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How to Easily Mask and Cut Out Video Using Runway — No Green Screen

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If I asked most video editors to rotoscope a clip that wasn't filmed on a green/blue screen they could do it, but not without being reluctant. Even with the recent updates to After Effects' rotoscoping tool, it can be pretty tedious (plus not all of us use Adobe).

In this tutorial, we are looking at a RunwayML, a browser based machine learning video editor that can create masks almost instantly, and can be used by seasoned editors and people just starting out.

Getting Started with Runway

Runway is a subscription-based service that offers a limited free version. That free version can still be used to test things out with the limitations being your export resolution being capped at 720p. All things considered, even the free version is a pretty amazing tool if you are okay with the resolution. OK, enough of that, let's jump into Runway.

Head over Runway and follow the simple steps to sign in. Runaway's interface is very easy to use, with tonnes of built-in tutorials and easy to read functions to get you sorted out.

Once you're logged in, you'll be greeted with the main page as well as few pop up tutorials to grow through. Now it's time to upload some media to get started. If you don't have any footage to play around with, you can try the built-in demo footage or head over to Elements and download some stock footage. To upload your footage you navigate to Assets, then head over to Green Screen (you'll be able to upload assets here too).

Using The Machine Learning Green Screen

Traditionally, to take out a background that wasn't made with a green screen involved hours of scrubbing through footage, adding masks and key framing their positions. If you've ever done that, this is going to seem like magic. Simply drag and drop your footage to the timeline below or the display screen to populate and start the edit.

Next thing is to do is use your cursor to select the areas you would like to mask around. Even with more complicated video clips involving moving subjects and moving cameras, Runway seems to handle things like a subject passing behind an object with ease. For this clip of me as a talking head I used three selections. From here you have to play through clip selecting Preview and add more markers to any areas giving you a problem.

As well as the option to add a marker to an area you'd like to mask you can also remove an area that the software has accidentally selected by changing the mode under controls to exclude. Other problem areas can be tackled using the Brush tool that's labelled as Refine.  Lastly use the feather tool to soften the edges of the mask and adjust the transparency to your needs.

Note: As I progressed through this I added much more than three keyframes. The areas that were challenging for the software were things like hands moving quickly, headphones and wires. Another issue was the software crashing on me—this is still a relatively new service, and given how much work it saves, these growing pains are understandable. All that considered, it was still a really easy task to complete and was much faster than the traditional method, but still some patience is needed.  

Done Masking: Adding Effects and Backgrounds

After you're happy with the look of your mask you can start adding additional effects if you'd like by following the steps under Done Masking.

You have the option to blur and change the colour of the background as well as adding a variety of stylized visual effects. My favourite is the gameboy setting, a retro look based on the original hand held device from my childhood. Each effect you can easily be adjusted the amount using the provided slider.


Last thing is to export your file to be edited or composited in your preferred software. While you can continue to edit and easily have fun creating awesome videos using runway, I prefer using this as a masking tool, then finishing up using a traditional NLE for more advanced editing tools.

Final Thoughts

It's amazing to see how many powerful tools and options we've got as creators to use these days, and this is no exception. Runway is a fast, user-friendly system that's a no brainer if don't have the computing power to handle editing, or if you do and think this tool would speed up your work flow. Runway is updating and add more powerful features with a few currently on the way.

More Browser Based NLE Resources

If you're looking for more browser based NLE options and resources, here's a few to check out.

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