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After Effects: Principles of Motion Graphics with Ian Robinson covers some of the core principles used to create motion graphics, breaking them down into smaller groups of applied techniques in After Effects. The course explores everything from gathering inspiration to integrating traditional typography, transitional elements, animated textures, color, and more into motion graphics. Instructions for building a toolkit with templates and a style guide for future projects are also included. Exercise files accompany the course.
I've been using this one funky background throughout the course that I created using textures. This is the video where I'll actually show you how I built that background graphic. So, first things first. Let's go over to the Project pane and open our PaintStrokes layers, and you'll notice that we have a layered Photoshop document that's just been imported as a composition. So if we double-click on the Splat layer here and open it up, you can see this is a watercolor brushstroke that I scanned in off of a piece of rice paper.
It is on a transparent background. If I go ahead and show the alpha channel, here you can see that I have the rice paper and yeah, there are some slight areas of transparency, but that's literally how the paper looks. If you want to know how I cut that out of the background, feel free to jump to any of the Photoshop training courses. There are plenty of different ways to make selections and cut out backgrounds in Photoshop, and we're not getting into that on this specific video. What I do want to cover is exactly how I created that sense of depth and colorized the scene in my previous video.
Let's go back to our composition for our paint strokes. First thing you'll notice, I have each one of these layers just layered right on top of each other, and as I disable the visibility of each layer, you can kind of see that notice as I'm clicking on layers 3, 2, and 1, see how the eyeball is solid there, whereas the eyeball here you can actually see the little retina? That's letting me know that I've used a blend mode or a transfer mode. So in the mode panels, these top three layers are set to the Multiply blend mode.
Multiply is basically knocking out all the white pixels, but since these graphics were painted onto a rice paper, in the scanning process it actually picked up a lot of the texture of the paper. If I zoom in here, you can kind of see this grainy area and that's letting me know that you know I have texture from my rice paper. Even though there are plenty of ways in After Effects to re-create the look of digital noise or analog noise or anything like that, sometimes it just is a lot simpler if you go ahead and shoot the natural objects and bring it into After Effects, and animate it that way rather than having to try to re-create everything digitally.
You also find that that's a great way to make your graphics stand out from everybody else's. So back to how this was built. First off, we have the different blend modes, and second thing, I have a background layer here. Let me go ahead and scroll out. And if you notice the background layer as I turn its visibility on and off, it's just a white solid. I am going to turn that off for right now, and we will change this large m curve background to Multiply as well.
Now, I know you couldn't see a change, but that's because this m curve has no layer underneath of it to actually blend with. So all you're seeing is the common blend of all the different layers. So let's go ahead and create a background layer that we can animate all the paint strokes above. Go up under Layer and choose New > Solid and we'll click Make Comp Size, just to make sure that it's the right size. And you can leave it whatever color you like. I'm going to leave this gray since that was the last color I chose.
And you notice, by default the layer pops up right here at the top of my canvas. I could just drag this down to the bottom, and we'd have a starting point, but that really wouldn't be that interesting. What we want to do is add some noise to this layer. So if we go up under Effect, we can go to Noise and one of my favorite things to do is actually create fractal noise. So when you click on Fractal Noise, you notice that this kind of cloudy texture gets generated. Don't worry; as we continue exploring textures in this chapter, I'll show you how I use fractal noise to create seamless loopable animated backgrounds.
But for right now, I just kind of want to show you how I'm using this Fractal Noise layer to add to the texture and depth of the overall scene. Now by default, I'll just leave this Fractal Noise layer set to black and white, and let's just move it down below all the other layers and above our background layer, and sure enough, now we have a slightly more interesting scene. But there's still something that bothers me about this, and it has to do with how evenly this image is distributed.
What I mean by that, if you have a texture or a background layer that is consistent in its luminance all the way from one side to the other, a lot of times that doesn't do very much to actually add a sense of depth in your scene. So again, later in the chapter, we are going to explore vignettes a little more in depth, but I am going to show you right now how I added color to the scene and added a very soft vignette to darken the corners and the edges, again, just adding to the sense of depth.
