As we continue our series on effects inspired by music videos, one of the effects I find entrancingly beautiful is the ghosted figure effect. One of the best examples of this effect is seen throughout Adele's "Send My Love" music video.
Even though the effect is simple and straightforward, it is hauntingly beautiful. It's not difficult to achieve either, and since Photoshop can handle video files, it can be accomplished without the assistance of a more traditional video editing program like Premiere or After Effects. For the adventurous, I've written a tutorial on how to create Adele's ghosted video effect with video, too.
The effect can be used on almost any video, but it works best on videos of dancers with large movements against a blank background. Envato Market has several great examples, like this Club Dancer on a transparent background, or this Masked Dancer against a white background. Even this high energy Street Race Dancer against a black background will work well for this technique.
1. Set Up the Project
The inspirational material for this effect features several clips of Adele singing. Each clip is very similar, but also distinctly different. Unless you are shooting your own video, it could be rather difficult to find multiple clips of a single dancer. Instead, consider using a fairly lengthy video of a dancer. That way you can pull frames from throughout the video and use them in place of the alternate clips.
To demonstrate this effect, I decided to use this clip from Envato Market of an elegant dancer in a flowing red dress.
Launch Photoshop and load the video with File > Open. Photoshop will display the first frame of the video file, and the Layers panel will show a Video layer within a Video Group.
If the Video panel is not open, go to Window > Timeline to open it. Notice the playhead handle in the timeline; drag it to the right to scrub through the video, or press the Play button to watch the video playback.
2. Copy Still Frames
The approach here is to copy individual frames of the video and use those to create the ghosted images seen in the final effect. It may seem rather counterintuitive to use Photoshop to extract still frames from a video file, but it's actually very easy.
Use the playhead to scrub through the video to find a pose that is large and visually interesting, like around timecode 00:11:24.
Now go to Select > All to create a selection of the entire canvas. Then go to Layer > New > Layer Via Copy (Control-J) to copy that frame to a new layer. Photoshop automatically places that layer within the video group. Use the Layers panel to drag the new layer out and over the top of the video group.
Notice in the Timeline that the new layer is added to the end of the video layer time. Grab it and drag it back to the beginning of the timeline so it appears at the 00:00:00 mark. Then set the layer Opacity to 50%.
Use the same technique to create several other semi-transparent frames from the video. Here you can see frames pulled from the following timestamps:
Even with the reduced opacity, it's difficult to see all the duplicate copies. The lower copies can get visually lost. Hold down the Shift key while clicking in the Layers panel to select all the still frames. Then change the blending modes to Multiply.
Some of the elements are stacked too tightly together; the composition can benefit from spacing out the ghosts a bit. Select one of the layers that is difficult to see, in this case the topmost one, Layer 2. Then move it to the side until it is more clearly visible.
The movement of the layer reveals a hard line where the edge of that layer is now clearly visible. This can be easily removed with a Layer Mask. Go to Layer > Layer Mask > Reveal All to add a mask to that layer. Then use the Gradient Tool (G) with a Black to White preset gradient in the Linear shape. Start the gradient at the beginning of the layer's edge and pull it inwards towards the center.
Continue moving the duplicate layers and adding layer masks with gradients to remove hard edges. Do this until the composition is clear and well balanced.
3. Finish the Effect
Now that the "ghosts" have been created, it's time to clean up the final image and finish the overall effect. The source figure needs to be more prominent and visible and easily discernible through the cloud of duplicates. Also, the entire composition needs to be brighter and less muddy.
The original dancer image should be the most prominent. Grab the original video layer and go to Edit > Transform > Free Transform (Control-T) and Scale up the video layer up by about 40% (note: transforming the video will convert it into a Smart Object).
Go to Select > All (Control-A) and then Edit > Copy (Control-C). Then click on the topmost layer to make it the active layer and go to Edit > Paste (Control-V) to create another layer from the copied video frame. Set this layer's Opacity to 22%.
Go to the Adjustments panel and click on the Curves icon to add a Curves adjustment layer. In the Properties panel, adjust the Curve so the top-right control point aligns with the right edge of the histogram. Then add a control point to the center of the curve and push it upwards to brighten the image.
Go back to the Adjustments panel and add a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer. Use the On-Screen Adjustment Tool to click on the background of the image and drag it to the left. Notice that the tool detects the Yellow tones of the background and begins to desaturate them. Pull the Saturation down to around -42 and set the Lightness to around +60.
The ghosted dancer effect is complete! That wasn't hard at all, was it?
Alternate Time Offset Effect
The same techniques can also be applied to create a time offset style effect that has the ghostly images following the dancing figure. This is also known as an "onion-skin" effect in animation or video editing.
Open the video in a new file again with the File > Open command. Be sure the Timeline panel is readily available.
Locate a few seconds of the video that contains a very large motion, preferably one that covers a lot of horizontal space. For example, in this clip, the dancer does a twirl in the 10-13 second range.
Use the Select > All and Copy, Paste method to copy frames from throughout the movement. The technique will work best if the frame grabs are evenly spaced. Every 15 frames of video is half a second, and that works as a good interval.
As you paste in each frame and move it to the beginning of the timeline, name the layer according to the time code and set the Opacity to 20%. As the layers build up, you will see the effect starting to take shape.
Use the Shift-click method to select all the layers in the Layers panel (excluding the video group) and go to Layer > Arrange > Reverse. The reverses the order of the layers, which puts the frame from earliest in the video at the top.
Set the Opacity of the bottom layer, called 13:00, to 100%. Each layer above that will have a blending mode of Multiply, and the Opacity setting will decrease gradually for each layer:
- Layer 10:00 blending mode of Multiply, Opacity of 5%
- Layer 10:15 blending mode of Multiply, Opacity of 10%
- Layer 11:00 blending mode of Multiply, Opacity of 20%
- Layer 11:15 blending mode of Multiply, Opacity of 30%
- Layer 12:00 blending mode of Multiply, Opacity of 40%
- Layer 12:15 blending mode of Multiply, Opacity of 50%
- Layer 13:00 blending mode of Normal, Opacity of 100%
Make sure the top layer is the active layer, and then go to the Adjustments panel and click on the Curves icon to add a Curves adjustment layer. In the Properties panel, adjust the Curve so the top-right control point aligns with the right edge of the histogram. Then add a control point to the center of the curve and push it upwards to brighten the image.
Go back to the Adjustments panel and add a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer. Use the On-Screen Adjustment Tool to click on the background of the image and drag it to the left. Notice that the tool detects the Yellow tones of the background and begins to desaturate them. Pull the Saturation down to around -52 and set the Lightness to around +55.
Photoshop's video capabilities are not nearly as robust as programs like Premiere or After Effects, but the simple fact that Photoshop can open and manipulate video files presents new opportunities for digital design. How did your time offset effect turn out? Feel free to share it in the comments below!