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All About Photoshop Masking Plugin Fluid Mask 3.0 - Interview With Co-Creator James Carr-Jones
Fluid Mask 3 has been redeveloped to include more powerful and accurate blending, increased speeds, improved ease of use, and all new intuitive help menus. Vertus Software is offering Fluid Mask at a special 'friends and partner' discounted rate. This is an exclusive offer to visitors of PhotoshopSupport.com you can get Fluid Mask 3 for $229. Visit the Fluid Mask 3 Special Offer Page for more info. The following is an interview with Fluid Mask co-creator James Carr-Jones.
What is the story behind Fluid Mask 3?
We had great reviews and response for Fluid Mask 2. While other masking programs could do certain jobs very well they didn’t have the coverage in depth we had across a range of masking issues because they were mostly driven by single algorithmic solutions. For instance Corel’s Knockout has a great reputation for smoke and glass but how often do you mask these? We found we could cover more masking situations than others so in terms of crude percentages we could do more.
But that was a very simplistic approach. We realized that people spend a lot more masking time on certain identifiable tasks than others. The issue for us was to identify these crunch spots in peoples’ workflow and deliver automatic and streamlined solutions at these points. Anyone can get a cleanly contrasted edge using Photoshop but how do they tackle for instance varying backgrounds, file compression anomalies and wild hair without just resorting to the pen tool?
Through discussions with users we identified key areas of frustration. In broad terms these were hair, obviously, but also lattices such as trees. Complicated backgrounds were especially hard when an edge goes into and out of contrast with the background. We also saw an increase in masking expectations and standards.
Whereas before a straight vector based transition (such as a feather) at an edge was once acceptable it is not so now. People want to capture the character of the edge whether that be the way out of focus edges appear or the way light plays on skin hair. These all take time... and lots of it. We found that people would take around 90% of the time on less than 10% of the image.
And the reason for this masking obsession, the need to get it right, is that after 500,000 years of evolution the eye-brain process is highly attuned to edge anomalies... how often have you said when masking “that just doesn’t look right” but you can't put your finger on it and carry on smoothing, tweaking and fiddling with an edge and still the darn thing doesn’t look right!
It seemed like a no-brainer to us to devote huge amounts of development time to these key areas. The decision was taken over a year and a half ago to pursue this and FM3 is the result.
What’s new in Fluid Mask 3?
Well we have 3 different kinds of edge transition algorithms or blending besides the simple feather. In fact an updated one will be coming out in the next month or so... and of course current Fluid Mask 3 users will get the upgrade for free. This is so that whatever the image, there is more often than not a blending solution for your problem.
Using Fluid Mask 3 can now more usefully be seen as a process or workflow with a tool kit focussed on that hard to do 10% mentioned above.
At the first level it is simple masking (Fluid Mask 2): painting foreground and background masks and automatically generating a blend mask around the transition and also manually painting a blend mask over wide transitions like hair. But where there is background complexity or opposing colors across a lattice etc., etc. (those 10% issues) there are a whole series of tools which make dealing with these areas so much more simple than before.
The focus of these are Patches a tool that isolates an area of difficulty within which the user can then perform various techniques to get that edge or transition right and quickly. I personally love the brushed Patch paint the area of interest instead of just putting a rectangle round it, much more precise. Now we are talking workflow...
Now inside a Patch the user can re-analyse the edges to find the hard to get ones to help tricky masking, use a color picker and see the selection in a Color Workspace to mask by color (and vice versa) very useful when masking a complex foreground that is both lighter and darker than the background.
Also the user can employ different edge blending algorithms to get wonderful detail at the edges, for instance when you manage to mask skin hair or the detail of a jumper or an out of focus edge. I still get a thrill masking!
And then there’s the GUI which is much slicker with right-click functionality, the ability to save settings, floating palettes and a whole lot more. But the essential thing is that we have put a huge amount into getting this right for both starters and the real pros. It is about keeping it simple at the top level and revealing complexity only when necessary.
How does Fluid Mask compare to the new selection features in Photoshop CS3?
It would be great if the new Quick Select Tool, the new edge feathering features and other features answered all our needs. But they don’t. They’re better but don’t effect really knotty problems like hair masking, complex backgrounds, compression anomalies at edges, lattices, wires etc., etc. and that is what Fluid Mask 3 is designed to tackle.
And then there is the edge issue. What should a good edge really look like? Is there such a thing as a 3 pixel feather in real life?... ever? Do your mask edges just look too clean? Is the in-focus / out-of-focus play along your edges sufficiently good to be believable?
We only previously used feather edges because that is all we had available. Now that we understand edge morphology better why not use the tools available. And a collective confession here: we are all, amateur and professional, sticklers for detail and bad edges just jar they really do. Fluid Mask can deliver far superior edges.
And the last point is more for professionals but applies equally to the enthusiastic amateur as well, and that is that is: using Fluid Mask is much faster than using any other method. We have loads of people who will back us up on this from professional to amateur.
There are some big claims here. Does it do all that, really?
The answer is yes and no. Yes Fluid Mask does accomplish all the above... but not in all cases. No image editing tool will do everything automatically because some images are just impossible. Like extracting hair detail from a complex background.
The litmus test is: when you are zoomed in at pixel level; if you can see the edge so should the program. What you will find is that mostly you can’t pick out the edge at this level and that is because our eyes and brain construct edges: we fill in the gaps and at this zoom level you see these gaps.
A good masking application should be able to get close to filling in the gaps and work in the majority of circumstances. And that is what we aim for: to work in as many situations as possible. It’s a percentages game; but to bring this discussion full circle, it is a percentages game on those really tricky areas the 10% of areas in images that everybody spends 90% of their time.
What's next for Fluid Mask?
We are going to continue to work on perfecting edges and hair masking. That appears to be the greatest need. But we are open to suggestions... so please let us know what you think we should work on.
Where are you going next as a company?
Well we have something under wraps right now which should be revealed soon. But we have made no secret of the fact that we want to create recoloring software that will recolor even hair ends in the image and not in a layer.
And lastly we want to bring this technology to video... so watch this space!
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Color Efex Pro
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SiteGrinder Photoshop Plugin - Create Websites Instantly
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Turn Photoshop Into A Complete Web Design Tool
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Skin Retouching Tips In Photoshop CS4
Transforming Smart Objects In Photoshop CS4
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Read 2 free sample chapters from the Adobe Photoshop CS3 version:
Adjusting Exposure in Adobe Camera Raw CS3
Photoshop CS3 Tutorial High Dynamic Range
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