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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.
Truth be told, vignettes are really one of my favorite things in the world of graphic design. Nothing helps frame a scene better. Vignettes are one of the few things that can drastically change the perceived quality of a graphic without being as obvious as using a preset filter in a can. Most people don't even realize they're in a project unless you make it so dominant they couldn't help but notice. I use vignettes primarily as a device to add a sense of detail and wonder. So let me show you what I mean.
You may recognize this from earlier in the Textures chapter, but this is the animation that we created with the brushstrokes offset in Z space. Now I already started a sense of a vignette with this color gradient in the background. But really, what we want to do is kind of darken the edges. Now there are several different ways you can apply a vignette in After Effects, and I'll show you just a couple that I really enjoy.
The first and easiest way of thinking of creating a vignette is to literally just create a new solid. Let's make the solid kind of a brown color, and I'll explain why in a little bit, but just make it kind of this dark muddy orange brown color. Here we go! We'll click OK. Now in order to create the vignette effect, all we have to do is go up to the Ellipse tool and we'll add a mask to this specific layer solid.
If you start in the upper-left corner, click and drag until you get down to the lower right-hand corner. When you let go we'll have inner ellipse that fills the entire screen. Now the ellipse is literally just a mask on a layer solid. So we can open up the mask parameters here, and first thing, we want this brown to be in the corners. So just change the Mask from Add to Subtract. So we're getting there, but obviously, we need to feather the edges of this, or soften the edges.
So Mask Feather is the parameter we want to adjust. Go ahead and click and drag. Now, that's actually looking pretty cool. Now the reason I told you to use brown instead of black was with brown we can go ahead and use a Darken or Multiply transfer mode that'll interact with the colors below it. Traditionally, if you just laid a black vignette in there, it could possibly look okay, but I found if you choose a dark color and adjust the blend modes, you'll end up with a slightly more pleasing effect.
Now obviously, you can click around and choose whichever blend mode strikes your fancy the most. I actually kind of like this Color Burn. Let's just see what Classic Color Burn looks like. Yeah, we will do that. Once you have something you like, you can either adjust the opacity of the mask or you could adjust the opacity of the layer as a whole, just by selecting the layer clicking T and clicking and dragging. Here, we will adjust the Opacity down. So we've created a stronger vignette here.
I'm actually going to bring the Opacity back up to 100. As you can see, it's made it really kind of dark and grimy. Let's go ahead and just load up a RAM preview really quickly, so we can see what this is doing as the strokes move throughout the scene. So that's really kind of dark. We've totally changed the mood of this project. What I'll do is actually change this back from Classic to Color Burn, and then I'll just adjust the opacity a little bit, so it's not quite so dark in the corners.
Now obviously, if you want to tweak things more, feel free to adjust the mask itself. But all in all, using a layer solid is a great way of creating a vignette. There's one other way I want to show you, and that's by creating a new adjustment layer. With a new adjustment layer selected, let's make sure to turn off our deep orange vignette that we had just created, and select the adjustment layer. Now we can use one of the presets. Under the Animation menu, go to Browse Presets, and then within Bridge, what we want to look for is under Image and Creative, go to Vignette Lighting. And if you double-click, that will go ahead and apply the vignette onto the scene.
Now let's press E to open up our effects, and you can see all of the different things that have been applied to help create this vignette. If we turn off the adjustment layer, notice that a couple different things have happened, so let's take a look. Open the Effects control panel and make sure the adjustment layer is turned back on. First thing, it's kind of hard to see this vignette because the levels are just not really that dark.
So if we want to make an adjustment to the outside of the vignette, let's go ahead and adjust the output of the black levels. So if we go ahead and click and drag that to the left, notice we're actually adjusting everything in the scene here, but it is making the edges a little bit more dark. There we go! This calculation is actually what's creating this distortion. If I click the Stretch Second layer, notice if I turn that on or off, that's going to adjust whether or not the layer is actually distorting.
But with that deselected, even if I turn this off, you can still see I have my vignette applied. So if you just want to apply a vignette but you don't necessarily want that kind of distortion in the scene, by all means use the preset, but then deselect Stretch Second layer. So we've covered two different ways of creating vignettes: one using the preset and two actually just using a layer solid. And to tell you the truth, I know the preset looks pretty darn and good, but I have a hard time justifying all that extra render time when I could just use a solid that's a slightly off color and adjust the blend mode to kind of burn the edges.
Now there's one last tip I want to share with you, and that's the blur tip. What do I mean by that? Let's go up under layer and create a new adjustment layer, and with the adjustment layer, let's rename it Blur. Now go to your Effects settings and apply just a Fast Blur. Now obviously, if you want something fancier, you can choose one of the more render-intensive blurs, but for right now Fast Blur is going to work perfectly fine. Let's drag it to something around 20 pixels. Now, the whole scene is ridiculously blurry.
But if we select our Deep Orange Solid layer and press M to open up the mask, we can select the Mask Path and just copy it, Command+C, and then paste it to the Blur layer, Command+V. Now obviously, since we've pasted it, we want to change the Mask settings from Add to Subtract. Now, we have a blur that's also accentuating the vignette effect. I'm noticing an error here, and that's not really an error; it just happens when you paste a mask.
The Feather properties don't necessarily always come across. So let's feather that out to a really soft setting. We can adjust the opacity down a little bit here if we don't want as strong a blur. And now you can see we have a really nice sort of vintage look to our vignette, and it's actually created some softened edges. If we went in and added some depth of field to the camera, we would really push this over the edge. So, to recap, vignettes are a very powerful way to help give your projects a little polish and pop, but when you combine them with some of the other techniques from this chapter like adding textures or blurs, you can really take your designs to the next level.
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