses down slightly. First, duplicate the first frame by clicking on the little post-it note icon on the Timeline window, then make the sunglasses layer visible. You do this by selecting the newest frame (there should now be a blue background), then making the layer visible, just like you would in any other Photoshop project. Then duplicate that frame, and within the newest frame, move the sunglasses down slightly. (Slightly is rather arbitrary here, but don’t have too large so that the animation is too jumpy, but if it’s too small, you’ll be wasting time duplicating 100 layers). Repeat this process until the target object is at it’s resting place, your Timeline should look similar to this:

Screen Shot 2014-11-02 at 8.10.58 PM

5. At this point, if you select the first frame then hit the play button, Photoshop will play your animation, but it’ll only play it once. We typically want our GIFs to play endlessly, so change the default setting in the window from “Once” to “Forever”. Your GIF is now ready for exporting, but I’m going to add a little more flavor to mine. If you’re done with your GIF, you can skip to Step 7.

6. Since we’re already making something meant for the Internet, why don’t we add some meme flavor as well. To do this, we’ll be using the common meme font, Impact. Using Photoshop’s text tool, type out your message. Then, go to Window –> Character, and change the text’s font to Impact. Size the words up until you’re at the desired size, then make the font color white. To really make the font stand out, make sure you have the text layer selected, then go to Layer –> Layer Style –> Stroke. The default Stroke size is 3 pixels, and this works for most cases. You can adjust as necessary. The text is now visible on all the frames, but if you want to have the text disappear at some point, select all the frames in which you don’t want the text, then make the text layer invisible.

Screen Shot 2014-11-02 at 8.24.51 PM









7. Now that your GIF is ready to go, we need to export it for viewing. Go to File –> Save for Web. The default settings work pretty well, so there’s no need for you to mess around with them. Once your files has been saved, you’ll want to open it with your preferred internet browser.

Voila! You’ve made your own custom GIF and can share it with the world.

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How to remove background noise and hissing in Audacity

When making voice recordings in the lab, you’ll note that we have some great hardware and software for you to use. That said, even the best microphones are prone to picking up background noise. Luckily, there is an easy way to remove the annoying hum of that air conditioner or the whistling of the wind from your soundbite, resulting in a clean and crisp recording. Check out the video below to see how:

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  • What is the MPS?

    The Multimedia Project Studios are a series of high-end computer labs located at Duke University. We feature cutting edge equipment and industry standard software and are staffed by a corps of student Multimedia Consultants who are available to help you out with your project on a one-on-one basis, but are not able to do production work on your behalf.
    MPS Lab Locations & Hours
    MPS East
    115 Lilly Library
    The MPS in Lilly is open whenever the library is open. Check their site for hours, which can change during holidays and academic breaks.

    MPS West
    006 Bostock
    The MPS in Bostock is open whenever the library is open. Check their site for hours, which can change during holidays and academic breaks.

    Staffed Hours for Both Locations

    Winter, summer, and other break hours will vary, according to student consultant availability. To check consultants' availability, view our Live Schedule.

    Sunday - Thursday: noon to midnight
    Friday: noon to six
    Be sure to check our Live Schedule to see who will be on staff and our staff page to meet our talented consultants.