Photoshop CS5/After Effects 2/20

For users of Photoshop Elements, an affordable watered down version of Photoshop, the process of merging photos is relatively simple. By using the Lasso to trace around specific images, Magic Wand to select large bodies of like colors, Clone tool to touch up imperfections and the Eraser or Brush to remove small bits of unwanted background, capturing and compositing is an easy task. The tools are  efficient, easy to use, if  somewhat one dimensional.

The full blown Photoshop CS5  program does the same thing – merges, composites photos – at light speed and accuracy. Channels, Layers, and Path windows allow the technical artist greater creativity in selecting, coloring and integrating photos from divergent sources to sync seamlessly.

The concept of masking, inverting, loading isn’t difficult, but Photoshop requires the technician to click and point at certain parts of each option in the perfect blending of time and space. In other words, click on the right option – the Word, or the Mask, or the RGB image – or you’re screwed.

All hail the History window, without which many a Photoshop devotee would turn tail and run. History window allows the user to go back a few steps, or in the worst case scenario, start anew.

Oh, but the magic when all Options, Commands, Selections align to create the perfect blend of background, foreground and coloration. Many tools are hidden or require help from modifiers to weave their spell. Memorizing the list of modifier/keystroke combinations and short cut keys are essential to building speed and confidence. (Plus it makes the user look like a Photoshop wiz to anyone looking over their shoulder.)

Learning to use these tools will set the artist within, free. And open the door to the most amazingly professional work imaginable.


This week’s project includes two photos: (1) a palm tree silhouetted against the ocean glowing from the reflection of a gorgeous setting sun, (2) a different species of palm tree towering over a jungle of nondescript trees.


Selected items from each photo, assign them to different Layers, then Import the layers to After Effects.


  • Remove the palm tree, its island and brush from the sunset scene.
  • Fill in the blank space by repairing the background.
  • Lay the new palm tree and underbrush against the sky to recolor the tree to match the sunset.
  • Move all Layers into After Effects.
  • Add a Camera.
  • 3D the scene.
  • Move the camera through the trees to reveal the gorgeous sunset.


  • Using the Pen tool to trace around a specific image.
  • Tracing around corners to get a perfect fit.
  • Changing curve of the Pen tool from straight line to curved line.
  • Properties of nodes – Bezier curve handles, using two handles simultaneously, breaking handles apart, appearance of nodes and how they act, changing node actions.

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