Walkthrough: 2.5D Effect Using Motion and Affinity Photo

Published on June 27, 2017

Note from Izzy: The format of this article is an experiment. We’re curious to hear whether you like it. Of course, we’ll continue to make videos (which is our main thing), but some folks prefer text which is why we gave this format a try. Let us know if you want more. :)

Now here’s Blake…

Several years ago, my dad showed me this crazy cool effect he used in a video. He took a still photograph of my mom and him in the desert and made it appear three dimensional.

They seemed to be separated from the desert background, and the camera moved to the side, showing depth between the two layers. It blew me away.

I've since learned that this effect is usually called 2.5D (pronounced "two and a half D") because it's not quite three dimensional. It's more like arranging flat layers in a 3D space.

Anyway, I've started seeing this effect in other places (mainly documentaries), and it's still just as cool to me now as it was back then.

It's an alternative to the Ken Burns Effect and a great way to create visual interest. It has a similar slideshow appearance but now with depth.

Here is an example workflow to create this effect. We'll use a combination of Affinity Photo and Motion.

First of all, this is a short video clip of the completed project:

Ready to get started? Let's go...

Step 1: Open the picture in Affinity Photo.

There are two ways to do this: you can drag the image from The Finder onto Affinity Photo on the dock. You can also open Affinity Photo first and click File > Open... to load a photo.

Step 2: Duplicate the layer.

To separate the foreground from the background, you'll need two layers. With the layer selected, you can duplicate it by right-clicking (or control-clicking) the layer and clicking on Duplicate in the menu.

Step 3: Choose the Selection Brush Tool.

Step 4: Select your foreground.

Click and drag across your foreground. As you do, you'll see a dotted zebra line begin to automatically appear as Affinity Photo tries to figure out what you're trying to select. It won't be perfect probably. It will occasionally be off and you'll accidentally get parts of the background in the selection. We'll fix that in a moment.

You can use the left and right bracket keys on your keyboard to make the brush size bigger or smaller as needed.

Step 5: Refine the selection.

After you've done as much as you can using the Selection Brush Tool, before clicking Apply, click Refine... in the context toolbar. This will open up a new window and everything that you haven't selected should turn red. This workspace is where you get to clean up your selection.

In the new window that has appeared, there are options for Matte, Foreground, Background, and Feather. Matte tells Affinity Photo to look at an area again to detect a selection. Painting with Foreground selected marks things as part of the selection. Background is the opposite. Feather smooths out the selection and is meant for cleaning up a selection.

Step 6: Click "Apply".

Click "Apply" once you're done creating your selection. This will leave the dotted zebra line.

Step 7: Invert the selection.

Go to Select > Invert Pixel Selection. This will select everything but the foreground.

Step 8: Delete the selection.

Press delete on the keyboard. If you turn off any layers underneath the foreground (by unchecking their boxes in the Layers window), you can see that your foreground is now completely separated from the background.

Step 9: Deselect.

Go to Select > Deselect to remove the dotted lines from the workspace.

Step 10: Turn off the foreground layer by unchecking its box.

Step 11: Click on the background in the Layers window.

Now that the foreground is ready, it's time to work on the background.

Step 12: Select the Inpainting Brush Tool.

Step 13: Paint over the foreground once again.

The Inpainting Brush Tool is fantastic. Whatever you paint will be automatically removed by Affinity Photo. The goal is to create a background that will exist without the foreground you separated earlier. Since the image is going to be 3D, it would be weird if there were two foregrounds as the camera panned.

To paint with the Inpainting Brush Tool, simply click and drag. To change the brush size, use the left and right brackets as you paint. It's important to hold down the mouse button as you paint or else the program will try to replace what you've painted over too early. If you've only painted part of the foreground, it might replace what you painted over with more foreground.

Step 14: Clean up the background.

Inpainting isn't perfect. Sometimes weird details will show up because the software is using whatever details it can to fill in the background. This might create lines that look like creases on the image or just look like floating objects. Paint over these again and it will probably fix the issue.

Step 15: Turn off the background layer and turn on the foreground layer.

Step 16: Export the foreground as a .png.

Go to File > Export... and choose PNG as the file type. Click "export" and choose a filename like "Trinity Foreground."

Step 17: Turn off the foreground layer and turn on the background layer.

Step 18: Export the background as a .png.

Go Go to File > Export... and choose PNG as the file type. Click "export" and choose a filename like "Trinity Background."

Step 19: Open Motion.

Step 20: Create a new Motion Project.

Step 21: In Finder, select both images by dragging a box over them (or click one and shift-click the other).

Step 22: Drag the images to the workspace in Motion.

If the background ended up covering the foreground, click the foreground layer and drag it above the background. The foreground should be in front.

Step 23: Click New Object and click Camera.

Step 24: Choose "Switch to 3D".

Step 25: Change the Camera View menu to Perspective.

Step 26: Click and drag the Orbit control to get a better grasp of the 3D space.

It might be hard to actually see the distance between the layers looking straight at them from the front. Moving to the side will help see how far apart they are.

Step 27: Select the group that contains both images.

Step 28: Click on the Inspector and go into properties.

Step 29: Increase scale.

We want to make the pictures really big. They should be bigger than what the camera can see. If not, edges might show up in the frame which is something we don't want.

Step 30: Click on the foreground layer.

Step 31: Move the foreground towards the camera along the Z-axis.

There are a few ways to do this. You can set its specific position in the inspector or you can grab the blue arrow in the 3D window and move it forward. The former is much more precise but the latter is a bit faster.

Step 32: Click on the camera layer.

Step 33: Change the Camera menu to Active Camera.

Step 34: Choose a starting position for the camera.

Using the Inspector, change the X, Y, and Z position for the camera.

Step 35. Turn on keyframes for the position.

Step 36: Rotate the camera.

This should be very slight, a high rotation will be distracting and could also reveal edges of the images.

Step 37: Turn on keyframes for the rotation.

Step 38: Click the playhead and drag it to the end of the timeline.

Step 39: Move the camera.

Making any changes to the camera's position will automatically create a keyframe on any of the parameters that change.

Step 40: Rotate the camera.

Like before, make sure the change isn't too dramatic and that the edges don't appear.

Step 41: Hit the space bar and watch the animation.

If you feel like the effect isn't as obvious as you'd like, there are a few things you can do to make it more intense. Increasing the scale of the background and moving the foreground and camera further from it increases the sense of depth.

Step 42: Use Share in the menu bar to export the video using whichever settings you need.

There you have it: a completed 2.5D effect. This effect takes more time to create than the Ken Burns effect, but the results are so visually interesting, it just might be worth it.

This article was last updated on October 6, 2020


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