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Soft Masking Technique and Drop Shadow

September 24, 1998
by Frank Di Luzio

About 10 years ago, as a photographer, I spent lots of time and effort in the darkroom creating positive and negative masks in order to compose images and give them drop shadows. As we all know, now this is easily accomplished in programs like Photoshop. Now I work on the computer and only go into the darkroom to unload film. The problem in Director was that I had to compose images with the background if I wanted a shadow or a soft edge around a cast member. This meant creating lots of artwork for every situation. It sometimes meant putting my control buttons in a console so they always had the same background regardless of what happened on stage.

With this technique demonstrated below, you can place your artwork anywhere on the stage on any background and it doesn't look like a cut and paste project your kid brought home from kindergarten.

By using ink effects, you can create artwork with varying degrees of softness, shadow or soft halo. This works with a color depth of 16 bit or greater. The technique works by placing an image which is antialized on a black or white background over a black and white positive or negative silhouette of itself. (i.e. Castmember 10 + 11 and 12 + 13 respectively)

If the image is antialized over black (castmember 11):

  1. place the image over a positive black and white silhouette of itself on the stage (castmember 10).
  2. set the ink of the image to Lightest (37).
  3. set the ink of the silhouette to Darkest (39)

Drag the images into the score rather than to the stage to ensure registration. You must select both sprites to keep them in unison when you reposition them on the stage. Both image and silhouette should be equal in pixel size. Check that the silhouette is an 8 bit black and white in order to save resources.

Dragging the B&W silhouette image into the score also drags a palette with it. Since we're working with more than 256 colors anyway you can erase it in the score. Otherwise you may notice strange things happening to the colors.

In cases where the image is antialized on white, (castmember 13) reverse the ink effects.

Creating a larger or smaller silhouette will affect the degree of halo effect. You can also try silhouettes that are softer than the image edge. The easiest way to do this is to simply use copy and paste.

  1. Open Director and Photoshop.
  2. Create an image and its silhouette in photoshop.
  3. Use select all and then copy the selection into the paste buffer.
  4. Switch to Director and paste it into the cast. Do this once for the image and again for the silhouette.
  5. Place the images on stage as described above.
  6. Now go back to photoshop and change a characteristic you want to experiment with (for instance the softness of the mask or its size). Just select all again, copy and paste the new image over the old one in Director and take a look at the change on stage. You may want to save the film and photoshop image before each change in case you can't undo.

Drop Shadows

Create a B&W negative image of the shadow shape inside a rectangle. Soften the edges in the Director Paint window by selecting the image so that you don't soften the edges of the rectangle but allow enough free space to soften the shadow shape without cropping it. (Castmember 14). Note: A white shadow shape will be black and a shade of grayn and will be transparent equal to the shade of gray.

Put the shadow on stage and give it the ink effect Substract Pin (35).

Tip: Create your artwork in a separate movie. When finished, simply drag the new data.dir into the cast of your existing movie. Surprise, surprise, now you can have everything you just did in one channel by dragging the first cast member of the group into the score. All movement and layering is preserved. Try dragging this movie (Mac or PC) into one of your own.

Frank Di Luzio has a BFA in photography from Rochester Institute of Technology. As the special effects photography he did moved from the darkroom to the computer he persued his interests in electronic media. Currently, Frank is the Director progamer for DIA3 in Munich, Germany. Born in Spain and raised in the USA, Frank is now fluent in 3 languages.

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