vc030: Zombie Mailman Parallax

“Zombie Mailman Parallax” — it sounds like a thing, doesn’t it?

Background: “Zombie Mailman” is the name I eventually settled on for this compelling work of graffiti that I found on the streets of Valencia, Spain. At first, I was trying for a “skeleton” something, but the clothes and overall look say more “zombie” to me.

The headgear suggests “pilot,” but the envelopes look like a mail delivery gone wrong, so I went with “mailman” for the occupation of this particular living dead guy.

I’ve had the image for a while, not knowing what to do with it, but I finally decided on a little experimentation with the dark art of 2.5D, also known as “the parallax effect.”

The Inspiration

There are lots of interesting examples of this kind of parallax, which is to take a flat image and “spread it out” over a virtual 3D space to make it look more than flat, but not quite three dimensional. You’ve probably seen some TV and movie introductions that use parallax, for example, the TV show, “Eureka”:

Here’s another great example using World Wildlife Foundation images:

These really do start out as still photographs, but they are given slight “living: movement using puppet tools (probably in After Effects — a topic for another day), in addition to the parallax effect (also in After Effects*, along with Photoshop).

What I Did

This handy tutorial explains the process quite well:

I didn’t exactly follow those directions, but I used them as a starting point.

  1. Edit the photo in Photoshop to separate different elements of the picture into multiple layers.
    1. I used Select tools to outline the larger envelopes, then copy them to their own layer.
    2. I did the same with another set of smaller envelopes.
    3. I also selected the zombie itself, using primarily the Magnetic Lasso selection tool, and copied it to its own layer.
  2. Once you have good multiple layers of different elements, work on the background (and the areas of the zombie where the envelopes had overlapped) to fill in the areas that were removed.
    1. First use Content-Aware fill (Edit / Fill / Using: Content Aware) as much as possible.
    2. Where that doesn’t work, or doesn’t work well enough, use the Clone tool to hide the evidence of what you took away.
  3. Import the Photoshop file into After Effects, keeping the separate layers.
  4. Create a composition that contains all of the layers in order (the closest objects at the top).
  5. Turn on the “3D” button for all of the layers. (It looks like a little cube, above a column of checkboxes. Check the boxes for the layers you added.)
  6. Add a new Camera Layer as the topmost layer.
  7. Change the camera angle so you are looking from the top down.
  8. Change the Z dimension of the Photoshop layers to separate them, and move the Camera around so you get a sense of movement.
    1. Keyframe the moves so you get a sense of motion.
  9. In PremierePro, create the first part of the sequence with just a still image (taken from the first frame of the After Effects animation), then create a Dynamic Link to the After Effects composition.

That skips over a few details (it’s always so hard to get every single step), but I hope it provides enough, along with the how-to video, to be useful.

* On a historical note: Here is a short video explaining how Disney developed and utilized a similar technique before computers: