Wacom Pen Pressure Problem in After Effects CS5.5

Tonight I ran across a problem using a Wacom Intuos3 tablet with Adobe After Effects CS5.5. The pen pressure would not work with the brush tool in AE, and the brush acted as if I was using a plain old mouse. Having some detailed work to do, I needed both the Wacom pen input and pressure sensitivity, which I’ve fallen in love with for Photoshop use. (Seriously – if you do any significant amount of Photoshop work, get a Wacom tablet. It’s the best money you’ll spend.)

Since I’ve had far too many years of professionally dealing with PC troubleshooting, I went through all the normal steps you might expect: uninstall and reinstall the drivers, install different driver versions, blow away the preferences file, restart Windows, etc. Nothing worked. To be clear: this is a 64-bit install of Windows 7, and I tried Wacom driver versions 6.1.6-7 and 6.1.7-3, with the latest After Effects CS5.5 updates (reported as version 10.5.0.253).

It struck me that the pen was working much like a mouse, I could gleefully get motion and clicking, but no pressure, tilt, or any of the good stuff. Remember, this is only in After Effects; the pen worked fine in Photoshop. During one of my uninstall / reboot / reinstall iterations, I noticed that Windows picked up the Wacom Intuos3 as a mouse, but of course nothing used the tablet features because there were no drivers installed. So, I checked the Device Manager, and found that there was a generic  “HID-compliant mouse” installed for the tablet. I verified the Vendor ID, and also unplugged my regular mouse to be certain it was the tablet. It was.

This made me suspect that perhaps After Effects was binding to a mouse driver before it got around to the Wacom tablet driver, precipitating the pressureless performance of the pen. I reinstalled the latest Wacom drivers, and checked back with the Device Manager, and found this:

Wacom Intuos3 Device Manager Entries

Notice that there are at least four devices associated with the Wacom Intuos3 tablet, which I highlighted in yellow. Two of them, under the Pointing Devices grouping, seemed very mouse-like, and probably serve to drive the pointer around. The other two, listed under Human Interface Devices, smelled a bit more tablet-specific, and probably provide the pressure, tilt, and other fun stuff to applications. This is just a guess on my part.

Going ahead with my theory that AE was binding to the wrong device first, I wanted to force After Effects to find the tablet drivers before the mouse drivers. I disabled the two Wacom mouse driver entries (which prevents the pen from moving the pointer, by the way), then launched After Effects, and finally re-enabled the two Wacom mouse devices.

It worked! Lovely, glorious pressure sensitivity! I could brush my roto masks with finesse! Retouching became fun instead of a chore! The promise of the pen was fulfilled! Oh, happy day.

My guess here is there is a bug on the Adobe end of things, whereby AE is binding to the mouse-flavoured drivers in lieu of the tablet-flavoured oens. I’ll go file a bug report with them shortly, and hopefully it will get cleared up in the next release. But for now, we have a workaround for the Wacom pen pressure not working in After Effects for the Brush tool:

  1. Disable the two devices: Wacom Mouse and Wacom Mouse Monitor
  2. Launch After Effects
  3. Enable the two devices disabled in the first step
  4. Scribble away!

And there we have it. A working, if annoying, method to enable Pen Pressure in After Effects!

Update: After you do this, if you use Wacom’s mouse on the tablet at all, AE will switch back to mouse mode and not use pressure with the pen. So, keep the mouse away from the pad! You can use a regular mouse just fine, but the tablet mouse will switch things back to sucky mode.

 

Pano Bubbles for Filming Locations

Panoramic Photo of CyberJocks

When the Speed Racer movie came out, I read this fantastic article in VR Magazine about the way they used “pano bubbles” to create backdrops for animated and keyed footage. I’ve had an interest in panoramic photography anyhow (thanks to a friend I’ll call Geo), so I decided to try out the technique just for fun, and to have something new to add to my bag of tricks. Gotta have a bag of tricks!

The panoramic image here (not full rez as shown) was generated by autostitch from 316 photos of the interior of CyberJocks. The source photos were taken with a 75mm equivalent lens (after crop factor) on a 10.2MP camera (the Samsung GX-10). Most of the time that kind of resolution is major overkill for panoramic photography – heck a lot of people will use a lens wide enough to take six images and stitch from those. But, since I was experimenting with a technique that could have application as a cinematic background, I figured I should use all the resolution I can get my hands on, if only to beat up the toolchain and figure out how to do it.

With some fiddling of the settings, autostitch did a bang-up job of stitching the pano together, even though I didn’t use a real pano head on the tripod (this was a spur-of-the-moment exercise). If you look at the full-rez pano you can see some parallax error artifacting but it’s subtle. Good enough for this purpose. Next step: make a pano-bubble!

First, we have to get the pano to be more like a full spherical equirectilinear projection, so we adjust it to a 2:1 aspect ratio by adding black bars.

cjpano-black

Opening the ever-handy 3ds MAX, we make ourselves a sphere. Then we make a material, using the equirectilinear projection (I just love saying that word) as a diffuse map, and apply it to the sphere. We also create a free camera at the center of the sphere, and give it a nice wide lens for now. Of course, any of you 3D nerds out there will realize that the camera won’t see the sphere, unless we flip the normals. So, we flip the normals. With a little adjustment of the sphere’s orientation relative to the camera (north pole goes up…), and a flip of the texture map’s V angle to 180 degrees, we now have a camera that can effectively look in any direction “inside” of CyberJocks. Thanks to the stupidly-high resolution that I shot in, we can zoom in quite a bit if need be.

cjpano-max

Now to make it come alive! A little more 3ds Max magic gives us a biped dummy, some shadow map materials, and some lights positioned and colored to match the lighting inside CyberJocks – or at least close enough to prove the idea out. I also tweaked the texture map to give the lights some glow and punch, and make the scene overall more realistic. The camera is animated to follow the walking dummy, and since all looks good, we render it out. This time it took two passes – one render of just the pano bubble background, and another of the walking dummy and shadow/alpha. A quick compositing yeilds – omg! a 3d dummy walking around inside CyberJocks! And it looks seamless. I was blown away at how cool this technique is.

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Realize too that this technique limits your camera moves; you have to stay pretty damn close to the center of the pano bubble or the perspective is off and you loose the illusion. In the movie, they made several layers of bubble, just like the oldschool parallax-scrolling in video games. This gave the illusion of more depth and camera motion than there actually was.

Now, just imagine it with a velociraptor animated into the scene, mixed with some keyed footage of real actors! Actors being eaten by the velociraptor! Or perhaps taming it, and making it their friend! Whatever floats your boat, but it can all be filmed “on location” in a pano bubble.