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

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.


Saving a Shot with Neat Video

Desperation leads to crazy solutions. I had a nice shot lined up down a narrow crawlspace, but the foreground end of it was pitch black. We had no lights, no genny, no power, no battery-powered lanterns*, nothing. The way the sun and windows were angled made  it impossible to bounce any light to my actor. But I wanted the shot! With nothing to work with, what could we do?

I needed light. Anything would work. So I gathered up as many cellphones as I could. Now, we aren’t talking modern phones with handy LED lights on them (oh that would have been nice…) – what we had were old, small phones. A Motorola RAZR, and two Blackberries, and one other brick phone I don’t recall. I had a brave assistant stand just outside of the frame, and hold the phones up over the actor’s head. We had to time it right, by hitting keys on the phones to wake them up, get them into position, and roll camera before the backlights blinked out. It’s not easy holding four phones at once!


Dim, tiny backlights. Framed so I could have them eight inches from the target. They threw just enough light that I could see my actor’s face, but I wasn’t hopeful that the camera would. We’re talking a 1/3″ chip HPX170. Amazingly, it did get something! Just enough. But noisy as hell, down there with all the muck.

We got something... noisy

Thankfully, there’s Neat Video. It is saving shot after shot right now, and I’m loving every bit of it. Fantastic bit of code! Highly recommended. For the end result on this one, I ended up doing a split-frame, with very heavy noise reduction on the left, and less on the right so as not to crush all the grain and texture out of the wall.

Split-Frame Masking

Remember when layering masks like this, to avoid a line where they join, select “Alpha Add” as the upper layer’s transfer mode in After Effects. This gets the alpha channels to add together properly, giving you a seamless result. It may not be perfect, but it’s pretty darn good, and good enough to save the shot and make it work in context of the rest of the film. I’ll call that a win!

Saved shot (before stylistic grading)

We pulled a lot of tricks like this for Binary Samurai… I can’t wait until it’s done!

* As a side note – I have a Coleman lantern that is powered by eight D-cell batteries and sports a 13W CFL bulb. I wrapped half of it in foil for a reflector, and it makes quite the handy bit of extra light in those remote locations when we are without the luxury of a genny and grip truck. Wish I had it around for this shot!


Feature Film Post in Adobe CS5.5

So, I’m working on all the postproduction for Binary Samurai, and I’m doing it with Adobe Creative Suite CS5.5Premiere Pro for the edit, which is done, and After Effects for the VFX. As many resources as are out there already, I couldn’t find much information on best practices for managing a project the size and scope of a full feature film. Even with a great book on AE VFX work by my side (highly recommended btw), I still had questions! Things like, do you break things up into individual project files, or use one giant one? Can Dynamic Link come into play effectively? Many more.

Since I couldn’t find any answers, I’ve been blazing ahead and devising my own. I decided to contribute to anyone who may have the same questions by posting an ongoing log of my experiences here. Adobe has come a long, long way with their Creative Suite products when it comes to video, and they are more than ready to tackle the big jobs. Stay tuned for more!