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Tutorial: Branding Your Videos with Simple Animated Logo Intros

Here we'll look at how to make simple logo-based animated intros that won't set the world on fire, but will add a little branding kick to your videos using Photoshop and your NLE, without requiring you to hire a graphics expert or master After Effects or LightWave.

In one of many classic scenes from Ron Shelton’s 1988 baseball film Bull Durham, rookie pitcher Eppy Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh brings veteran catcher Crash Davis to the mound (again) to explain why he’s shaking off the catcher’s signs. Crash has called for a curveball; Nuke insists on starting off the hitter with a fastball that will “announce my presence with authority.”

When it comes to branding in online promo videos, it doesn’t take a 95-mile-per-hour fastball to announce your (or your client’s) brand identity, and prizing power over subtlety isn’t always advisable. But regardless of how strong you choose to come on, it’s essential to let viewers know who you are.

It’s great if you have animators on-staff, or have budget to outsource it and really produce something dazzling. But sometimes you just need to do a quick-and-simple intro/outro that identifies the clip as yours (or your client’s), and isn't so clumsy, ham-handed, or over-the-top that it drives away your viewers before they get to the video itself, or undermines your efforts by looking too amateurish.

These days I wear a number of hats for Streaming Media Producer’s publisher, Information Today Inc. (ITI), and the one I seem to wear more and more frequently says “Video Publishing Director” on the front. The biggest part of that job for several months out of the year involves shooting testimonials, interviews, b-roll, and (sometimes) session video at ITI’s various conferences, and producing promo videos that capture the high points of the conferences to encourage people to sign up for next year's show.

2013 has been the first year I produced promo videos for most of these shows, so in most cases, I’ve been starting from scratch when it comes to creating short branding pieces that lead into the videos. Well, not entirely from scratch—we have a terrific graphics department at ITI, and all of the conferences have excellent logos and other design elements associated with them. In each case, my task is to take the static graphics they’ve already created for the shows and set them in motion on screen.

In this tutorial, I’ll explain my process for creating logo-based animations, with the intent of helping non-animator video editors like myself develop some basic techniques for using the tools you use already—Photoshop and your NLE—to get those logos moving, without the learning curves associated with sophisticated tools like Adobe After Effects or NewTek LightWave that can do amazing things if you have the time to learn how to use them, but probably aren’t worth mastering for this particular task if they don’t otherwise factor into your workflow. I’ll be using Photoshop and my NLE of choice, Adobe Premiere Pro CC, although these techniques should translate pretty easily to other pro NLEs like FCP, Vegas, EDIUS, and Avid. And I’ll assume that you have some raw material to work with, like a logo from your client or your own company.

Before we get started, here’s an example of a simple animated-logo intro I produced for a promo video for Streaming Media’s reconfigured Streaming Forum event in London, and later used in a series of interviews shot during the event:


Layering in Photoshop

The first thing you need to do is open your logo in Photoshop in a hi-rez file that will occupy a healthy amount of screen space in your project for maximum impact. I like working with a 1280px wide image and a logo that fills most of that horizontal space, but if your source file is a scalable EPS or any size larger than the resolution of the sequence you'll be creating (usually, 1920x1080 or 1280x720), you can always re-scale it once you get it into Premiere Pro by right-clicking each layer and choosing Scale to Frame Size.

Next, you need to find elements of the logo that you can maneuver or manipulate to create some motion in the intro. If you’re working with a layered Photoshop document, all you really need to do is open the image in Photoshop and see which elements are on which layers, and possibly even rename the layers descriptively so you have a better idea of which logo element each layer contains than layers named "Layer 1," "Layer 2," etc. will tell you. In some cases, you might want to merge some of the layers if they contain elements you want to move in unison. If you do merge any layers, be sure to save the file under a different name so you don’t alter the original logo image.

Before you save the file, go to Image > Mode and be sure that RGB Color and 8 Bits/Channel are selected. Only 8-bit RGB images will open in Premiere Pro (Figure 1, below).

Figure 1. Before saving your image, convert the mode (if necessary) to 8-bit RGB to ensure that it will open in Premiere Pro.

Starting with a layered Photoshop document isn’t always critical, but having a transparent background is very helpful, and at the very least, you need your image background to be the same color as the background for your animation. Next, you’ll need to figure out which portions of the image you can separate cleanly.

The logo shown in Figure 2 (below) arrived as an EPS file with a transparent background but no separate layers for the individual components of the logo.

Figure 2. The logo we’ll animate in this example.

The easiest way to pull apart the logo is to pick an element of the logo, draw a shape around it using the Rectangular Marquee, the Elliptical Marquee, the Lasso tool, the Polygonal Lasso tool, or the Magnetic Lasso tool (whichever seems to apply to the shape in question), and select it. Then right-click the selection and choose Layer via Copy from the right-click menu. In Figure 3, below, you can see that I've selected the rainbow portion of the logo using the Rectangular Marquee tool for extraction and layering. (I've used Layer via Cut/Layer via Copy only in Photoshop CS6 and CC and can't confirm that it's available in previous versions. If you're using CS4 or CS5 don't see it in the right-click menu, Cut the selection, then choose Edit > Paste Special > Paste in Place to put the cut portion of your image back where it belongs.) When you’re finished, the image should look just as it did before, but the section you just cut and pasted in place will be its own layer in the file.

Figure 3. Layer via Cut/Copy creates a new layer from the selected portion of the image.

Repeat the marquee, select and Layer via Copy (or cut and paste-in-place) process with all the logo elements that you can cleanly separate and plan to animate in your NLE. With this logo, I'll create discrete layers for the rainbow as shown above, the words "Internet" and "Librarian," and the number "2013,"and through some additional labor-intensive sleight of hand I'll separate the 2-sided rectangle around "Librarian" from the word itself. Again, your goal is to end up with the logo looking exactly as it did when you started, but composed of multiple layers. Keeping the logo in its original condition will be critical to making it behave predictably (for you) in your NLE, where your goal, similarly, will be to pull it apart and re-assemble it, just as you’re doing here. Finally, if you used "Layer via Copy," as I recommend, note that you'll end up with all your individual layers on top of the complete unlayered logo.

Two things to note when you’re selecting and cutting: Each time, make sure the original layer with all the logo content before is selected before drawing your marquee or lasso shape. If you're trying to cut, say, the "2013" from the "Internet" layer you just created, you’ll get an error message saying Photoshop can’t cut the pixels because the error is empty. Second, make sure your cut is clean and that you leave no stray pixels behind. Turn off layers if necessary to see your new layer in isolation (or to see everything but your new layer) to make sure you didn't grab a line here or there that you didn't mean to. In this example, I needed to be extra careful not to pull any of the black pixels from the "Internet" layer into the rainbow layer. If you don't watch your border pixels, they’ll resurface where you least expect them when you’re animating the logo in your NLE and make your animation look sloppy and amateurish, and will be much harder to locate and eradicate than they are at this stage.

When you’re done, the Layers panel should look something like Figure 4 (below). Before saving, again, remember to convert to 8-bit/RGB, and save as a layered PSD file.

Figure 4. Our logo layered via copy into 5 layers (plus the original complete logo layer at the bottom).

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