A Beginner's Guide to Video Masking Software

In Legend twin brothers both played by Tom Hardy are created with masking feature

What if we told you that by the time you finish reading this text you'll learn about one well-kept Hollywood post-production secret? Which is (wait for it) video masking software.

That's right, with this technique alone you'll be able to reproduce some of the most mind-blowing effects, such as making the same person appear in the same frame multiple times. Like in Friends, where Lisa Kudrow played twin sisters - Phoebe and Ursula Buffay; or in Legend, where Tom Hardy played both twin brothers - see the illustration above.

And not only that. Video masking is irreplaceable and constantly used for more trivial tasks - such as blurring faces and objects, removing them from the scene entirely, adding reflections, coloring a particular part of the video, creating a "video playing inside of a text" effect, and even creating a "ghost look" - that's when a person looks half-transparent and you can see objects behind. Not too shabby, huh?

In this article we'll talk about the concept of video masking and its most popular use cases beginners will be able to repeat easily.

Looking for a budget-friendly program to perform video masking? Check out VSDC for Windows and iMovie for Mac.

Download VSDC here for free.

Do I need a particular video masking software?

While we've used that term a couple of times already, there is no such a thing as "video masking software". Masking is rather a feature most non-linear video editors have.

For screenshots and video tutorials in this particular article we're using VSDC. It is a video editing software for Windows, and you can download it here. VSDC is free, however, masking is considered a Pro tool and available at $19 per year. If you're on Mac, the most budget-friendly video editor with masking capabilities will be iMovie. You can download iMovie here.

If you feel confident enough to jumpstart with professional solitions, you should consider breaking the piggy bank for such post-production programs as Adobe Premiere Pro ($239,88 per year) and Pinnacle (starts with $59,95).

So what the heck is video masking?

Technically speaking, masking feature helps you outline an area on a video you want to hide, reveal, or modify. This particular area will be considered - and hereinafter called - a mask. If you've ever worked with Photoshop or its alternatives, the terminology sure sounds familiar.

Practically speaking, video masking software enables you to manually choose a particular area on a video and work with it as if it was a standalone object. Here are few examples.

  • You can copy the outlined fragment and duplicate it in a scene - as in "clone effect".
  • You can apply a particular filter on the outlined part only - as in blurred faces/blurred car numbers use case.
  • You can layer that outlined part on another image or video - as in text mask, or videos similar to the famous annoying orange series. As you can see, the video effect here is achieved by layering some fragments of a video - the eyes and the mouth in particular - on the image of an orange. We wouldn't be able to explain the annoying result though.

    Outlined part can be layered on another image or video similar to the annoying orange series

Is it me, or there are different masks available out there?

Once you start digging deeper into the topic, you'll probably notice here and there video editing geeks mentioning clipping masks or inverted masks when talking about video masking software. Don't you get confused by the terminology. The most straightforward differentiating of masks we can think of is by their shape. Thus, masks can be in a shape of geometrical figure (round, square, triangle, etc.) or in any required "free" shape manually created by means of connected the dots. The rest of characteristics you'll probably hear - such as "inverted" or "clipping" describe the technique video masking is applied in.

For instance, to apply a clipping mask means to determine an area through which all the video layers will be visible by an image with a transparent background. That image will be what we will call a clipping mask or a clipping path. In other words, the visible part is "clipped" by the borders, and whatever is outside of it will not be seen.

Here is an example of how clipping mask was used in a famous GTA San Andreas video game opening.

Example of the video in text effect

An inverted mask, on the other hand, blends two videos or images in a reversed way. That means, if you place an image A on the timeline, layer an image B on it and apply an inverted mask, the image B will be seen through the "empty" areas of the image A.

Here is another example. To achieve the famous "Video in text" effect, you can certainly use an Inverted mask. The Inverted mask is literally a one-click operation in most pieces of video masking software. Yet, many people refer to this particular effect as a "Text mask" to sound more precise because technically instead of the letters there could be objects of any shape.

Amazing video masking software effects you should definitely try

We hope you got the idea of what video masking can help you achieve. Now let's get practical, shall we? We've briefly mentioned some popular tricks - continue reading if you'd like to learn about how to use them in your projects.

Blur a face or any other object you need to hide in the video

Blurring or pixelizing something in a piece of a footage is arguably the most frequently utilized video masking effect, and you have sure seen it a million of times. It is often employed in movies, in the news, on security camera records, anonymus interviews, on drone-recorded videos to hide the GPS coordinates - you name it. Technically, you simply choose an area that must be hidden from a viewer's eye and apply masking to it, so that the blurring effect will only appear on that chosen area.