So, the easiest way to do this, with your solid layer selected, go up under Effect and I want to choose Generate > Ramp. What a ramp is is basically a gradient. So I have my layer solid, and if we go ahead and solo this layer, you can see I just have a gradient. So I am going to leave this layer soloed right now, and start to add some color. First thing, let's look at where we set the start and end of our gradient. What I would like to see is a circle of light radiating outwards.
So, first thing, let's go to Ramp Shape and change it to Radial. Okay that's a little better, but this dark area I want to be right here in the center of my composition. Now, once that set up, let's change the end of the ramp by clicking this little target here right next to end of ramp and then move over to one of the corners. So when we click, we're extending the blend of the ramp. Now, I probably want this to be a little further out, so you can drag the coordinates further off of the canvas, if you want to accentuate the size of your ramp.
Let's go ahead and change the colors. So first off, I don't want this to be black and white. So let's change the Start Color. Click in the color well, and just choose kind of a dark orange color. Oh, that's already looking kind of cool. And then for the end of the color ramp, let's go ahead and choose like a very dark red, almost black, but as you can see, there's just that tinge of a red in there. Then click OK. So now, we can deselect the solo layer, and all of a sudden my texture is gone, and that's because I added the ramp after I did my fractal noise.
So let's go ahead and change the order of the effects. Notice when I drag the ramp up to the top and then the fractal noise, now I can see the fractal noise. Still not quite what I'm looking for, but that's okay because I can make an adjustment to the blend mode of the fractal noise. So for this, let's go ahead and look at Overlay. Now, all of a sudden it's starting to look exactly the same way it was in my previous project. Now, this is a little darker, so what I'll do is tweak the colors, just by clicking in the color ramp here.
And as we make changes to the colors, you notice it'll dynamically update, and we can go ahead and tweak this till the cows come home. But there is one adjustment, and let's go ahead and change the Start Color to something a little more bright. Okay, so that's looking a little bit better. Obviously, these colors don't quite match what I had for my main animation, but I think you get the general idea as to how this was built. Another thing we can do is soften the contrast and how blotchy the background is.
So let's go ahead and increase the Brightness here, and notice as we increase the brightness, it's kind of washing out what's going on in the scene. I will let go. There we go. If the texture keeps disappearing, don't worry; that just has to do with the redraw of the graphics card. But I will just go ahead and crank this brightness up here a little bit, and you can adjust the contrast to your liking, but I think this is a little bit better as far as what we are looking for.
If I scrub through my Timeline here, notice there's absolutely zero animation. So one of the subtle little things that I did in my other animation was adjust Evolution. Now Evolution is kind of interesting, and we will touch on this more later in the chapter, but Evolution is something that you can go ahead and click to adjust actually how this noise is flowing around the scene. Now, what's great about it is the fact that I can add a single revolution or varying degrees of a revolution--and of course a single revolution would be 360 degrees.
So with our playhead back at 0, let's set our Evolution to zero and add a keyframe. Now, move your playhead to the end of the composition and let's just click on Rotation, which is the left value, and change that to one. Now you notice there was a slight shift in my background. What you want to do is enable Cycle Evolution. This way, whether I am in my last frame or my first frame, let me go ahead and press End and Home, and you notice I'm not getting any shift at all.
And that's because there is one full cycle for one evolution. So that way, the first frame matches the last frame. Don't worry if you didn't quite understand; that's fine. Like I said, we will touch more a little later in the chapter. But as we scrub through the scene, now you notice I'm getting some kind of subtle animation in the scene. Let's go ahead and actually load a RAM preview, so we get a better idea as to how fast this animation is actually happening.
