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Tutorial: Making Custom Shapes for SpiceMaster Wizard Transitions

Hundreds of transition shapes are included in the SpiceMaster Wizard and there are near-infinite ways to modify them with just a few clicks. However, occasionally you may still want to create your own transition shape. Perhaps you need a transition that looks like a client's logo or graphic, a particular name, a holiday-related symbol, or another special need.

SpiceMaster transition Shape buttonThe good news is that the SpiceMaster Wizard can load custom shapes! Just click the triangle in the lower corner of the Shape button. A standard Open dialog box will appear for you to choose a still-image. Any image in bitmap (.bmp), JPEG (.jpg), TIFF (.tif), PNG (.png), PICT (.pct), or TGA (.tga) format will do. It can be an existing photograph or graphic, or a gradient image you created from scratch (more about gradients below).

If you are lucky, the loaded image will play fine "as is" as a transition (use SpiceMaster's built-in preview window to easily check), but more likely you will get better results taking a few minutes to fine-tune the Shape image in a graphics program such as Photoshop. To do that, follow the tips below to get smooth-flowing, good results from custom Shapes.

First Understand How a Custom Shape Forms a Transition

SpiceMaster's custom Shape capability is actually a built-in "gradient transition" player. It looks at the brightness ("luminance") values of each pixel in the Shape image (NOT in your Movie Maker clip's image). Values can range from 0 (black) to 255 (white), including all grays inbetween. These grayscale values generate the transition's dynamic flow. The transition will start where black pixels reside in the Shape image, then in progressively lighter gray pixels, and finally where the lightest pixels sit in the Shape image. (Note you can invert that progression to play white to black pixels by using SpiceMaster 's Timing button.)

Transition examples
Custom Shape image Flow of the transition using that image

The grayscale progression is why grayscale gradient images (such as the top left example above) are so handy to make custom Shapes from scratch for SpiceMaster.

How to Fine-Tune a Custom Shape

<3>Whether you are using an existing image or creating a new gradient image, follow the steps below...

1. Understand your Final Output Size. Ask yourself "What will be the frame size of my final movie in Movie Maker?" If you are not sure, peek into the Edit > Publish Movie command (or Edit > Save Movie File command in the XP version) of Movie Maker. Choose your desired output quality there, such as DV-AVI (NTSC), then look lower in the same window for its "Display size" info. For DV-AVI (NTSC), for example, the size is 720x480 pixels.

2. Match the Frame Size. Now that you know the final frame size, match it with your Shape image. Otherwise, your custom transition will be scaled during playback and may appear "blocky," "jumpy," "squished," or "stretched." For better results, do these three steps in your graphics program:
a. First use the Crop command in your graphics program if necessary to match your final aspect ratio (the ratio of frame width to frame height, such as 4:3 or 16:9). Unlike using an "Image Size" command to accomplish this, cropping will not squish or stretch your transition's geometry.
b. NOW use the "Image Size" command to re-size the cropped image to your final frame size.
c. Apply a small amount of Gaussian Blur to smooth out any scaling irregularities. Note: If you apply too much blur, the shape will lose its definition.

3. Convert to Grayscale.
Forget about color in the custom Shape image. Only each pixel's brightness ("luminance") counts. So if you need to fine-tune the image further, convert it to grayscale so your results will be easier to visualize. A bonus is your saved Shape file will require less storage space.

4. Get Pure Black to Pure White. For smooth-flowing transitions, make sure your image includes the full range of brightness values -- from pure black (0) to pure white (255). Most image-editing software, such as Photoshop, can plot an image's brightness distribution on a histogram, allowing you to check for missing grayscale values. Any gaps may create a stutter or jump in the transition's movement, or delay the start or prematurely end the transition. In Photoshop and other graphics programs, you can usually redistribute the range of grayscales with the Levels command and by applying moderate blur.

SpiceMaster transition histogram   SpiceMaster transition histogram

The histogram of this Shape file shows a gap at the beginning and middle, plus too many white pixels. A late start and jumpy playback in the transition will result.


This Shape file has a much better distribution of grayscales, creating a very smooth transition. A "bell curve" shape like this is ideal.

5. Check the Pixel Distribution. Even if the full range of grayscale values are present in the Shape image, some pixels may be in the wrong place, creating artifacts or unevenness along the transition's flowing edge. Deft use of your graphics software's selection tools can help you to find and fix such problems. Keep in mind that if you intend to (a) play your transition very quickly (less than 1 second in duration), or (b) apply a lot of edge Softness in SpiceMaster for a more subtle look, then this step is usually unnecessary.

