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I like the bottom one better!
I start debugging stuff like this with binary tests. Turn off half the layers and render. Turn off the other half and render.
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Sounds and feels weird. Effects should not disappear at random. The only thing that would explain this would be OpenGL or multiprocessing issues where either one of these acceleration models causes unsafe effects to turn off... Other than that cross-checking the hard way as bogiesan suggested would be the only way to find out what's going on...
Thank you for your replies both of you - equally mysteriously, it has started working again. I had rebooted several times and was running AE alone, and pared down everything in the .aep file apart from this comp, and still replicated the error maybe half a dozen times. Now, it's back to normal. There was nothing remotely unsafe in there - the raciest effect was a luma track matte - ??
But thank you all the same - I appreciate it.
Actually - this issue hasn't gone away, although I appear to have isolated the problem. I'm working on a different comp now: this is the preview with correctly applied depth fade (a depth render .tif sequence used as a luma matte on the RGB render):
which turns off as soon as I hit render:
This happens with OpenGL both enabled and disabled (all capabilities supported); multiprocessing both enabled and disabled; and in 8, 16, and 32 bit depth. I'd be really grateful for any more suggestions anyone might have.
Actually, that's not the problem - I'm so sorry - I can see there is still some depth fade, although presumably a Curves effect has turned off somewhere. Still - ??
Yeah so I've been wrestling with this all day, and there's definitely some kind of instability in the luma & luma inverted matte functions, which renders several stops darker than the preview. Can you reproduce that?
Just to check, if you're using 3D layers and cameras, which camera are you using in your viewport? For example, are you using an orthographic view in your viewport, but rendering your Active Camera (perspective)?
Not using 3d layers - all that stuff done in Maya.
The bug itself (if that's what it is) appears unstable - it disappeared for about 20 minutes but I was unable to capitalize on it in time. I've rebuilt all these comps from scratch a couple times, swapped the tif sequences out for mp4s... still no closer.
And I should emphasize again that there are also several layers of film clutter that aren't rendering. No effects on those layers.
Maybe try batch converting the .tifs generated from Maya into a different file format. Perhaps there was some info written to the framebuffer in Maya that's causing some hiccups.
Yes, as I mentioned I've already tried swapping the tif sequences out for the same data rendered into an mp4. Doesn't help.
I was thinking another image sequence. Using .mp4 introduces other possible problems as it's a highly compressed codec meant for delivery, not for intermediate production use. Can you try converting to another image sequence format (i.e., .tga, .psd, etc...) to see if that helps?
Can you send us a screenshot of your entire comp but furst select all layers and press e to reveal all the effects. Even better would be your composition without footage. There's something funny somewhere.
Here is the problem pared down to its bones, as I understand it. I have removed all effects other than transfer modes. Both layers are freezeframed. The RGB + AO comp you can see expanded below, but soloing either one of these layers does not address the problem.
When I render, the footage immediately darkens like this:
And here are some dialog boxes that may or may not be relevant.
To my mind this is tied up with luma track matte somehow. I've tried all kinds of precomposing permutations to little effect. I do hope it's something silly & obvious I've overlooked - so far this has devastated my weekend and deadlines generally.
I'm not seeing the final composite. I see the background effect and I see the foreground as pre-comps, but where's the composition.
Also, you shouldn't be rendering to h264 out of AE. It never works very well.
Stop Press! It really seemed like an OpenGL issue - and while I get different results disabling in Preferences > Previews vs. Render Settings, disabling in both provides continuity. Finally!
I'm sorry, I should have thought to do that before, and sorry to put you to all this trouble, but thank you to everyone for your help. I really didn't think AE would have OpenGL issues with track mattes. Is this a known issue?
Here's what I see starting from the bottom.
Layer 18, the DOF comp, is turned off and I don't see any Effect that would reference this layer. What is it supposed to do? As far as I can tell it's doing nothing for this comp and could be removed.
Layer 17, the White Solid, appears to be what you're using to create the white fill behind the OS RGB + AO comp.
Layer 16, the OS RGB + AO comp, appears to have it's opacity controlled by a luma matt from the Z-OSdepth tiff.
If you solo layer 16 and 17 you should see the light background for your composition with it's simulated atmospheric haze.
If I'm right so far then the Camera lens Blur applied by the adjustment layer (14) should blur the layers beneath it. Layer 14 thru Layer 17 constitute the background for your comp. Everything above must have areas of transparency for the background to show through. Layer 12 and 13 must be just the girder pieces in the image. Adding these layers to the comp should work just fine. If you do a test render with everything from layer 17 through layer 12 soloed you should get what you expect.
Layer 11, main, must be your workers. I'm assuming that they are shot against a color screen because you're using keylight to set up some transparency.
