When most people hear the term “vignette” in film, they think about the gradual fading around the entire frame. In most cases, this effect is unintentional and caused by different uses of lenses/cameras.
However, sometimes, this traditional “fault” could be turned into a powerful cinematographic tool, which serves the storyteller greatly when he wants to focus the viewer’s attention to a certain area within the frame. Used correctly, a vignette could add a lot to your story. And since it is your duty – as a filmmaker – to convey meaning through stories, there will certainly be a time when you should want to use a vignette.
This is what a traditional vignette looks like – a dark shade around the centre of the frame:
But wouldn’t it be great if you could create something a little more specific than just a “soft” frame around your entire image? That’s what we’ll be looking at now, using Adobe After Effects.
Once you determine the area on which you want to focus the viewer’s attention, create a simple mask around it by using the Ellipse Tool from the toolbar. Don’t forget to click on your layer, before using the Ellipse Tool, or you’ll end up with a new Shape Layer.
Tool tip: You can press “Q” on your keyboard to switch between different shapes like rectangle, ellipse, polygon, etc.
Create a mask
Now click on the mask you’ve just created in your Layers Panel, and press CTRL+X to cut it away from the layer.
Then go to Layer -> New -> Solid and create a black layer and make sure to click on Make Comp Size. Then hit OK
Tool Tip: To create a new solid, you can use the keyboard shortcut CTRL+Y
Create a black solid.
To add the previous mask to your solid layer, press CTRL+V and then you will see the mask covering your subject. This is when you need to use the Invert option available next to your mask inside your black solid. To access the mask’s properties press M twice.
Apply mask to solid.
To adjust the softness of the edges, change the Feather amount. If you want to expand/contract your mask, use the Expansion option. Finally to blend your mask with the original image, lower the Opacity.
Adjust the properties.
Remember, a “focused” vignette will almost always look better. Of course, there will be exceptions, but if you want to use a vignette as a narrative tool, you are more likely to want to draw the viewer’s attention to a specific area, rather than the centre of your image (unless the centre is the area that you want to draw their attention to!)
Here’s a comparison between the two: