If you’re an avid TV or film watcher, you’ve seen the “double exposure effect” used in multiple credit sequences and other ways. While it looks complex, it’s actually quite simple to achieve. Below is a step-by-step guide on how to produce this effect in Adobe After Effects CC.
Step 1: Identify Your Foreground and Background
The key to creating a successful double exposure effect is finding two complementary videos or images that will work well together. I’d recommend using a person as the foreground and a landscape shot for the background (which will actually be the background that you see inside of the foreground subject).
Foreground: Choose a close-up shot of a subject (such as a person). Profile shots work well for the double exposure effect. You can use a green-screen video shot, as it’s easy to remove the background. You can also use a photo of a person and remove the photo’s background using the quick selection tool in Photoshop.
Background: Choose a landscape or city shot. Timelapse shots make for great background shots with the double exposure effect. The more dynamic the better.
Step 2: Remove the Background from the Subject
Import both your foreground and background shots into the After Effects Project Panel. Right click on the foreground shot and select “New Comp from Selection.”
From “Effects and Presets,” search for the “Keylight” effect and drop it onto the video layer in your composition. This will enable you to perform a chroma key to remove the green background.
From “Effect Controls,” select the green backdrop using the dropper tool. To make accurate adjustments, change the view mode to “Screen Matte” and use the screen matte controls to adjust the matte. For example, if you see gray in the background, you may need to clip the black to remove the gray. The ideal chroma key produces a pure black background and a pure white foreground.
Once you’re done, switch the view back to “Final Result.”
Step 3: New Background and Track Matte
Now that the green background is removed, drag and drop your background video — in this case, the foggy scene — below the foreground layer.
From the TrkMat column in your composition panel, change the TrkMat of the background to be the Alpha Matte of the layer above. You will instantly see the background inside the foreground subject.
If you don’t see the TrkMat option, right click on the column menu and turn “Modes” on.
Step 4: Add Detail and Desaturate
Right now, the foreground looks flat. You can see that it’s a shape of a person’s head, but we want more detail back. To do this, simply click on the foreground layer in your composition and hit “CMD+D” (CTRL+D on a PC) on your keyboard to duplicate the layer. Be sure to turn the “eye” icon back on so you can see that top layer.
Next, use the rectangle tool to draw a mask around the middle half of the frame.
Hit “F” on your keyboard to feather the mask. I feathered mine to around 650, but you can feather to your own preference. Hit “T” on your keyboard to activate opacity controls, then reduce the opacity to around 75%.
To remove some of the pink tones from the subject’s skin, go to “Effects and Presets,” search for “Tint,” and apply it to the top subject layer. Then blend the tint to about 50% so it’s not too desaturated. (Feel free to go to 100% — I just like to leave a little bit of color.)
This result produces a more blended look.
Step 5: Add a Gradient Backdrop
Right click on the empty area of your composition, below your current layers, and select “New > Solid.” Then, from “Effects and Presets,” search for “Gradient Ramp” and drag and drop it on to your solid. I’d recommend changing it to a “Radial Ramp” and choosing colors that match your scene. You can then adjust the start and end of the ramp until it looks nice and blended.
Step 6: (Optional) Lens Flares
I use BorisFX Continuum Unit: Lights to create awesome light flares and leaks in my videos. To apply light leaks to your current composition, first create a new adjustment layer and place it on top of all your current layers in your composition.
Then, from “Effects and Presets,” search for “BCC Light Leaks” and drag and drop it onto your adjustment layer. From “Effect Controls” you can customize the flare, such as by lowering the opacity, increasing the exposure, or changing the color hue.
Step 7: Final Adjustments
You can also, at any time, adjust the scale or the position of the background scene until it looks best inside of your foreground.
You don’t have to use the exact parameters I chose in this tutorial to produce this effect — rather, treat this as a guide to help you create your next double-exposure look. For example, you can apply this same effect to create a True Detective-inspired intro title sequence.
For video tutorials on how to produce effects like this, plus other video production tricks and effects, subscribe to my YouTube Channel, Premiere Gal and check out my other Pond5 tutorials. If you have any questions about creating this effect, please leave a comment below!