My love for morph animation started when I first saw the effect in the Michael Jackson video for Black or White. When that came out morphing was bleeding edge special effects. Today anybody can create a great morph animation and here’s a handy tutorial that you can use to create your very own morph sequence. The two key apps to use for creating a morph video in OS X are Photoshop CS5 and Morph Age Pro.
The image on the right is the final result of the animation that I created. Its an animated GIF that has been highly compressed which was necessary for sharing on the web. If you want to share your morph animation on the web without sacrificing too much quality you may want to use YouTube.
This tutorial will take you through the process of creating a morph animation from beginning to end including rendering the animated GIF. You’ll want to tweak the process to suit your needs but I went through a ton of trial and error to create my morph that you will be able to leverage to get great results.
Finding Great Subjects
For your first project its best to stay simple. When you are starting out find two photos that have many similar traits. For your first project I recommend using portraits of people and work with their faces only. If you can choose photos from the same photographer or the same session you will get better results because the lighting and backgrounds will match. Black and white photos are a good way to start because its easy to blend the color palettes.
Blend With Photoshop
This is a key step in the process. To do this, take the two photos that you are blending and import them as different layers in your photoshop file. Create a copy of the original layers in case you need to revert. Move and transform the layers until the eyes and mouth match up. Triangulating on the mouth and eyes will help you ensure that you have the right scale. You should also adjust the brightness and contrast to better blend the two photos together. Don’t worry too much about cropping in this step because you can crop the animation after you’d completed the morphing step.
Using Morph Age Pro
There are several apps for OS X that offer morphing capabilities but none are as feature capable and easy to use as Morph Age. The quality of the animations that Morph Age is able to render is fantastic. This tutorial is based on Morph Age Pro but Morph Age Express is a less expensive offering with much of the same functionality.
Once you’ve created the images that you want to morph open Morph Age and import the images by dragging them onto the image editor pane. Using the lasso tool trace the most prominent features in the first image. With faces I’ve had the best results by tracing the eyes, nose, mouth and jaw line. Don’t worry if you don’t get it perfect the first time because you can go back and adjust your selections using the pointer tool. If there are other prominent features in the photo like glasses be sure to trace them as well. I don’t recommend tracing the hair line as it can cause the edges of the images to distort. When morphing two portraits one thing that can be cumbersome is the dealing with the neck. This is because the subjects neck is usually not consistent in both photos and because its on the edge of the photo. In the example above I’ve actually photoshopped Harry Potter’s neck onto John Lennon so that the transition was smooth. This worked in this case but you may want to crop the neck out all together.
Once you’ve traced the features you can select the play button to preview the transition. Don’t worry if its not smooth the first time. It usually takes some tweaking to get it perfect. Also you’ll probably notice that the edges of the image distort during the transition. If you are unable to get a smooth transition by adjusting the lines in Morph Age it could be that the images are to dissimilar. Try going back to Photoshop and blending them a bit better. This can be done by adjusting the color balance, brightness/contrast or transforming the images so that they are more similar in size. This can be fixed by cropping the animation after it has been rendered.
Rendering the Video
Morph Age offers two rendering options: Quicktime or TIFF image sequence. If you need to to optimize the video of if you are looking to export to another format you may want to do some post editing in Quicktime Pro, iMovie or Photoshop. In my case I was trying to make an animated GIF so I exported the image sequence so I could create the animation in Photoshop CS5. This option is a bit more tedious but it gives you more granularity of control over each frame and also allows you to compress the image which is critical for an animated GIF. To do this open Photoshop and create a new file. Then browse to the directory where you saved the image sequence and drag the frames onto the layers palette. This will import all the frames as separate layers. Then go to Window -> Animation to view the animation frame browser. Here is a great video that demonstrates some of the basics of working with animations in Photoshop CS5.
Do you have experience creating morph animations? Share your work in the comments below.