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Getting started with the Mettle SkyBox Suite

Niko Brown
May 10, 2017 by Niko Brown Staff

Editing in 360 is ... difficult. Adding titles, special effects, transitions, and even just watching your 360 degree spherical footage can end up being mind-boggling tasks. Our friends at Mettle, however, offer an answer to the 360 puzzle — Skybox!

Mettle SkyBox Studio is an Adobe After Effects program — part script, part plugins — that helps automate most of the difficulties that arise with 360 editing. Skybox lets you easily convert flat text or graphics to 360, edit 360 footage on a flat plane, and even watch your edits in a draggable 360 viewing mode. There are endless ways to use Skybox, but here are a few of the initial steps to get you started.

Extracting your 360 footage

After installing the Skybox script — for which you’ll get instructions on after you download — and starting up After Effects, your first step is to create a composition. This is when you’ll add your 360 footage and make your edits. The most common aspect ratio for 360 footage is 2:1, and for this tutorial we will be making a composition that has a resolution of 3840x1920.

The first thing you’ll want to do is “extract” your composition. Go to File > Scripts > SkyBox and click Extractor.jsxbin. The extractor box will then appear.

Find your composition from the drop down menu, choose a conversion resolution, and check the “I am using 3D plugins” box, just in case you end up using any. Then press Extract SkyBox.

This will automatically create a new bin in your project called SkyBox Output, with three new compositions: SkyBox Edit, Skybox Output, and SkyBox Preview. These three compositions harness the capabilities of some of the other SkyBox scripts.

For instance, in the SkyBox Edit composition you can easily change the view of your composition to make it easier to do things like object removal, motion graphics, and tracking. In this composition, there’s an option for a Master SkyBox Camera as well as six other “faces” (cameras that represent the six sides of the cube map layout). The cube map makes it easy to see your footage in a flat layout.

The SkyBox Preview adds the SkyBox Viewer effect, which uses the Unified Camera (keyboard shortcut: C) to simulate the way you would look around your spherical video in the Vimeo player.

The SkyBox Output composition is what you will use to render your final video. All the changes you make in the SkyBox Edit composition will be applied in SkyBox Output and shown in an equirectangular format (here’s what that means).

Working with 2D elements in 360

The next tool you’ll want to get familiar with is the SkyBox Project 2D. Project 2D allows you to easily convert flat, 2D assets to your 360 project. This is the tool you’ll want to use when adding text, logos, or images to your 360 video. You can also add animations and motion graphic elements.

To get started, go to Effect > Mettle > Mettle SkyBox Project 2D and add the effect to the asset that you want to convert.

After applying the effect, go to your Effect Controls panel and change the Frame Layout to match your original source — in this case “Monoscopic.”

After you convert your asset, you’ll see that the shape changes and sits nicely inside your footage when you look at it in the Preview composition (or Viewer). You can adjust the source’s scale, rotation, and projection rotation. You can use the Scale (Degrees) to adjust the size of your source. Under Rotate Source you can tilt, pan, or roll your 2D element. And then under Rotate Projection you can tilt, pan, and roll the location of the element within your frame. By using these parameters rather than the elements’ native parameters, Project 2D automatically adjusts your element to properly sit inside your spherical composition.

A quick intro to SkyBox Composer

Mettle added the Composer in version two of Skybox, and it adds a great deal of power to an already powerful tool. Composer allows you to keep edits grouped in a single, easily accessible location. To use it go to Window > Skybox Composer.jsxbin; a new panel called SkyBox Composer will open on the right. What makes Composer great is that everytime you make a new 2D or 3D edit, it’ll add a new Edit # button in the panel. So, every time you want to make or adjust an edit you can simply press the Edit # button that you want to work with and, voila — it’s active and ready to edit.

One of the most popular tasks that Composer makes easier is “painting-out” or “rig removal.” To paint out something (like, say, a tripod) from your 360 degree footage, click Add 2D Edit. A new window will prompt you to “Select a composition with 360 footage.” Find the composition you want to work with from the drop down menu, pick your settings, and click Add 2D Edit.

After adding an Edit, SkyBox will create a new output bin with an Edit comp and an Output comp. The Edit comp will no longer be an equirectangular view. Instead, you can use the camera tool to look around your footage. The Output comp will be an equirectangular view that will update in real time to the edits you make in the Edit comp.

To start painting out your rig, open up the Edit comp and use the camera tool to adjust your view so that the entire rig and any shadows you need to paint out are within your frame. (If you can’t get it all to fit in the frame, don’t worry. You can adjust later and redo this process from a new view.) Once your view is set, double click on the composition window to open up a Layer window.

This new window is basically a paintable layer for using the clone stamp tool to remove your rig and shadows.

While these tips will help you get started with a few basic editing techniques, Mettle’s SkyBox has many more tools that create endless possibilities for 360 editing and special effects. Their website goes into more detail on all of the tools that come with the SkyBox suite. Once you’re finished creating your 360 video, you’ll want to upload it and share it with the world!

2 Comments

Mitchinmotion

The timing of this post is perfect, I literally just purchased Mettle Skybox. Thanks Niko (:

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