Written by Austin Powers
Assuming you have some basic experience with Final Cut, such as adding and adjusting filters, here you’ll learn how to create a simple yet effective eye reflection effect that just might launch your film career. Or at least make your mother proud.
We’ll start with two clips: a close-up shot of our actor’s eye, and the clip we want to transform into a reflection. That could a shot of another person’s face, a shot of a computer screen, whatever you can think of. I’ll use a clip of a pizza slice tumbling through the air. If you’re going to use this effect, you’ll probably want it to be slightly slow motion so you can milk the moment for all it is worth. Let’s take a look at the length of the clips.
The clip of the actor’s eye isn’t very long, because he had trouble with the proximity of the camera lens. You’ll want this to be a nice sharp extreme closeup, and as long of a take as possible (hopefully your talent will cooperate). You’ll also want the eye to be as stationary as possible, and this tutorial assumes that you’ve kept it close to stationary. To slow the clip down, I’ll just right-click on the clip, select “Change Speed”, and set the rate at 25%. This actually works perfectly, because the clip we are transforming into a reflection was shot with a high-speed camera at 120 frames per second and then automatically slowed down to 30 frames per second on the camera. Playing a regular 30fps clip back at a 25% rate will slow it down to about the same apparent speed. If both of your clips start out at normal 30fps, you can experiment with slowing them both down by the same amount.
Our eye clip isn’t as sharp as I’d like, so I’ll drop a “Sharpen” video filter and experiment with its settings, settling on an amount of 25. It’s important to have a rather sharp eye shot so that you can match the reflection to it, and so that the sharp reflection video blends in with the rest of the shot.
Now we’ll move the reflection clip to the video track directly above our eye clip. We need to resize the overlaid clip, so we’ll enable “Image + Wireframe” in the Canvas.
Using the corner points of the wireframe display, scale the overlaid clip down so that the object of interest — here, the peak of the pizza’s parabola— is right in the center of the eye. Don’t worry about the motion of your actor’s head just yet.
Now let’s work on the look of the overlaid clip. Right-click on the clip in the timeline and set its “Composite Mode” to “Soft Light”. This should make your clip almost disappear from the Canvas, but you’ll notice that what you want to see— in this case, the tumbling pizza — is overlaid and blends in pretty well as a reflection already.
It might be too dark, though, so let’s add a simple “Brightness and Contrast (Bezier)” filter, found in the “Image Control” effects subfolder. Experiment with these settings to your heart’s content, but remember that your goal should be something approaching a natural reflection. Anything too bright will look unnatural, and the effect will be too obviously artificial.
To approximate the curved surface of the human eye, we’ll apply a “Fisheye” filter, found in the “Distort” section, to the overlaid clip and adjust its settings. Set “center” to about the center of your actor’s eye by selecting “center” under the fisheye filter settings and moving the red crosshairs in the Canvas. Then adjust the radius and amount settings to give a slight, well-spread-out curvature to the overlaid clip.
And now the most complicated part of this effect: the Eight-Point Garbage Matte filter, found in the “Matte” section. This filter will block out everything but the portion of the pizza clip we actually want to see. If we set the edges of the garbage matte to the edges of our actor’s eye, then the pizza will only be visible when it is in front of the eye. Our only problem here is that the actor couldn’t hold his head still, so his eye moves between each frame. That means that we’ll have to adjust the position of each of the points of the garbage matte for each frame. Think of it as frame-by-frame Photoshop.
Navigate to the first frame of the overlaid clip. Using the same button-then-adjust-the-crosshairs process that you used earlier to center the fisheye effect on your actor’s pupil, set each of the eight garbage matte points around the edge of the eye so that the overlaid clip only appears over the surface of the eye.
Now that we’ve set our garbage matte for the first frame, we need to add a new set of garbage matte points every few frames to account for the movement of our actor’s eye. We’ll do this by adding keyframes to the garbage matte filter.
Make sure you are still on the first frame of the overlaid clip. For each garbage matte point, click the little diamond shaped button to insert a keyframe. Do this for all eight points, then advance a few frames and drop another set of keyframes for all eight points. Then adjust the location of each garbage matte point if you need to. If the actor’s eye has moved, move with it. Keep repeating this keyframe-adjust process for every few frames of video. You may find it helpful to add a slight feather and/or smooth effect to make the edges of the garbage matte softer; these functions are built into the garbage matte filter, and I used levels of 15 and 27 respectively.
When you are done, you should be able to play back your sequence and see the overlaid video appear only inside the boundaries of your actor’s eye. It should look like a reflection. If anything appears out of line — part of the overlaid video spills off the surface of the eye, or the moving garbage matte points aren’t quite right — you can always go back and fine-tune the settings at each keyframe, or even add more keyframes if need be.
It’s often hard to follow a text tutorial for a somewhat complicated effect like this, so I’ve included the project file I used to create this tutorial so you can see how my garbage matte and keyframes are set up. Just download the .zip folder, unpack the archive, load the Final Cut project, and if you get a “Reconnect Media” error, just point Final Cut to the location where you’ve saved the project folder. Feel free to use my sample clips and project in any way you like.
If you have particular questions about this tutorial, I’d be happy to help you out via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.