How to convert photos to incredible 3D scenes

How to convert photos to incredible 3D scenes

Matte paintings have been used successfully
in films since the dawn of time, or thereabouts, especially to create wide establishing shots.
But since they are just flat images, traditionally paintings, sometimes additional tricks are
needed to give them depth. I’m Axel Wilkinson, from, and this tutorial is going
to discuss converting 2D images into 3D environments, to add depth to the scene. This helps sell
the illusion that we were actually filming in the location, and makes the whole scene
more engaging and exciting. If you want to follow along, the .zip file linked from this
tutorial has all the resources you need. We will be using HitFilm 3 Pro, but if you are
a HitFilm 3 Express user, most of this tutorial works perfectly in HitFilm 3 Express as well.
So if you open the Finished Canyon comp in the included project, the basic technique
is easy to understand. We have cut the original image into several layers, and repositioned
these in 3D space. Then when we animate a camera move, the parallax of those layers
creates an authentic illusion of depth in the scene. So, let’s rebuild it together.
Right-click the Grand Canyon image and Make Composite Shot, 10 seconds long. Note that
this image is much larger in resolution than our finished HD comp, but that’s good; use
the actual resolution of the image for now. This allows us to see the entire image at
once, while we mask out our separate layers. We want five layers here when we are finished,
so select our image and CTRL+D to duplicate, or CMND+D on a Mac, until we have five copies
in total. Now disable the top three. Rename the bottom layer to Distance, this will be
our background, and disable that layer as well.
On our remaining visible layer, we are going to cut out this mesa in the midground, so
rename this layer accordingly. Zoom in to 100%, then right-click to drag the view around
until a good portion of our mesa is visible. Now, using the Freehand Mask tool, start drawing
around the edge of the mesa. There isn’t really any shortcut to this part, its just
a matter of placing a ton of mask points to accurately trace the edge of our selection.
And we will repeat this step for each one of these layers, so you will get a bit of
practice at this. I’m speeding up the footage here, so you don’t get bored watching me
do this. Masking a ton of layers out of an image like this takes some time, but its a
lot cheaper than a trip to Arizona. Most of us can’t realistically afford to take a
trip down to the Grand Canyon and capture this sort of shot, but a still image of the
Grand Canyon is much easier to come by, and this technique makes for a remarkably affordable
compromise. OK, at this point we have the top edge of
our first mask drawn. The bottom edge will be hidden by the layers in front of it, so
just leave plenty of overlap, and complete the mask shape. And there is our first mask.
Now hide this layer, show the one above it, and we will repeat the process. Rename this
one Forward Mesa, reposition the Viewer as needed, and start drawing our mask. Same process,
different layer. I’ll skip ahead to when I finish this one as well. Again, no tricks
really, just some slightly tedious masking. Although, if you are proficient in Photoshop,
you might prefer to do the masking there, then save each layer out as a separate image,
and import them into HitFilm for the compositing steps.
Two layers down! Next we have our Foreground, with the big rock. However, notice these two
branches sticking out of the foreground. We could just keep these on the foreground layer,
but it will look more realistic if they are on their own layer. So, rename the next layer
Branches, then the top layer Foreground. Let’s do the branches first. Draw a mask around
the right branch. Once the mask is completed, everything outside of it disappears, including
our other branch. But since all our layers still line up perfectly, just enable the Forward
Mesa layer, so we can see, and add a second mask for the other branch. There is a bit
of an overlap in this branch, which creates a little circle gap in the middle. Use a third
mask to select this area, then change the blend on that mask to Subtract, to remove
it. I recommend renaming your masks as well, so you can keep track of them easily. Select
the mask, then hit F2 on Windows or Return on Mac, to rename them.
With the branches done, we move on to the foreground. Since this layer is closest to
the camera, it contains the finest detail, so this edge calls for the greatest accuracy.
I opted to use multiple masks on this layer, just to keep the number of control points
in each mask more manageable. Now for a bit of time travel, to the point where the first
mask is complete. As we did with the branches, use our lower
layers for reference to draw a second mask around the rest of the foreground. You know
the rigamarole. Carry on, and I will meet up with you again when this shape is completed.
Finished? Awesome, that gets us through the tedious bits, and on to the fun stuff. Save