6. The 8-Bit Saving Grace. When your fresh Shape image is ready for action, save it in a still-image format that is NOT JPEG (.jpg). Why? So that new compression artifacts are not added to the image which may make the transition's flowing edge appear ragged as it plays. ALSO make sure it is saved as an 8-bit file, not 16- or 24-bit (otherwise the Wizard may choke).

7. The Softness Fix. Followed all of the above tips, but your fine-tuned Shape file still looks odd as a dynamic transition? Then rely on the all-important Softness button in SpiceMaster. That will add softness to the transition's edge, which may be very desirable aesthetically to make the transition more subtle (read: professional) AND it will hide any remaining edge problems that still appear.

Making Shapes From Scratch

If you don't have on-hand a desirable existing image for your custom Shape, your other option is to create a grayscale gradient image from scratch. That process can be loads of fun, but is not a good idea if your Movie Maker project has a tight deadline -- because it is easy to get lost in all of the creative possibilities of making a cool gradient file. Follow the 7 steps above, but also keep in mind the tips below for creating effective gradients.

Try Existing Gradient Tools. Most graphic programs usually have simple gradient tools, so that's the easiest way to start. At first glance, those tools are handy only to make say a linear wipe at a custom angle other than what SpiceMaster already provides. But more is possible. For example, try applying different gradients in different layers of your graphics program and then blend them together creatively.

The Iris Trick. For simple closed shapes that form iris-like transitions, such as an expanding (or contracting) keyhole or tunnel that reveals the next image in your movie, first make the basic shape in black & white, then blur it HEAVILY. If the blurred grayscales do not fill the frame, consider layering a simple gradient under the shape (and then flatten the layers together) to provide more action to the transition, as shown below.

Iris transition step   Iris transition step   Iris transition step  
Create a black shape using any graphics tool. In this example, the text tool was used.   Blur the shape to create a range of grayscales. Here a Gaussian Blur of 20 was used.   Add a gradient in a layer underneath to fill the frame with more transition action.  

SpiceMaster transition result

Three frames of the custom transition, playing between simple white and blue clips here to clearly show the transition's geometry. Softness for the edge has been added via the Softness button in SpiceMaster.

Tip: In Spicemaster you can easily re-position a transition by dragging it in the Wizard's preview. Therefore, creating a gradient that has a shape in an exact location you need is not crucial. Just put it approximately where you desire within the frame and all will be fine.

Filter for Edge Variety. For a flowing edge that is more organic and variable, experiment with applying a creative filter to some or all of the gradient image. Applying a noise filter, for example, will add a stardust-like edge to the transition (see below left). Ripple and other similar filters will create an organically variable edge (see below right). Note that SpiceMaster 's Texture button includes numerous built-in edge textures you can also apply.

SpiceMaster transition example   SpiceMaster transition example

The Preview-in-Photoshop Trick. Flatten your gradient image file, then open the Levels dialog. Hold down the Alt key while dragging the triangle under the 0 level (far left) of the histogram. Instant previewing! : )

Be Object-Oriented. If you are an Adobe Illustrator user, you can cleanly create all sorts of sophisticated shapes for iris transitions by blending in 255 steps a ''beginning' object (the shape, created relatively small in the frame) and an 'ending' object (perhaps the outside frame edge). Just use Illustrator's Blend command to do that. Then rasterize and import the results into Photoshop (or equivalent) to save it as an 8-bit gradient file. (See The 8-Bit Saving Grace tip above.)

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See all of our SpiceFX PACKS for Windows Movie Maker:
Correction Effects E1 | Pan Zoom Effects E2 | Framing Effects E3 | Animation Effects E4 | Cosmetic Effects E5 | Film Effects E6 | Time Effects E7 | WOW Effects E8 | SoftFX Transitions T1 | PipFX Transitions T2 | CoolFX Transitions T3 | EnergyFX Transitions T4 | Particle Transitions T5 | PageFX Transitions T6 | DepthFX Transitions T7

Movie Maker effects
See all of our SpiceFX WIZARDS for Windows Movie Maker:
AccentFX Effects Wizard | Blur-Sharpen Effects Wizard | FilmTouch Effects Wizard | OverlayFX Effects Wizard | PanZoom Effects Wizard | PerfectPIP Transitions Wizard | SceneFixer Effects Wizard | SpiceMaster Transitions Wizard | TitleFX Text Effects Wizard | TranJelly Transitions Wizard