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 How to make overlays simply easy with GIMP (tutorial by jamesspetts)

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PostSubject: How to make overlays simply easy with GIMP (tutorial by jamesspetts)   Wed Mar 18, 2009 3:04 pm

It is rather a shame that the default credits and subtitles are rather limiting, and do not let one use what is perhaps the most common sort of introduction credits in films: those overlayed over the beginning of the film itself. Subtitles don't cut it, as they're always too small and too near the bottom of the screen. They just look like... well... subtitles. With the release of Stunts & Effects, however, changing that is now quite easy using the overlay feature.

Stage 1 - making the overlays in The Gimp

I have chosen the GIMP both because it is what I use and it is free. It is also possible to do this in Photoshop, although the process will be a little different. You will need to get the .dds plugin.

Start a new 1287x512 RGB image. Whatever is the background layer will be the alpha channel: i.e., the original film. Make the background colour different to the colour that you want your text to be so that you can see your text. (You will only need to do this the first time: on subsequent occasions, it is easier to load a .dds file that you have already made, and modify it. In an existing .dds file, the alpha channel is helpfully marked as a grey check pattern).

Using the text tool, create a new text layer, and add your text. White is a G o o d [Good] colour for most films, but black may be better if the scene over which the credit sequence is to be played is very light. Any colour can be used, however. The image is the shape of the film size, so put the text in the image where you would like it to appear on the film. Text placed, for example, at the bottom of the image, will appear at the bottom of the film. Then - and this is important - go to the "layer" menu, and select "layer to image size". If you do not do this, only the text layer will be saved, and the text will be stretched to fill the whole screen.

Then, export the file as a .dds. Do this simply by giving the file a .dds extension when you come to name the file: if the .dds plugin is installed, the GIMP will automatically save it as a .dds file. Make sure that the "create mipmaps" checkbox in the .dds export dialogue is unchecked. The compression does not seem to matter much. The files need to have particular names and be placed in a particular directory.

Name your files overlay_[yourname]_v00.dds, where [yourname] is the unique name for your title. So, for example, overlay_voiceactors1_v00.dds would be a sensible name. They need to be placed in the ..\The Movies\Data\Textures\Overlays directory.

If you want to make a thumbnail to make selecting the overlay from the AAM easier, make a 64x64 .dds file with the thumbnail image of your choice, and save it in ..\The Movies\Data\Textures\Overlays\Thumbnails directory. This is not essential.

Stage 2 - adding the titles to your movie

The simple way is just to associate each title overlay with one particular scene. Doing this is as simple as selecting the overlay from the overlay selector for the scene in question. Do be careful, however, to make sure that the chosen colour of text is clearly visible againt the particular background in the scene in question.

Some tinkering with positions in the GIMP may be necessary; unfortunately, one has to quit and restart the game every time that one makes or modifies .dds files, and the game appears to index them on startup.

Most real films, however, do not always transition the titles at exactly the same times as they transition the scenes: titles often come in and out during a single scene, and often persist over multiple scenes. To have titles appear and disappear in the same scene, create two scenes: one without the title overlay, and one with it.

Do this with the "clone scene" feature (right click on the scene icon (the bottom one) in AAM). Then, in PP, splice the scene without the title overlay where you want the title to come in.

Without moving the current position bar re-order the scenes, so that the scene with the title overlay is now in the same position as the one without the title overlay was in before. Without moving the current position bar, splice that scene again. This will ensure that the two scenes are spliced in exactly the same place.

Then, put the beginning of the scene without the title overlay next to the end of the scene with it, and delete the two other scene fragments, and the title will appear part way through the scene without losing continuity of animation or camera angle. The same principle can be applied to having multiple title transitions in the scene, but that is a little more complicated: one must always remember that one needs to align all the fragments so that one is always splicing in exactly the same place.

To create titles on a black background, the easy way is just to point the camera at the fourth wall, including none of the set: that will come out black. One can make a black backdrop for the bluescreen set, but that is somewhat unnecessary. Otherwise, the same technique as above applies, save that one need not splice to preserve animation, and fade in and fade out can be used to fade the credits.

Stage 3 - the example

All of the techniques demonstrated above can be seen in my new short film, "Cold Dawn". (It is not just a technical demonstration, incidentally: it is a proper film with a plot.). The introductory "Galaxy Studios" title sequence was created using the bluescreen, freecam, and the sound-crew statue, along with the galaxy backdrop found in the "custom backdrops" section of this forum.

The music I wrote myself, using Cakewalk Home Studio 6, and played on a SoundBlaster XFI Fat1lity (for G o o d [Good] quality MIDI). All reviews are welcome :-)
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