As you can see, it's quite slow. If you're not sure if your system is playing back in real time, make sure the Info window is completely open. So let's go ahead and check one more time. There we go. Yeah, it's playing back in full real time. Okay, so just by adding this one background layer, we've already added a huge sense of depth to the scene. But we can take this up even higher by offsetting exactly where these individual layers are positioned in three-dimensional space.
So let's go ahead and do that. I am going to select layer 4, Shift+ Select layer 1 so everything is selected, and just enable the 3D switch. And now I know 3D has been enabled because I can see all of the control handles. So let's just add some depth by offsetting the Z parameter of each one of these elements. So as you roll your mouse over any of these control handles here, you notice I get a different letter that appears, and that letter is telling me that I'll move that object on the Y or the X or the Z. And so what we want to do is move this little tiny layer over here to the side, and notice if you don't click directly on a specific handle, you'll just drag your object around the scene.
Notice if we look in the Info panel in the upper-right corner, it's not moving anywhere on the Z axis. So I am just going to move this off to the left a little bit, and now I am going to make sure that I'm over Z, and that way when I click and drag, if you drag to the left, it's going to move the object towards the camera. I know it appears that this object is moving off the canvas to the left, but technically, all it's doing is moving in Z space. But since my camera is angled at a slightly different angle, as it moves closer to the camera it's actually getting further out of frame, but don't let that panic you.
One of the other things you want to do as you're positioning objects in 3D space is make sure that you can see the position parameter for each of the objects. So I will just select all the layers and press P to open up my position. So first off, I can see, okay, 391, 392 pixels. That's how far I've moved this first layer. Let's select the next curve and just click and drag, so we can see--oh okay, so this curve, I'll drag it a little further over to the right here and not quite as far as this tiny curve up here in the left, and this curve, there we go.
This is one of the dominant brushstrokes. So we want is to be a right up in front of the camera. So if we click and drag to the left, notice since this is positioned relatively close to the center of our scene, as I'm dragging this layer, it's actually moving towards the camera. And I don't know if you can see it. It's very subtle, but keep your eyes in the center part of the canvas as I click and drag on the Z axis. See the noise that's actually moving? Again, it's sort of hard to see, but it's just a little subtle bit of grain that was left over from the rice paper in the scan, and it's those kinds of little details that actually really help sell depth, because once these layers are positioned in Z space, when you start animating your camera, all those little highlights and things will start popping out at you, because each layer is on a different plane.
And you'll get that really interesting sort of parallax effect where the lens distorts everything, and you get a really beautiful look of depth in your graphic. So the m curve here, let's go ahead and select that. That's our main curve. If you remember in our previous animation, this is what we used to animate the type layer that was on the path. So we'll just move that a little bit towards the camera. Okay. Now the notice I left the background layer as a two-dimensional layer.
I did this on purpose because as we animate the camera, I don't want this background to move at all. So as long as we leave it as a two- dimensional layer, nothing is going to happen as far as its position in front of the camera. So let's add a camera. Go to Layer > New > Camera, and I always like using 50 millimeter. You can choose whatever size you like; 50 is pretty decent. When I clicked OK, now I have the new camera in the scene, and if I open up the position data for that camera, I can click and drag.
And notice as I'm just offsetting the Z position here--let me zoom in on the canvas so that you can see things a little better. I will make this a little larger. There we go. Notice as I'm animating the Z position, you can see all kinds of details, as far as the texture. I can see that edge of the rice paper. I can see this edge of the rice paper, and some detail. This is all beautiful, beautiful stuff that really helps add depth to your animation. So I am not going to sit here and go through the camera animation techniques that you know were required to build that title, because it's pretty straightforward.
It's just creating some position keyframes, and honestly to help set the depth a little more, if you add some rotation, that also adds to the effect. So let me just show you that right now. If I click on the Y axis, notice how the camera is rotating. I am getting a little more pronounced offset to the graphics in the scene. I hope you enjoyed this little foray into how I built the background, but understand this is just supposed to whet your appetite.
I really want you to go create your own textures and create your own animations. Take this knowledge and enjoy!
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