your project so you don’t ever have to create those masks again. Our next step is to arrange
these layers in 3D space. To do that, we need to select all the layers and convert them
to 3D Planes, which of course requires a Camera. Now we basically push each layer back in Z
space, then adjust the scale until it fills the frame again. But before we do that, let’s
open the Settings for our comp, and adjust our frame to its final size of 1920×1080.
Starting with the Distance layer, let’s push it way back in Z space, to -7000. Then,
adjust its scale until it fills the frame. Now set the Mid Mesa to -6000, and scale it
up until it matches the Distance. Repeat this process to set the Forward Mesa to -4000,
and the Foreground to -3000. The Branches should be just a tad further away than the
foreground, set them to -3100. I used these nice round numbers to make the tutorial easier,
but you might find it works even better to use slightly more random distances. Experiment
a bit with adjusting them and see how it goes. With all our distances set, Move the camera
forward, and you will see that we can’t go very far before the seams start to show,
and give the game away. We need to rearrange our layers a bit to prevent this. The fact
that our image is taller than our frame actually helps with this. First, select Distance and
drag it down as far as you can. Parent the Branches to the foreground, so they stay locked
together, then move the foreground upward until the bottom edge is just out of frame.
Now reposition the two mesas, to create a pleasing composition in which each layer completely
hides its counterpart in the Distance layer. Now, when we push the camera forward, the
parallax creates a lovely depth… up to a point. Its tempting to try push this technique
really far, but keeping the camera move restrained will actually work better in most cases. A
subtle move still gives a sense of depth, without making it obvious what we are doing.
Put the camera back to its starting point, and add a Position Keyframe at frame 0. Now
jump to the end of the timeline, and push the camera forward. Reposition it a bit to
get the best framing you can, then save, and play the timeline back.
That’s it for the basic technique. Cut your image into layers, arrange the layers in 3D
space, then move the camera through them. Once you have a good grasp on this technique,
you can apply it in loads of different scenarios, and enhance it in a variety of ways. For example,
in an older version of this tutorial, Simon discussed adding 3D rain to the scene. We
will now look at a couple of other options; adding foreground elements, and volumetric
clouds. First, let’s add a foreground element to this shot. Again, this process works exactly
the same in HitFilm 3 Pro, or Express. In the media panel, find the Tree image and
drop it above the Foreground on the timeline. Convert it to 3D, and scale it down so it
is all visible. Add a Chroma Key effect, which we will use to remove the background. Select
our blue, then switch to Matte view, and push the Gain up to 2, and bring the Gamma down
to 0.25. In the final shot, this entire image will be out of focus, so its not even that
important that the edges be super clean, but this is looking pretty good. Now position
this layer just in front of the camera, at 3300, and adjust its position and scale until
you are happy. This adds further depth to the scene, and makes the camera move more
interesting. Now in the Camera’s Properties, turn on Depth of Field, and the branches are
naturally blurred out, pushing the viewer’s focus back out into the canyon. Its a simple
adjustment to the project, but can really enhance the depth we are trying to create.
Now all we need to finish this off is some grading. Add a grade layer, and drag on the
Desert Intensity preset. I find that to be a bit too intense, though, so I’m going
to just remove the Exposure effect, and keep the warm orange tones. Then in the Clouds
effect, set the speed to 0. Beautiful! Think for a moment about the gear you would need,
and the travel that would be required, to film a shot like this, and you can really
start to appreciate how useful this sort of technique is!
But, I am noticing that our foreground mask could use a bit of clean up. So I’m going
to zoom in, so I can see that area better, and just edit my mask points a bit to remove
those dark areas from the edge. Once that is done, this shot is ready for exporting!
A second way we can enhance the 3D depth we are creating is through the use of volumetric
particle effects. We will use the Particle Simulator for this, so if you are using HitFilm
3 Express, this portion of the tutorial will require the Particle Simulator Add-on Pack.
Let’s switch to the Pillars of Creation comp. Here the tedious bits have already been
done (you’re welcome), so we have this portion of The Eagle Nebula already cut into layers
and positioned in 3D space. And the camera is already animated. One notable difference
in this case is that the masks use a heavily feathered edge, since rather than hard edged
rocks we are dealing with gaseous clouds. So now, we are going to enhance this shot
