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This installment of the After Effects Apprentice series introduces 3D space in Adobe After Effects. Authors Chris and Trish Meyer highlight key design considerations for working in 3D and provide step-by-step instructions for enhancing a scene with 3D lights and cameras. The course explores integration between Photoshop and After Effects, including modeling 3D objects with Repoussé extrusions and creating dimensional still images, and offers tips on using the different Axis Modes and maintaining maximum quality in 3D. There's also a chapter dedicated to the ray-traced 3D renderer, introduced in After Effects CS6, which allows you to build 3D layers into your composites, with realistic motion blur, depth of field, and reflections.
The After Effects Apprentice videos on lynda.com were created by Trish and Chris Meyer and are designed to be used on their own and as a companion to their book After Effects Apprentice. We are honored to host these tutorials in the lynda.com library.
If you've been following along, go ahead and close any compositions you have open, and in the same project file, 3D Space, I'll open composition #05. I notice I have already opened this comp, so I'll just select Mute Audio from the Preview panel so it doesn't interfere with the voice over. I'll set the Views to 2 Views - Horizontal. The Left View is set to Top and the Right View is set to Active Camera. For the Top View, I think I'll optimize the setting so that it Fits up to 100%.
What I can do then is use the View>Look at All layers option, and that will get me pretty close to being optimized. I'll press C to access the unified Camera tool, and I can re-center it a little more. Press V to go back to the Selection tool. With the Camera layer selected, I'll press U to see my keyframes and let's look at what we have. As the camera is moving along its path, it's always focusing on the Point of Interest, and the Point of Interest is pretty much centered on the last layer.
We'll do a RAM Preview. But I have a couple of other choices. We don't have to make it look at the Point of Interest. I can turn off the Point of Interest and I could also Orient it along the path, and that's where a One-Node or a one-point camera comes in. There are two ways to make a One-Node Camera. If you have CS5 or later, you can double -click the Camera layer and that opens Camera Settings, and in the Type pop-up you can change it to a One-Node Camera.
With the One-Node Camera, although the Point of Interest is still visible in the Top View, the camera is no longer focusing on it, it's simply moving along its path. So at this point I could use Orientation and Rotation to point the camera at different layers. Notice, by the way, the Point of Interest no longer appears in the Timeline when you have a One-Node Camera. Now, if you are using CS4 and earlier, the way you make a One-Node Camera is you select the Camera layer, go to layer>Transform>Auto-Orient, and that will open Auto-Orientation.
If you currently have a Two-Node Camera, this dialog will be set to Orient Towards Point of Interest. To make it a One-Node Camera, just set it to Off. But the reason this dialog is so useful is you get another option that you do not get in Camera Settings, and that's Orient Along Path. When I click OK, notice the camera will now automatically rotate along the path, and I don't have to set any Rotation keyframes. Let's RAM Preview that. So now that we've made the camera Auto-Orient, we can also make the layers Auto-Orient.
The reason we might want to do that is as the camera is moving along its path, the objects are looking a little skewed. This may look fine depending on what job you're doing, but if you find that looking at the objects from an angle is distractive, you can select all of your layers, in this example, that's layer #2 to layer #14. And if you look at the layers in the Top View, you can see that they're looking straight towards the front of the stage, and as the camera winds through them, they continue looking straight forward.
So with all of my layers selected, I can select layer>Transform>Auto-Orient, and let's see what options we have for layers. Let's say my layer was moving along its own path, in that case I could select Orient Along Path, and that could be useful if my layer was say a car moving along a roller coaster path. However, what I am interested in is having layers orient towards the camera, and, by the way, grayed out underneath that is an option for having characters in the text layer independently orient towards the camera. I'll click OK.
And now notice that all the layers automatically start looking at the camera. And as the camera moves along the path, they automatically keep swiveling, so that they're always looking at the camera. And we'll RAM preview. And again, this option can be very useful if you're finding that a layer looks a little skewed as the camera looks at it from a very sharp angle. So to finish off an animation like this you have a couple of other options you can use.
Notice that the camera, although it's automatically rotating along the path, it's not doing any kind of banking as it makes a turn. You can always add some keyframes for Z Rotation, if you'd like the camera to fly to the world more like an airplane. You don't need a lot of Z Rotation, so I am pressing the Command key on Mac, Ctrl key on Windows, so I can scrub the value in very fine increments. Then I'll undo. Of course, don't forget to check out the Graph Editor, that way you can see how the camera is animating as it moves through the layers and you can make any further tweaks.
Here's one tweak you might want to try. Select both of the keyframes in the center and change them so that they rove across time. And just to simplify the graph, I'll turn off the Show Reference Graph, which is overlaying the Value Graph on top of the Speed Graph. Now you can see that you have a very simple Speed Graph, and because the two center keyframes are roving in time, they don't get in the way if I want to make a very simple graph, perhaps have more of a constant speed, and then slow down.
And let's see how that looks. When you're doing an animation like this, you might find that as the camera moves around a corner, it appears to pick up speed, even if the speed looks fairly constant in the Graph Editor. So one approach might be to set the middle keyframes to rove in time, and once you have a simple graph worked out, you can click on those keyframes and just slow them down ever so slightly, and you might find that, that will give you what looks to be a constant speed when you RAM Preview, and you could go a little further than that.
Whether or not you have cameras or layers automatically oriented on a path, don't forget to go in and make sure that your handles are not sticking out in odd directions and that you have a very smooth Motion Path. Of course, if you don't like the effect you're getting with Automatic Orientation, there's no reason why you couldn't turn that off, and just animate XYZ Rotation manually. You could also add a little Y Rotation to counteract the Automatic Orientation.
They add together, they are not mutually exclusive. And, by the way, there is a reason why we didn't have you build this animation from scratch. It takes a little time to set up the Motion Path and arrange all of the layers so that you're not crashing into them, and so on. But one of the advantages of having layers automatically look at the camera is it's almost impossible to crash through a layer, because they always swivel to get out of the way just in time.
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