How To Use Masks In Adobe Premiere Pro And After Effects

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In video editing, if you want to dynamically crop an image or graphic in your edit, masks are the best way to do this.

premiere pro


A mask is a selection that you make within your image, which results in everything outside of that selection becoming no longer visible (or, in inverted mode, everything inside the selection being cut).

masks

In Premiere Pro, masks are easy to make using built-in masking tools, without the need for extra plug-ins. 

Premiere Pro Masking can also translate to Adobe Photoshop for image editing.

Tutorial: How To Mask

Here’s the easiest way to create masks. Simply click either the rectangle, ellipse, or pen tool in the “mask” section in the “opacity” tab, and a new mask will be created. 

You can adjust the mask further by clicking and dragging the anchor point, or even creating additional ones. You can use the draw bezier tool to create curved edges for your mask.

The two pre-made shape tools are a great way to quickly create basic masks, and the draw tool allows for more precise shapes.

In the effects control panel, you can adjust the mask feather, opacity, mask expansion, matte, and even invert or animate the mask path with keyframes.

Masks can also be used on effects (such as Lumetri Color Panel) or adjustment layers during the color correction or color grading process, or to animate transitions. Masks are also used frequently in VFX compositing.

Summary

As a video editor, I make frequent use of masks in my edits, and the fact that this can all be done within Adobe Premiere Pro CC is a huge time saver in any filmmaking workflow.

Best Practices for Masking in Premiere Pro & After Effects

Tips for Efficient Masking

  • Start with Simple Shapes: Begin with the basic shapes (rectangle, ellipse) before moving to more complex freeform masks. This approach helps in understanding the fundamentals of mask creation and manipulation.
  • Use Keyboard Shortcuts: Familiarize yourself with keyboard shortcuts for mask creation and editing. This can significantly speed up your workflow. For instance, in Premiere Pro, use ‘G’ for the pen tool and ‘V’ for the selection tool.
  • Feather Masks Judiciously: Feathering the edges of masks creates a more natural and seamless blend. However, over-feathering can lead to loss of detail or unwanted blending with the background.
  • Optimize Mask Paths: When animating masks, especially in After Effects, simplify the mask path to use the least number of points necessary. This makes the animation smoother and the file less heavy.
  • Adjust Mask Expansion: Use the Mask Expansion property to grow or shrink your mask slightly. This is useful for fine-tuning the mask edge without having to adjust each point individually.
  • Leverage Mask Tracking: For moving objects, use the mask tracking feature instead of manually animating the mask frame by frame. This saves time and increases accuracy.
  • Use Adjustment Layers: When applying effects to masked areas, consider using adjustment layers. This approach keeps your original footage intact and makes it easier to modify effects later.
  • Save Masks as Presets: If you frequently use specific mask shapes or settings, save them as presets for future use.

Common Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them

  • Ignoring Motion Blur: When masking moving objects, not accounting for motion blur can make the mask stand out and look artificial. Adjust the mask edge or apply a motion blur effect to blend it more naturally.
  • Overcomplicating Mask Shapes: Using too many points or overly complex shapes can make masks difficult to manage and animate. Stick to the simplest shape that effectively covers the area.
  • Neglecting to Review Frame by Frame: When animating masks, especially in rotoscoping, it’s essential to review the mask frame by frame to ensure accuracy.
  • Losing Track of Mask Layers: In complex projects with multiple masks, it’s easy to lose track. Properly label each mask and organize your layers for easy identification and access.
  • Not Backing Up Work: Regularly save your project, especially after completing complex masking tasks. Software crashes can happen, and having a recent backup can save hours of work.
  • Relying Too Much on Auto-Tracking: While mask tracking is powerful, it’s not infallible. Be prepared to make manual adjustments for optimal results.

FAQs

How can I make a mask only affect a specific layer in After Effects?

