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After Effects CS5.5 New Features
Illustration by John Hersey

Creating a rack focus in 3D


From:

After Effects CS5.5 New Features

with Mark Christiansen

Video: Creating a rack focus in 3D

A rack focus shot is one in which the camera's plane of focus travels from one object in the scene to another at a different distance, holding focus on only one area of frame at a time. You can easily rack focus using the After Effects camera and 3D layers and take advantage of all the new lens effects as well. A couple of other editions to CS5.5 make it extra easy to set up a rack focus animation. So here we have a 3D scene with a 3D camera, and in a previous lesson I mentioned that it's easy to see the plane of focus in a different view, so I'll enable Depth of Field.

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After Effects CS5.5 New Features
1h 42m Intermediate May 02, 2011

Viewers: in countries Watching now:

In this course,, visual effects guru Mark Christiansen covers the relevant new features of After Effects CS5.5, including the new Warp Stabilizer, 3D Stereoscopic workflow, and Lens Effects tools. The course also covers light falloff enhancements and workflow improvements in this release.

Topics include:
  • Adding smooth light falloff
  • Using inverse square falloff
  • Creating lens blur with the After Effects camera
  • Working with Warp Stabilizer
  • Recreating bokeh blur artifacts
  • Creating rack focus
  • Setting up stereo 3D
  • Working with RED camera footage
  • Saving preview time with disk caching
  • Creating an orbit null
Subject:
Video
Software:
After Effects
Author:
Mark Christiansen

Creating a rack focus in 3D

A rack focus shot is one in which the camera's plane of focus travels from one object in the scene to another at a different distance, holding focus on only one area of frame at a time. You can easily rack focus using the After Effects camera and 3D layers and take advantage of all the new lens effects as well. A couple of other editions to CS5.5 make it extra easy to set up a rack focus animation. So here we have a 3D scene with a 3D camera, and in a previous lesson I mentioned that it's easy to see the plane of focus in a different view, so I'll enable Depth of Field.

You won't see a big change. If I go to 2 Views, you'll see that as I animate the Focus Distance, you can see it there in the scene. In this case what I like to do is rack focus from this near title to the far one. There is a simpler way to set this up though than doing it this way. So I'll go back to 1 View. All I have to do is select that Camera, and because I'm on a Mac I'll use the Command key, on Windows it'd be Ctrl, to select near as well.

Now, there are a couple of different places I can select this, but I will right-click, choose Camera, and say Set Focus Distance to Layer. And I get busted for having a one-node camera. So I can easily fix that. Under the Layer I'll go into Camera Settings and just change that to a Two-Node Camera. So the image shifted slowly, but that's okay. So now, once again, I'll choose the Camera, Command-select near, right-click, and try this command again, Set Focus Distance to Layer.

And to show you that it is now set to that layer I'm going to crank up the Aperture settings so we really see this thing blur out. All right, so near is in focus. The rest of the scene is wildly out of focus. Now, to animate a rack focus animation I'll go a couple of seconds in and set a keyframe for Focus Distance to where it is right now, on near. And just so I can see again I'll twirl that up, choose the Camera, and the Far layer this time. Now I'll just go do about 2 seconds before the end and this time I'll use the Layer menu to choose the same command.

With a different layer selected, the focus is now on far and in between we have the camera moving its focus from one to the other. Just to make this extra special elegant I'll use the U key to reveal those keyframes, click on Focus Distance to select them both, and I'm just going to add an Easy Ease to those. Let's preview that and see what we've got. So there you have the completed rack focus animation.

Now, we could end the lesson right there, but there's one more thing I want to show you. To do that I'm just going to delete the keyframes I just created. This time I'll again select the Camera and that far layer and I'd like to choose Link Focus Distance to Layer. Now, what's the difference? Link Focus uses an expression to actually dynamically link Focus Distance, you see it's in red, indicating it has an expression set to it, to that far layer. So now, if I take the far layer, I'll just reveal its position and do it this way, and move it closer to Camera, you'll see the focus changing to follow it.

So this is a different type of rack focus effect in which you might follow a layer, and it's set up just that easily. Racking focus both creates a certain aesthetic beauty and directs the viewers' attention where you want it, and it's a fun and easy effect to recreate in After Effects.

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