with some 3d effects. Because HitFilm 3 Pro uses a unified 3d workspace, we can create
3D particle effects, or import 3D models, and all of those things will sit in the same
space as our 3D planes, which really works to our advantage.
Since this nebula is essentially just giant clouds of gas, we can effectively hide the
flatness of our planes by wrapping more clouds around them. So, we can start with the fluffy
cloud preset, which already gives us the basic shape we want. Rename it to Red Cloud, set
it to 3D unrolled, switch to top view, and position it so it is in the midst of our planes
(Z-1600, rotate). Then, we just need to change the color and make it a bit larger and more
transparent. I’ll quickly run through the changes I made, but really, bigger and more
transparent is the goal, and you can use whatever settings you want to get there.
Here is what I did. Scale the layer up to 300%. In the Emitter, increase radius to 500,
and the Y scale to 75. In appearance, change the texture to Smoke Thickness 4, use Add
blend mode, and choose a red color (145,75,57). Reduce the Alpha to 38. In Movement, set Scale
to 75, Speed to 0, and in the variation, set Scale to 50%. Now in the General controls,
disable keyframing for the Particles Per Second, to remove the existing keyframes, and then
set it to 70 at frame 0. Turn keyframing back on, advance one frame, and reduce that setting
to 0. This preset uses a time shift to create lots of particles before the effect starts,
so this keyframe just stops more particles from popping into view during the shot. Something
along those lines should get you where you want to be. To better match our source photo,
let’s duplicate this layer, and create a blue cloud higher up in the nebula. Rename
it, reposition it, then change its color (43, 147, 206). I also changed the seed on this
one, which randomizes the position of the individual particles, so its not an exact
copy of the red cloud. I increased the Alpha of this blue copy a bit, as well. Using multiple
emitters like this, to wrap our planes with a multicolored cloud that is colormatched
to our source image, can help make a more natural, realistic effect.
Another technique we can use to enhance this is to add Stars. We already have an atomic
starfield in the distance of this shot, but let’s add some particle stars around the
nebula itself. We will start from scratch, and create a Cube emitter that is 5000x3000x5000.
Make sure it is positioned so our nebula layers are inside it. Set the Time Shift to -5 seconds,
then increase the Particles Per Second until the number of stars seems about right, let’s
say 2000. Enable keyframing, advance to frame 1, and set the particles per second to 0.
In the Appearance, set the blend to Add, the Color to something almost white, (237, 201,
208), and the Texture to Sparks Star. These are huge, so in the Movement, set the Speed
to 0, to stop them moving, the Scale way down to 7, and extend the Life to 15 seconds. Let’s
add a little variation to the scale as well (2%), then rename this layer and set it to
3d unrolled. Now we have another epic establishing shot, very different from our first shot of
the canyon, but using the same underlying technique.
Another technique we can use, which is already set up in this comp, is to create Light Flares
and position them into our 3D nebula to simulate brighter stars. Here the flares themselves
are on a Grade layer, and positioned with these control points, so as the camera moves,
they are accurately placed within the layers of our nebula, wherever the control points
sit. The techniques we looked at today open up
tremendous potential in HitFilm, for creating depth and camera movement from a still image.
Another technique for creating depth is Camera Projection. Projection works especially well
for more geometric shapes, like buildings, and we have another tutorial that discusses
it in detail. Get familiar with these basic underlying tools and procedures, and you will
soon be able to apply them in all sorts of different scenarios. I hope you find them
useful, and thanks very much for watching.

Dereck Turner

2 thoughts on “How to convert photos to incredible 3D scenes

  1. Gaddisa Daniel says:

    best of the best

  2. Tuck Porter says:

    Hi you guys! Still watching this cool informative video, but up to frames 7:40 and the Arizona Landscape discussion, I confidently feel I could achieve similar "moving layer footage" inside Photoshop 7 and ImageReady . I can even export that Canyon Composition as a Quicktime File, from Imageready, and then bring it into Hitfilm Express . Or I could "stop" early inside Photoshop, and export PNG Layers of the foreground , mid ground, and background to begin velocity speed control animation on each separate Arizona Grand Canyon pic layer. Guess I'm saying I can more quickly mask out, separate, cut up, or split a Grand Canyon photo inside Photoshop first, then import the layer files into Hitfilm. Who's with me?

  3. Dimi Arts says:

    wish hitfilm allowed me to draw my mask with my drawing tablet, that would help a lot

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