If you’ve ever had to silhouette a girl with windblown hair, you know what a challenge it can be to create the perfect mask. I’ve always used channels, duplicating the best one and using Levels, Curves and judicious handwork to create a mask. As long as the subject has some contrast with the background, there’s hope, but, even then, it can be time-consuming.
The ideal masking solution faithfully captures the shape of the subject, maintains translucency and soft transitions, and can be used non-destructively. It’s not a simple problem to solve, which is probably why I haven’t found a product that fit all requirements — until now. All of the other products I’ve tried erase background pixels rather than creating a separate mask. Some do a better job of maintaining transparency, some aren’t much better than using the Magic Wand. But I’ve found only two products that create non-destructive masks with nice, transitional edges: Power Mask, and EZ Mask, both from Digital Film Tools.
Both products do a great job; EZ Mask is just a bit, ah, easier (natch). When you see a product named “EZ Mask,” it’s tempting to think… well, you know. But trust me: it’s wonderful! Let me show you…
With EZ Mask, you start by converting your background layer to a floating layer, then adding an empty layer mask (the tutorials explain all this), then use highlighting tools to indicate background and foreground areas by painting across them (below).
The red highlights indicate background colors, and the green highlights have been painted over foreground colors (i.e., the color areas constituting the subject). There is also a third highlighter, for unknown transitional areas, but it wasn’t necessary in this image. Once you think you’ve indicated the areas correctly, have EZ Mask show the mask results:
If you’re not satisfied, you can further modify your highlighted areas until you like the results. Then, when you click the Process icon, EZ Mask generates the final mask in what was your blank layer mask.
Once you’ve generated the mask, you can’t return to EZ Mask to modify it; however, you can work on it as you would any other layer mask, using painting tools, selections, Levels, Curves, etc. to modify its effect.
Power Mask uses similar principles, but as you paint clockwise along the edge of the subject, you can see the mask taking shape. You can still use foreground/background painting tools to modify the results before the mask is finalized.
Tutorials and examples on the Digital Film Tools site explain all of this in much more depth, and there are trial versions for you to play with. Currently, EZ Mask is $195, and Power Mask is $150, but there is a bundle containing both products for only $245. In addition, Digital Film Tools develops a number of plug-ins for Avid, Final Cut Pro, After Effects, and Aperture. Very cool stuff.
In case you’re wondering, I don’t get a kickback. In fact, I didn’t even get free software. I bought the products because the trials convinced me I couldn’t live without them.