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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.
Next, let's play around with shadows. These are one of the most visually appealing features with lights in After Effects. I am going to go back and open up in the Comps folder the composition 07-Shadows*starter. And for shadows to appear you need a few things. First off, you need a layer in the background, with its 3D layer switch enabled to receive your shadows. You need the layer in front, again, already in 3D space, to cast the shadows, and there needs to be some distance between those two layers.
If one layer is directly on top of another, you won't see the shadow that falls in-between them. You can either glance at their Positions numerically or, again, take advantage of different views. For example, if I look at things from a custom view, you can see that this shadow layer is in front of my background layer. This is also easy to see in one of the orthographic views, like Top, there's a shadow layer, and there is my background concrete wall, or from the Left. Again, here's my text layer that is in front and my wall layer that is behind.
I will go back to Active Camera for now. The next ingredient you need is a light to go ahead and illuminate that front layer so it will cast shadows on the layer behind. So I'll go to layer>New>Light. I'll give it a name such as shadow light, and let's set up its parameters. To keep things simple, I'll use the Point light so I don't need to worry about Cone Angle and Cone Feather quite yet. I'll set the Color to white. Intensity, a little bit brighter. I actually tend to use lights a little bit over 100%, just to brighten them up inside After Effects.
I will leave this brand-new Falloff parameter set to None for now. I'll discuss that in the next movie. And I will enable Casts Shadows. This switch defaults to whatever you last set a light to do. So you cannot rely on it being On or Off, it depends on what you or the user before you did. I am going to turn it On. For now, I am going to set Shadow Darkness to 50%, half of its possible darkness, and I am going to leave Shadow Diffusion off for now. There is a little note here, Shadows are only cast from layers with Cast Shadows enabled to layers with Accept Shadows enabled.
That is very important, because I'll click OK, I'll have my light, and I see a little bit of illumination Falloff, but I don't see any shadows. Well, as it turns out, 3D layers default to receiving shadows; I'll press AA to reveal this layer's parameters. Accept Shadows is On. But layers do not default to Casting Shadows. Every new 3D layer you create has Casts Shadows set Off.
So to see your shadow, you need to toggle that on, and there is our shadow. By the way, for those who love keyboard shortcuts, this is one of the trickier ones out there. On Mac, hold Option+Shift+C for Casts, on Windows it's Alt+Shift+C for Casts Shadows off or on. Now, if you set Casts Shadows from the Timeline panel, you actually have access to a third option. If I click this one more time, I will get only to where the original layer disappears and I see only the shadow that it casts. Pretty cool.
I am going to turn it back to On for now though. Now, shadows default to being black. However, you can make the shadow be the same color as the layer casting the shadow. That's controlled by the layer's Light Transmission property. Now, it's very important, you won't see shadow color as a property in lights. Shadow color is controlled by the layer casting the shadow. Light Transmission defaults to 0, but if I increase it to 100%, you'll see the shadow now takes on the color of the layer.
This is particularly interesting if the layer casting a shadow is something like say stained-glass window or a piece of video. That's how you fake video or film projection. You set your video to be a 3D layer. You set it to Casts Shadows only. And you increase its Light Transmission so that you see the colors in the original video. But I am going to go back to the more normal setting now of Casts On and Light Transmission back down to 0. The Size and Position of your shadow depends on the relationship between your light, the layer casting the shadow, and the layer receiving the shadow.
For example, if I pick up the light and start to move it around back and forth, you will see this shadow moves in the opposite direction, and this works just like reality. Rays from this light are hitting this layer and casting shadows off. I move my light upward in the scene and the shadow goes down. How far away the light is from the layer casting the shadow also controls how big the shadow is. So I pull the light back towards us, the shadow becomes closer to the size of the layer itself.
If you also had a 3D camera of this scene, that would come into play as well. If the light is in front of the camera, the shadow will be bigger than the layer. If the light is behind the camera, the shadow will actually become smaller than the layer. But I'll set it to a nice size about there and drag it upward. Now, in addition to the light's position, of course the relative position of these layers is important as well. And I press P for both of these layers to get back to their Position values. If I scrub the Z value for the shadow casting layer to where it gets very close to the layer receiving the shadow, you can see the shadow seems to disappear.
That's because there is very little room to see the shadow, as opposed to having a big gap in between them. Be careful you don't put layers behind each other, because you obviously won't get a shadow in that case. Be careful that you don't put a layer in front of your light, because if your layer is in front of the light, there is no way you can cast a shadow on a layer that's further away. So how do you keep these guys arranged is very important. And again, this is a case where you might want to go into something like 2 Views - Horizontal or Vertical, keep one scene on Active Camera to see how it's going to render, then set your other scene to something like custom view, so you can the relationship between your light and your layers and how these interact.
Now it's much more obvious what's going on. In addition to Position, also consider the relative Angle or Rotation of these two layers. For example, if I take our background panel here, press R to reveal Rotation and start scrubbing its X Orientation to pose it at a bit of an angle, you'll see that the shadow also falls off differently across this layer. Where the shadow casting layer is closer to the shadow receiving layer, the shadow size is roughly the same size as the original layer.
However, as you get more distance between a part of the wall that's receiving a shadow and the layer that's casting a shadow, you'll get bigger shadows. That's how you get some very dramatic effects. I might take our Concrete panels, type Shift+S to get Scale, and even scale it up here to fill our whole composition, and really see a really dramatic effect here of how this shadow is falling off across this angled layer. Indeed, another trick I can do is I can actually rotate this background layer to become a floor.
I'll Orient it, so it's lying down, Angle of 270 degrees or 90 degrees, or one or the other. I'll Position it so that it falls below my text. I'll bring my light a bit closer to the scene, and a bit higher to illuminate the scene a bit better, and now you can see how this shadow falls off across this floor. I might slide my text to sit down a little bit more on that floor. Now you can really see this dramatic effect. I'll pull light up a little bit, T for Intensity, increases illumination, to get more light in the scene, and let's bring the text up, there.
I am using a custom view here to see how that shadow falls off behind the layer. And of course you can always add your own camera and position it higher in the scene to see the same effect. I'll go back down to 1 View for now and I'll keep this Custom View 2 so I can see the shadow. Now, you might remember that the light did have some shadow parameters of its own. I am going to double-click it so I can keep it open right next to my comp here and play around with Shadow Darkness and Show Diffusion. Shadow Darkness is; how dense is the shadow.
You can increase it to 100 %, so it becomes very dense. You can even increase it beyond 100%. This is helpful if you have multiple lights in the scene and another light is washing out the shadow, you can increase the darkness to get some of your shadow back; I'll put it to 100 for now. Additionally, you have this Shadow Diffusion parameter. Shadow Diffusion is essentially how soft your shadow is. As I increase this, you'll see the shadow softens up quite a bit. I'll bring it down to a more reasonable value, like around here.
Shadow Diffusion does take a lot of time to render, so use this judiciously. It's a nice look, but it will take longer to render at the end of the day. One thing that's important to remember is that these parameters are divided up. The light has control over how dark the shadow is and how soft it is, while the layer has control over what the color of that shadow is; is it the color of the layer or is it black? I am going to cancel out of here, just quickly set my wall back to where it was, go back to my Active Camera.
And I encourage you to spend some time playing around with shadows in the scene, moving the light and the layers around, and get a feel for how these layers interact. Again, they're a lot of fun to play with and you can create some very nice looking imagery this way.
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