Colorizing Old Movies with Photoshop Layers

Once you've stabilized and rotoscoped an old movie, you may want to give it a little character and modernization by tint colorizing. Instead of perfect colorizing in fine detail, this stylized process will result in something you may have seen in the fifties or sixties with tinted black-and-white movies. This process can be done easily by creating a few layers in Photoshop and animating them in AfterEffects on top of the black-and-white QuickTime movie.

In this project, we'll use an old Los Angeles street scene, featuring a few classic cars in motion. Open the movie file CarsRoto.mov in QuickTime Pro. Find a few frames of the movie that show the best view of each of the cars. This might be a bit more difficult for the faster moving cars, but we don't have to be too precise in this process.

Copy each frame where a car is in view to the clipboard, and paste it into a new Photoshop file of the same dimensions (Figure 7.14). Keep adding the layers, one on top of another.

Figure 7.14 Locate the frames that best show the cars,and copy and paste them into a Photoshop file as layers.

Start with the background cars and buildings, hiding the other car layers. Create a new layer above the street-level layer, and set the Blending Mode to Color. Use the Paintbrush tool with hard-edge brushes to paint color around all of the objects in the frame, using colors that may be somewhat natural, but don't try for perfect shading (Figure 7.15). Change the Blending Mode to Normal occasionally, and check to see that you have total coverage on the buildings, the street, and the two cars in the background.

Figure 7.15 Paint in colored areas in a layer above the street-level layer. O

On the remaining layers, select and remove all of the image material around the cars you want to colorize. This does not need to be an accurate selection, because the colorization will be very generalized in the areas of motion in the final movie composite.

Similarly to the street-level layer, create a new layer above each car layer and set it to Color Blending Mode. Paint the colored layers completely on this layer, switching back and forth between the Color and Normal Blending Modes, to make sure there aren't any "holes" in the colors (Figure 7.16). If an area is to be left with no color, such as around the wheels or chrome, then use white or gray, so they do not become transparent. It is fine to leave some transparency in the windows so the background colors will pass through.

Figure 7.16

Isolate the cars on their own layers and paint on color layers above each of them, and don't leave any gaps in the painted areas.

Figure 7.16

Isolate the cars on their own layers and paint on color layers above each of them, and don't leave any gaps in the painted areas.

Once you have created color layers for each separate car and the street-level layers, save the PSD file and create a new project file in AfterEffects. Import the CarsRoto.mov QuickTime movie file and the color-layered PSD file as a Composition to retain the layers.

Create a new composition, 640 x 480 NTSC, 3 seconds in length, and drag both imported files to the Comp window. Delete the still black-and-white and background layers from the PSD file in the Timeline window. Change the Blending Mode on all of the color layers for the individual cars and the street-level layer to Color (Layer > Blending Mode > Color). Arrange them in order on the Timeline so the street-level layer is on the bottom, just over the movie layer, and then proceed with Layers 2, 3, and 4 in order on top of that (Figure 7.17). At Frame 1 on the Timeline, hide Layers 3 and 4, because those cars are not in the frame yet.

Starting with Layer 2 at Frame 1, the beige car is in the center of the frame. You may need to drag the layer into position over the car if it isn't already aligned. Because the car will be moving at an angle off the left side of the screen, the color layer will need to be scaled and moved along to follow the car beneath. Open the Transform option on Layer 2 in the Timeline, and click the Stopwatches for both Position and Scale. This will set the key frames for Frame 1.

Figure 7.17 Arrange the layers in order on the Timeline so that the street-level layer is just above the movie layer,followed by Layers 2,3, and 4.

Figure 7.17 Arrange the layers in order on the Timeline so that the street-level layer is just above the movie layer,followed by Layers 2,3, and 4.

Move the Indicator down to the point where you see the yellow car start to go off the screen, and then drag the color layer to the left to match up with it (Figure 7.18). You will need to adjust both the Scale and Position as the car approaches, and try to align it as close as possible to the car in the movie layer. When you click on and drag a color layer, it will temporarily turn opaque. This is normal behavior, and the layer will return to the colorized mode as soon as you let go.

Figure 7.18 Reposition and scale the color layer of the yellow car to match the motion as close as possible with the movie.

Figure 7.18 Reposition and scale the color layer of the yellow car to match the motion as close as possible with the movie.

Note: Layers that have the Blending Mode set to Color in After Effects will override the colors of the layer beneath as they pass over the top of one another.This makes it easy to colorize using only the color layers without having to set each colorized object on its own layer.

Continue with the remaining color layers, repositioning and scaling them to match the car's motion on the movie layer beneath them. Notice how the colors of the cars and background show through the transparent portions of the windows (Figure 7.19).

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