Stabilizing and Rotoscoping Old Movies

Before they are digitized, many old movies require a lot of restoration work because of deteriorating film and the crude photographic equipment that was used in the early twentieth century. During film exposure, early moviemakers used hand-cranked cameras with loose mechanisms. This loose quality was usually compounded by equally crude-fitting projection equipment, making for a pretty jumpy viewing experience.

Restoration of old movie footage requires many techniques, depending on the amount of deterioration or affected motion. In this project, we will stabilize the footage, reframe it, and rotoscope the worst dirt particles and scratches. Stabilization is performed in After Effects, which will give us a steady palette on which to do our roto work. Unfortunately, with hand-cranked cameras, the exposure on each individual frame varies too much to make the proper adjustments, because too much information is lost in overexposed frames.

1. Create a new project file in After Effects and import the movie file HorseStabilize-.mov; create a new composition 640 x 480 NTSC, 7 seconds in length.

2. Scale the movie up to 102%. This will hide the rough edges in the original movie file.

3. Apply a stabilizing tracker to the movie (Animation > Stabilize Motion). This will create Tracker 1 and will place a square Track Point 1 in the middle of the Comp window. Locate a stationary object in an area of the movie that has contrast—such as the lettering on the sign—and drag the box out and around some of the smaller details (Figure 7.12).

Figure 7.12

Apply and align stabilizing trackers to detailed contrast areas in your movie.

Figure 7.12

Apply and align stabilizing trackers to detailed contrast areas in your movie.

4. Click the forward Analyze button on the Tracker Controls palette and let it run all the way through the movie. Watch the Track Point box in the Comp window as it passes to make sure it doesn't jump far from its original position. If the tracker looks okay after the movie is analyzed, then click the Apply button.

5. Add a second tracker by clicking the Stabilize Motion button and repeating the process on another section of the sign.

6. Render the project as a QuickTime movie, at full resolution and with no compression. Open the rendered movie in QuickTime Pro and export it as an Image Sequence so that you can roto out the dirt and scratches. Because this movie is already 30 fps, make sure to export the Image Sequence at 30 fps as well.

7. Import the folder of sequence files into ImageReady, and then jump to Photoshop to begin the roto process.

Note: For this example, I rotoscope edited only 1 second of the movie.The before and after example movies can be found in the Chapter 7 folder on the DVD.

8. On each layer, use the Clone Stamp tool with various size brushes to carefully remove dirt, dust, and scratches in the frame (Figure 7.13). Compare each layer with the preceding and following frames to be sure that the "spot" you remove really should be removed! Take care to not disturb contrasting edges of clouds, buildings, and other objects in the movie.

Figure 7.13

Rotoscope out the dirt,dust,and scratches from each frame with the Clone Stamp tool.

Figure 7.13

Rotoscope out the dirt,dust,and scratches from each frame with the Clone Stamp tool.

Once you've completed the rotoscope edits on all layers, save the file and jump back to ImageReady. Export the sequence to a QuickTime movie file and review it in QuickTime Pro.

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