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!


Adobe After Effects CS5.5 ScriptUI Bug

So it seems that ScriptUI Panels don’t receive layout events, under the 64-bit Windows version of CS5.5. A forum post I ran across has a few other people with this issue, and they report it affects After Effects, and Photoshop also. I was able to work around it a little, by calling the PanelObject.layout.layout() function. Unfortunately, it doesn’t help with resize events, but it’s better than manually typing in coordinates for controls.


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.


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.


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.


VFX Garage Fire Demo

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VFX Demo. Why not to leave gasoline next to bad electrical wires in your garage.