Silhouette has been around for many years and is best known for its rotoscoping tools. Yet, the software has evolved into a full visual effects suite, with the ability to do painting, keying, and tracking. Version 5 of the software adds a number of new features, including tracking, image morphing, 3D, and inverse kinematics.
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Silhouette is available for Windows, OS X, and Linux. The software is 64-bit and, like most VFX software, requires a fairly fast system with lots of RAM and a good graphics card. For those who want to integrate Silhouette into a compositing pipeline, the software plugs in to Adobe’s After Effects CS5 or higher and can integrate with The Foundry’s Nuke.
The interface to Silhouette is straightforward and will feel familiar to After Effects or Nuke users. In the middle of the screen is a large viewport for working, and that is surrounded by toolbars, node controls, timelines, and project files. I found the application to be easy to use with minimal training, though the website has many hours of in-depth tutorials.
Probably the most common use of Silhouette is for rotoscoping. You can create as many mattes as you want using a variety of spline tools, which can all be animated. These mattes can each have their own feathering, and motion blur is also supported for those times when your subject is moving quickly. Mattes can be layered and placed into hierarchies for better control. New to Version 5 is an inverse-kinematics tool, which allows layers to be connected together using a bone system. This is designed to help rotoscope images with joints – such as humans, but also animals, mechanical assemblies, and more. With the right types of scenes, this can be a real time-saver.
Another popular tool is Paint, which is a high dynamic range, non-destructive, 2D paint system. This is most commonly used for visual effects, such as wire or dust removal. Silhouette provides a number of different brushes for creating various effects, such as adding color, color correction, grain, blur, and more. Brushstrokes are stored as splines, which can be animated or manipulated later. Brushstrokes can also motion-track objects in the scene so that painted effects can be more efficiently animated. In many cases, you can paint one frame and let Silhouette paint the rest for you.
Along the lines of Paint is a new image morphing system that allows you to distort and bend images over time. This tool can be used to create images that blend from one to another over time. Warping also can be used to enhance or exaggerate facial features, change the size of objects within a scene, change facial expressions, and do animated effects, such as talking animals. Just as with the Paint feature, brushes are non-destructive and can be animated or motion-tracked.
Silhouette can track pixels or objects through the scene using a number of tools. Silhouette’s own planar tracker can provide makerless tracking and even handle occlusions. The point tracker follows individual points through space. Silhouette is also including Mocha’s popular planar tracker technology, which provides 2D transformation data by tracking planes rather than points.
For those with heavy 3D stereoscopic demands, the S3D upgrade can be a lifesaver. This node can create 3D depth in a 2D scene. The node contains a variety of tools that can create depth maps for 2D images. Once created, the depth map contains depth information for all objects in the image. This information can then be used to derive 3D stereoscopic views of the scene.
Overall, this is a robust upgrade to Silhouette. Anyone working with visual effects and live action will find this suite of software to be very useful. Silhouette can certainly get the job done and make those deadlines easier to hit.
George Maestri is a contributing editor for CGW, president/CEO of RubberBug animation studio, and teaches Maya for Lynda.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.