This tutorial describes how to use the Video Sequence Editor (VSE) in Blender to build an animated alpha image sequence that reveals different parts of an underlying static image. The end result of the video track layering will look like the image below.

If you need more detailed general information regarding Blender's video sequence editor you may want to refer to this article: http://dreamsteep.com/tutorials/blender/202-working-with-the-video-sequence-editor-vse.html

alpha-star-composite

In the finished sequence the star shape above will move and change over time to reveal different parts of the underlying static image.

Alpha Channels:

An alpha channel, also known as a mask, is a special channel of an image used to make parts of the overall image opaque, transparent, or partially transparent or opaque. Typically, the darkest areas of an alpha channel are most transparent, white areas are opaque, and shades of gray represent varying levels of transparency. This transparency mapping scheme comes from traditional film compositing techniques where a high contrast film such as Kodalith is combined with another strip of traditional color or black and white film. Wherever the high contrast film is not black, the light shining through the transparent areas of the film expose part or all of the underlying image to the final printed image. The original Star Wars movies employed travelling matte and alpha blending techniques extensively.

Digital image formats such as PNG and TGA may be saved with 32-bits of data per pixel. These data are broken up into four virtual data channels containing an 8-bit channel for red, green, and blue (RGB), and one 8-bit alpha channel, thus 8-bits x 4 channels = 32 bits. Sometimes images of this format are referred to as RGBA. The alpha channel is really a mask; it specifies how the pixel's colors should be merged with another pixel when the two are overlaid, one on top of the other.

To summarize visually, alpha blending the two images below will result in an image similar to the one at the top of this article.

Stars-Backgroundstar-invert2

You may notice I said above that darker areas of an alpha channel are typically the most transparent, yet in the above image the star is white and its background is black. In Blender's VSE you have a choice to make the alpha image appear as shown above, or inverted, depending on which effect setting you use.

In the example that follows we will use a static image as the background, and an image sequence that includes an alpha channel in each image. When the sequence plays over time the alpha-blended star will appear to animate over the red and yellow star background.

Here is a screenshot of some of the images we will be using in the sequence:

sequence-thumbs

 

Download the Source Files

All of the source files referred to in this tutorial may be downloaded here.

 

Step 1 - Add Images to the VSE

The first thing we will do is load the background image into the VSE. Note: You can quickly get to the VSE layout once Blender is running by holding down the Control key and tapping the Right or Left Arrow Key repeatedly until the VSE layout appears.

To load the background image click the Add button, then choose Images from the menu.

01-add-images-btn

 

Step 2 - Choose a Background Image.

For this example we'll load the image named "Stars-Background.png". Right-Click the image named "Stars-Background.png", then hit the Enter key, or click the Select Images button.

02-choose-bg-image

 

Step 3 - Place the Image in the Timeline as a Video Track

Once the image is loaded into the VSE it will be rubber-banded to the cursor as a video track. Move the video track so it starts in frame 0, as shown below, then Left-Click to place it.

03-move-bg-image

 

Step 4 - Choose a Foreground Image Sequence

Click the Add button, then choose Images from the menu. In the Alpha Star directory you will see a number of images. We need to select all of the images in the Alpha Star folder and import them as an image sequence. To select all of the images in the Alpha Star folder hit the A key so all of the files are highlighted blue, then hit the Enter key, or click the Select Images button.

04-select-sequence

 

Step 5 - Move the Image Sequence Video Track in the Timeline

Drag the image sequence video track to the start of the timeline, so it matches the timline position of the background static image.

05-move-sequence

 

Step 6 - Extend the Duration of the Static Image Video Track

We need both video tracks to be the same length. To extend the background image video track Right-Click the right side of the video track as shown below, so the left-pointing triangle is highlighted white. With the end of the video track selected, hit the G or E key to grab, or extend the clip in the timeline. Drag your mouse to the right and Left-Click when the the background image video track matches the duration of the image sequence video track.

06-select-end-image-time

The video track layout should now like similar to the timline below.

07-extend-bg-image

 

Step 7 - Select the Image Sequence Video Track

We will now select both of the video tracks. First, select the image sequence video track by Right-Clicking it.

08-sequence-track-selected

 

Step 8 - Select the Static Image Background Video Track

Holding down the Shift key, Right-Click on the static image background video track. When both tracks are selected they will have white text, and look like the image below.

09-both-tracks-selected

 

Step 9 - Add an 'Alpha Over' Effect

There are a number of visual effects to choose from. What we want here is the "Alpha Over" effect, which will allow the alpha "star" image to mask the underlying static image.

10-choose-alpha-over

When the "Alpha Over" effect has been added, the track layout should look like the screen below, and you should see the overlay effect in the preview panel.

11-finished-video-tracks

 

Step 10 - Set the Overall Duration for the Animation

If you decide to render this as a video, or an image sequence we will need to adjust a few settings. First, we need to set the frames to be rendered so they match the timeline in the VSE window. If you're using the standard "VSE" layout in Blender you will see  Start and End controls in the timeline window panel. These should be set to 1 and 120 respectively. If you leave the End set to Blender's default of 250 you will see 120 frames of animation followed by 130 frames of black.

12-set-duration

 

Step 11 - Set the 'Do Sequence' Render Option

By default Blender renders a camera view from the 3-D viewport. Instead we need to render the output of the VSE. To enable this click the "Do Sequence" button. This tells Blender to render whatever is in the timeline of the VSE, rather than what is in the 3-D viewport.

13-set-sequence-output

 

Step 12 - Choose the Rendered Output Size and Format

Blender will render the VSE output to whatever size you tell it to, but the results will look best if you match the dimensions of the video to the source image size. In this case the source images are 640 x 480, so we will set the SizeX to 640 and the SizeY to 480.

You may choose any output format that works with your version of Blender. In the example below PNG is used. This will render an image sequence in a PNG format that can be imported into a video editor, QuickTime Pro, or any other video utility that allows static images to be imported as a sequence. Alternatively, you could import the image sequence back into Blender and render that out as a QuickTime or AVI file. Every image format has some advantages and disadvantages over other formats. It's a good idea to experiment with different formats and settings to see what works best for your needs.

14-output-format

 

Here is how the finished movie will appear when rendered as a video: