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DFX Tutorial 3 - Masks, Paths & Animation
Figure 1 Click for larger view
Figure 2 Click for larger view
Figure 3 Click for larger view
Figure 4 Click for larger view
Figure 5 Click for larger view
Figure 6 Click for larger view


Step 1
This tutorial begins at the end point of DFX Tutorial 2 - Inserting & Animating Tools. Please open the Flow from Tutorial 2.

Step 2
Go to frame 175 of the sequence by dragging the Time Slider to the frame. View Merge 2 on the Large View and Merge 3 on the Small View. Right click on the Small View and select Display and choose Alpha. This allows you to view the alpha channel of Merge 3. Select Merge 3 on the Flow area. (Fig 1)

Step 3
In the Large View, right click on the center of the ship. Select Effect Mask from the context menu, then Ellipse. Notice the circle that is added to the screen and the new Ellipse 1 Control Header located under the Small View. Also note that the laser beam is cut off at the circumference of the circle.

Adding the Ellipse Effect Mask on Merge 3 caused this, because Merge 3 is the tool that combines the space ship clip without the laser (Loader 3), to the one with laser (Loader 4).

Step 4
Press F10 to enlarge the mask and path area. Expand the Ellipse 1 Control Header to reveal its set of controls. Pressing F11 will restore the Control Area. (Fig 2)

Step 5
The Level Slider controls the intensity of the effect within the mask and should be set to 1. The Soft Edge slider blends the edge of the mask more gradually and should be set to about 0.03 The Width slider and Height sliders determine the dimensions of the mask and these should be set to 0.5

Step 6
Click and drag the crosshair in the center of the circle to move it around. If you cannot see a circle and crosshair, double check that Merge 3 is still selected in the Flow. Notice that the Effect Mask only masks out the laser and not the ship. This is because the ship is the background image and an Effect Mask only affects the foreground input of the tool to which it is applied. In this case, that is the laser on Merge 3.

Step 7
Now, animate the laser to blast the planet's surface more realistically by creating a path for the mask to move along. Confirm that the current frame is set to 175

Step 8
Click on the Ellipse 1 center crosshair and drag the mask up and to the left, past the length of the laser, until the beam is completely hidden. This will be one end of the mask's path. Right click on the mask's center crosshair and select Ellipse 1 Center, then choose Path. This should add a small white square at the center of the mask. Right click on this square and select Path 1, then Insert & Modify. (Fig 3)

Step 9
Advance to frame 185. Click once at the bottom right corner of the image in the Large View. Drag the mask back down to the bottom right corner of the image, until the laser is completely hidden again. This will be the other end of the mask's path. Notice the line connecting the first point to the second. This is the path for Ellipse 1.

Step 10
Advance to frame 186 by pressing the ] key on the keyboard. Open the Control Header labeled Path 1. The displacement control animates the distance the mask will travel along the path. The starting point of the path is represented by 0 and the end of the path is 1.0. Set this control back to 0 to return the mask to the beginning of the path for frame 186.

Step 11
Press F8 to replace the Flow area with the Spline Editor. Select the Fit button in the top left corner of the Spline Editor to cause the Path 1: Displacement spline to fit within the screen area. Notice the little boxes in the spline at frame 175, 185 and 186.

These are key frames (Fig 4) that represent the values of the displacement slider we set in step 8, 9 and 10. Select these keys by using your mouse to draw a rectangle around all three of the boxes. The keys should turn white with yellow control handles. Right click and select Set Loop to cause the key values to loop throughout the remainder of the sequence.


Step 12
It takes 10 frames for the mask to travel from the top left point to the bottom right point of the path, then 1 frame to go back up to the start. The movement will reveal and then hide the laser, causing it to animate on and off. Set the render start to 175 and the render end to 224. Right click on Merge 2 and create a preview on the Large View.

Play back the rendered animation using the Preview transport controls, which will appear at the bottom of the Control Area when Digital Fusion has completed rendering your sequence.

Step 13
Although the sequence is essentially finished, now is the time for fine-tuning. In particular, the space ship is hard to see and the stars are shimmering far too much.

Step 14
Drag and drop a Brightness/Contrast tool between Merge 3 and Merge 2. Once again DFX makes room for the new tool and automatically connects the necessary in and out pipes.

Step 15
View Merge 2 in the Large View. If you have a video monitor, view it on that. (Fig 5) Expand the Brightness/Contrast Control Header.

Step 16
The four check boxes named Red, Green, Blue and Alpha represent the channels affected by the tool. A check mark indicates that the tool will affect that channel. Click to clear the Alpha box, leaving the other boxes checked.

This will explicitly control the brightness and contrast of the space ship without affecting its transparency.

Step 17
The Gain, Brightness and Contrast sliders affect the image's appearance. Raising the Gain causes the color channels to be more intense. The more color, the more vibrant the image will be. Raising and lowering the Brightness will make the image brighter and darker, respectively. Adjusting the Contrast will increase or reduce the contrast of the image.

Step 18
View frame 90 of the sequence. This may be the frame where the ship is least visible. Drag the Brightness slider right until the ship's detail is more noticeable. The ship is now brighter.

Step 19
Drag the Contrast slider right to compensate for the Brightness control's affect.

Step 20
After these two controls are adjusted to your satisfaction, adjust the Gain value to 1.4, the Brightness to 0 and the Contrast also to 0. Collapse the Control Header by clicking on it.

Step 21
Add a Blur tool after Merge 2 and view it on Large. This will eliminate the stars shimmer, and will also soften the whole image to help minimize the 'computer generated' look often caused by the sharpness of rendered images.

Step 22
Experiment with the various controls. Refer to the online help for detailed explanations of each of the controls.

Step 23
Reset the Blur tool to its default settings by right clicking on the Blur tool's Control Header. From the context menu select Settings and then Load Default. For the purposes of these tutorials, the defaults are sufficient.

Step 24
Add a Filter tool (Fltr) after the Blur and display it on the Large View. Use the Filter tool to add simulated grain to the sequence, giving it a more realistic film look. The Filter Type drop down list offers several choices of filter types. Descriptions of these are available in the online help. Select the Grain type. Set the Power slider to 4 and set the Blend slider, located under the DFX tab, to 0.5.

Step 25
Drag and drop a Saver tool (SV) after the Filter. The Saver will store each file of the finished sequence in the location that is designated with the controls. After expanding the Saver's Control Header, click on the yellow folder to browse local hard drives.

Navigate to the directory where completed frames are going to be stored, and choose an appropriate name for the files, such as 'Space'. Also select the correct file type, be it TGA, AVI or DPS. (Fig 6)

Step 26
Confirm that the render start and end times are set correctly, and save the Flow. Click on the Start Render button.

The green Render Light will go on, indicating that DFX is now rendering out the final sequence, follow the green light as it renders through the Flow. The Status Bar along the bottom of the screen will give an approximate time to completion.


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