If you are going to use VSDC video editor, the Inverted mask is probably the fastest way to pixelize a particular object:

  1. Once you've added the video, go to Video Effects -> Filters -> Pixelize. That will pixelize the entire video, so don't get confused. By the way, you can adjust the level of pixelization using the right-side menu in case you want the blurring effect to be stronger or weaker.
  2. Double-click on the effect on the timeline - the "Pixelize" tab will be opened. Go to "Add object" and choose Ellipse, Rectangle or a Free Shape for your mask. Place the object on the area that will be pixelized.
  3. Go to the right-side menu and click on the Composition mode section. In the "Invert mask" dropdown menu switch No to Yes.

This is how you blur an object! Easy enough, isn't it?

The very same way you can apply any other video filter or effect on a chosen area - and it doesn't have to be simple blurring.

Sometimes you might need a mask to follow a moving object. Say, if it's a person who doesn't stay still on the video, and whose face must be hidden at all times. That will require a few extra steps, and if this is something you need for your project, we encourage you to watch a detailed how-to tutorial below.

Create a video playing in text effect in less than a minute

"Video in text" or a "Text Mask" is a beautiful eye-catching and a very popular effect. You might have seen it in TV shows and video blogs, because it is a perfect intro for any video project. And the best part is - you'll literally spend less than a minute to achieve it! Below we'll teach you how. Keep in mind that the "Text mask" works best with short words made of large-size extra-bold letters. Here is what to do:

  1. Add a beautiful video you want to be seen through the letters. Bright multicolor videos will look better than monochrome ones.
  2. Double-click on the video on the timeline - you'll be automatically switched to the next tab.
  3. Add text to the scene. Try to keep it short for a better looking text mask.
  4. Use the upper-side menu to change a size and style as required for your project.
  5. Apply black color to the text.
  6. Find the "Composition mode" section in the menu to the left of the timeline. Choose the Inverted mask option as shown on the screenshot below.
  7. Drag text or video to adjust accordingly.

How clipping mask was used in a famous GTA San Andreas video game opening

Create a beautiful clipping mask

The idea behind clipping masks is similar to the "Text mask" effect, although instead of letters you will be using PNG images with transparent background. Think of those images as windows through which the playing video will be visible.

Clipping mask effect may look very artsy. Here is an incredible example of its usage in the True Detective intro, where Louisiana skyline is shown through a silhouette of Matthew McConaughey.

An incredible example of clipping mask with Matthew McConaughey

Here is how to apply a clipping mask in VSDC which we are using as a video masking software for this tutorial.

  1. First, add an image that will be surrounding your clipping mask. In case of the above mentioned True Detective intro, it is a one-tone beige background, but you can choose any image or video for your project accordingly.
  2. The second step is adding the clipping mask image. Remember, it should be a PNG image with transparent background, otherwise the magic will not happen.
  3. As you complete step #2, go to Video Effects -> Transparency -> Clipping.
  4. Double-click on the clipping effect on the timeline - you'll be transferred to the next tab.
  5. Finally, add a video or an image to be seen through your clipping mask. Drag to adjust if necessary.

Although it may sound challenging, applying a clipping mask is easier than you think. Take a minute and watch a detailed video tutorial on how to do it.

Clone yourself on a video

While Hollywood directors use this post-production trick to illustrate twisted storylines, you may want to try it just for fun. Because it is fun indeed!

The concept of the "clone effect" is simply blending multiple video records of the same person shot in the same area, but standing/moving in different spots. This way, when you combine two pieces of footage on the timeline using video masking software, it will look like both clones appear in the frame simultaneously. If this is your first time trying this slightly complicated composition mode, we recommend you shooting in front of an even background - of one color, ideally. Chances are higher, the video will come out more naturally-looking if you do so. Additionally, you'll save time and effort during the editing process if the background is plain and monochrome.

In short, once you shoot the videos, you'll need to add all of them to the timeline and apply inverted mask to the areas where the "clones" are situated. Yet since a picture is worth a thousand words, we recommend you to watch the video tutorial below.

Create an object reflection

Finally, if you get really geeky about the details, you can apply video editing magic to create object reflections. Here is how it works. You duplicate an object in the same scene, apply color grading which will look authentical for a shadow, flip it and set up the required perspective. Below there is a tutorial about creating a text reflection, but you can certainly use the same approach for creating reflections for other objects as well.

More video masking software effects to try

Once you understand the concept and master the technique, you're only limited by your imagination, because the post-production possibilities are endless. Consider splitting screen in an creative way to show multiple videos playing at the same time. Consider creating a round facecam if you are a gamer recording your walkthroughs and uploading it to YouTube. Or consider blurring your video background by means of the above mentioned Inverted Mask technique.

Masking is indeed one of the most powerful tools a video editing enthusiast may make use of. Not only does it allow to apply color correction to the particular areas of the video, but it is also irreplaceable when it comes to special effects like blurring, adding a reflection or creating an awesome intro - such as the clipping mask or the text mask. Now that you know the secret, we hope you'll be able to benefit from it, and make your clips more eye-catching.

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Happy editing!