Creating Trail Effects

Posted on by Larry

Marcia Orland started me thinking about a new filter in Final Cut Pro 5.1.2 — the Trails filter. Marcia wrote:

I have a video travelog I’m cutting for a client. He’s seen an effect (on Playboy Channel!) where a girl is walking, and you see multiple superimposed images of the girl which makes it look like her stride is moving in a blurred stutter. Because his footage is all polar bears, he’s looking for that effect when they’re walking, to make it more interesting. I’ve stacked 3 identical video cuts of a bear walking, offsetting each by just a few frames, and reduced the opacity on each track. But it doesn’t really look cool. It looks more like a mistake.


Is there a tool I can use to accomplish the effect (if you can understand it from my inexperienced description)?

Larry replies: Marcia, many of these trail effects that your client saw on the Playboy Channel, or others may have seen on Monday Night Football, involve software other than Final Cut Pro.

However, with the release of Final Cut Pro 5.1.2, over 50 new filters were released, along with the transition of FCP to support both the FXScript and the FXPlug effects architectures. One of these filters, called “Trails,” may give you the effect you want.

NOTE: There are additional filters in Motion that can be used. At the end of this technique, I’ll show you two of them — Wide Time and Echoes.

The video that works best for this effect has a high degree of contrast between the background and the object in the foreground you want to create trails for; polar bears in a snowstorm will be difficult, though you could trail their noses or paws. In this example, we have a dark snowboarder on a light background of snow. Here’s how to create the trails effect.

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1. Here’s what the image looks like before the filter is applied.

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2. Load your clip to the timeline and apply the Effects > Video Filters > Time > Trails effect. (This filter first appeared in Final Cut in the 5.1.2 release, though it existed in Motion prior to that.)

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3. While each image will require different effect settings, here’s some ideas. Duration controls how far back in time the trails will exist. Echoes determines how many images will “trail after” the source image. Decay has images fade over time or, if unchecked, has them remain at full intensity. Trail on determines whether you are trailing a light image on a dark background or, as in this example, trailing a dark image on a light background.

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4. Here’s the finished effect. Notice that the lead image is dark with copies of the image trailing after it.

Variations in Motion

There are two other effects which create variations on this effect, but they are only available in Motion.

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The Wide Time effect (Filters > Time > Wide Time) creates much more closely spaced echoes of the moving object.

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The Echo filter (Filters > Time > Echo) has an opposite look to the Trails filter. It creates faint images which precede the main image, rather than follow it, as the Trails filter does.

Whichever effect you use, the key is to make sure there is plenty of contrast between the foreground image and the background. If there is, you can create some very cool effects.


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One Response to Creating Trail Effects

  1. Mash says:

    Thanks Larry.

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