To ensure a mask only affects a specific layer in After Effects, apply the mask directly to that layer. If the mask is on an adjustment layer or a different layer, it will affect all layers beneath it. Remember to lock the layer if you don’t want to accidentally apply changes to it.

Is it possible to copy a mask from one clip to another in Premiere Pro?

Yes, you can copy a mask from one clip to another in Premiere Pro. Simply right-click on the mask in the Effect Controls panel and select ‘Copy’. Then, select the target clip, right-click, and choose ‘Paste’. This is useful for applying the same mask shape to different clips.

Can I use masks for color grading in Premiere Pro?

Absolutely. Masks in Premiere Pro can be used in conjunction with the Lumetri Color Panel to apply color grading to specific areas of your footage. This technique is particularly useful for correcting exposure or color in selected parts of the image.

How do I animate a mask in After Effects?

To animate a mask in After Effects, first create your mask. Then, open the mask properties, and click the stopwatch next to ‘Mask Path’ to set keyframes. Move the playhead to a new position and adjust the mask to create the animation.

Can masks be used to create split-screen effects in Premiere Pro?

Yes, you can use masks to create split-screen effects in Premiere Pro. By applying masks to different clips and positioning them accordingly, you can have multiple video clips appear on screen simultaneously in a clean, organized manner.

How do I refine the edge of a rotoscoping mask in After Effects?

In After Effects, refine the edge of a rotoscoping mask by using the ‘Refine Edge’ tool. This tool is especially useful for dealing with complex edges like hair or fuzzy outlines. It helps to create a more accurate and smooth edge for the mask.

Can I use the mask tracking feature in Premiere Pro for complex shapes?

Mask tracking in Premiere Pro works best with simple shapes. For complex shapes, especially those that change form as they move, manual keyframe adjustments might be necessary for precise tracking.

How do I switch between inverted and normal mask modes in Premiere Pro?

In the Effect Controls panel, select your mask and check or uncheck the ‘Inverted’ checkbox. This will switch between making the inside of the mask visible and the outside visible.

What is the best way to create curved edges for a mask in Premiere Pro?

Use the free draw bezier or pen tool to create curved edges. Click to create points and drag to adjust the curvature between these points for a smooth, curved edge.

How can I animate a mask path in Premiere Pro?

To animate a mask path, use keyframes. In the Effect Controls panel, position the playhead where you want the animation to start, enable keyframe recording for the Mask Path, then move the playhead and adjust the mask shape as needed.

In what ways can I use masks in color correction within Premiere Pro?

Masks in Premiere Pro can be used to apply color correction to specific areas. For example, you can use a mask on an adjustment layer with the Lumetri Color effect to selectively change color properties like exposure, saturation, or tint.

Are there any specific tips for using masks in VFX compositing in After Effects?

For VFX compositing in After Effects, use masks for tasks like removing unwanted objects, combining different video elements, or creating special effects. Precision and smooth mask edges are key for seamless compositing.

How does masking in Premiere Pro translate to Photoshop for image editing?

Masks created in Premiere Pro can be similar to those in Photoshop in terms of basic concepts like feathering, opacity, and shape. However, the actual tools and interface are different, and Photoshop offers more advanced options for still images.

What does the mask wrench icon do in Premiere Pro?

The mask wrench icon in Premiere Pro opens additional mask settings. Here, you can refine the mask properties, such as feather, opacity, and expansion for more precise control.

How to create free form shapes with the pen tool in Premiere?

Use the pen tool in the ‘Opacity’ tab to draw free-form shapes. Click to create straight lines or click and drag to create curves. This is ideal for masking irregular objects.

What is mask expansion in Premiere Pro?

Mask expansion in Premiere Pro allows you to increase or decrease the size of your mask. It’s useful for fine-tuning the mask’s fit around your subject.

How do I create straight lines with the pen tool in Premiere?

To create straight lines with the pen tool, simply click to create points without dragging. This will create straight line segments between the points.

Kevin Graham is the Creative Director at Filmpac.

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