Layer 10, Hold Back, is confusing to me. There is nothing obvious here that would generate any transparency. I'm not sure what you're doing with that layer.
Layer 9, Shoes, must be the workers shoes. For some reason they need to be keyed out, sharpened, then color balanced, then blurred? It probably has nothing to do with the problem but why are you blurring something that you have sharpened? I also see that you are creating the transparency with keylight. That really confuses me. If the footage was shot on a greensreen of just the shoes, how are you lining them up with the workers feet? This means that I don't understand what this footage looks like or how you are using Keylight.
Layer 8, OSRope, I'm assuming is a tiff with transparency of a rope that is set to darken something below.
Laer 7, The adjustment layer, has no effects applied so it is doing nothing. Remove it.
Layer 6 through layer 2 appear to be movies of dust and scratches with blend modes. There should be no problems here.
Layer 1, the adjustment layer, is applying a tint to the entire project.
Here's where I'd start. I'd remove layer 18 unless you can tell me what it's supposed to be doing.
I'd Pre-compose layer 12 through 17 and collapse transformations. I'd also remove Layer 7.
Id then turn off visibility of the pre-comp and check to see if you have a transparent background with all of the effects applied and all of the dust and scratches. Do a test render of just a few frames to animation codec QT, RGB + Alpha with straight alpha. Everything should be there but the background. If you have no transparency try turning off the HoldBack layer first, then the shoes, then work your way up turning off a layer at a time until youj end up with transparency.
My biggest suspect, now that I look at the project, would be the OSROPE (8) layer set to darken.
Now that I've gone through the composite let me give you my general troubleshooting guide. Turn off every layer that you think may be giving you problems one at a time and test render a still, one frame of a png sequence, or a few frames of animation codec QT to identify the problem layer. If I had your comp and your footage I'd find the problem layer in about 10 minutes.
I hope this helps. You're just loosing transparency somewhere. Layers 2 thru 6 have nothing to do with that.
Thank you for your advice. In response to your comments:
Layer 18, DOF comp, is the Depth of Field comp for the Camera Lens Blur effect in Layer 14.
Layers 9, 10, and 11 are different areas of the same greenscreen footage of the workers. Because of the wide angle they were shot against it was impossible to keep the green evenly lit, and I've had to apply three different instances of Keylight. The shoes in particular had some horrible shadows around them, and a compbination of rotoscoping and massive screen gain was required.
Layer 8, OSRope, is a tiff of the foreground rope, but it's set to darken to remove a halo of light pixels so it silhouettes against the workers. Blur to smooth the resulting edge.
Layer 7 is redundant here, it normally has a vignette mask but with no effects applied for this shot. I'll remove it.
Here is the animation QT render that results from following your troubleshooting guide;
Following your steps, the problem layers are indeed 16 & 17 - which appear to be rendered differently by OpenGL and the default rendering engine.
At this point you should never use Open GL to render final output in AE. IMHO it's unreliable.
I'd pre-compose all of your greenscreen footage above the background layer. The new comp would have the Background Precomp composed of Layer 18-12 on the bottom. A precomp of all the combined key elements from layer 11 through layer 9, then the remaining 6 layers. That should render just fine. Don't be afraid of pre-comps.
Okay, OpenGL is unreliable, it seems I learnt that the hard way. I thought it was a proud part of Creative Suite - I didn't know it was (even unofficially) deprecated. Thanks for the heads up.
In general I'm not afraid of precomps. I've used a trim compose script to put over 270 shots into this short film, comps sometimes nesting a dozen deep. I just don't precomp when it's not necessary, as here. For a marginal increase in tidiness you lose a lot in facility.
It's not just an increase in tidiness, it may solve some rendering issues. Open GL works great to speed up previews in some situations. To see if it works for your project make sure that it's set to always on. Open GL has never been recomended for rendering final output. It's all over all of the After Effects Forums. The reason is that there's really no standard for anything in Open GL. Each graphics card renders differently and the math used for calculations is different for different manufacturers. We're getting better with GPU accelerated effects, and some work well on many cards, but Open GL is probably the culprit in your situation. It would have been my first switch to throw. It was the third suggestion. Did you ever try it?
I did do binary tests on the OpenGL options yesterday morning, but only on/off in the Previews *then* on/off in Render Settings, not both simultaneously until yesterday evening, as per my 11:01pm post.
Regarding the OpenGL renderer: It's a preview renderer. It has never been intended as a high-fidelity renderer. It's a way to render things fast to get an idea of placement.
Yes - this was my obvious oversight. Because it has always worked perfectly before now, I had somehow missed this.
Todd, I've watched your OpenGL video, for which thanks, and more broadly thank you to everyone for setting me straight. Much appreciated!