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Creating shadows


After Effects Apprentice 11: 3D Space

with Chris Meyer and Trish Meyer

Video: Creating shadows

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.
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  1. 4m 47s
    1. Welcome
      2m 47s
    2. Using the exercise files
      2m 0s
  2. 15m 12s
    1. Comparing 2D and 3D
      5m 30s
    2. Rotation in 3D
      4m 47s
    3. Keyframing in 3D
      4m 55s
  3. 15m 9s
    1. Multi-planing workaround in 2D
      3m 21s
    2. Using 3D views
      6m 45s
    3. Natural multi-planing in 3D
      5m 3s
  4. 13m 9s
    1. Keyframing a fly-in
      5m 24s
    2. Editing 3D motion paths
      5m 43s
    3. Auto-orienting a layer along its path
      2m 2s
  5. 1h 4m
    1. Adding a camera to a composition
      9m 0s
    2. Comparing camera presets
      2m 48s
    3. Using the camera tools with the active camera
      4m 48s
    4. Using the camera tools in the alternate views
      4m 50s
    5. 3D view options
      1m 58s
    6. Animating a 3D camera
      6m 20s
    7. Creating an orbit camera rig
      5m 42s
    8. Extending your camera rig
      4m 31s
    9. Auto-orientation with 3D cameras
      7m 33s
    10. Depth of field blur in CS5.5 and later
      5m 47s
    11. Controlling the focal plane in CS5.5 and later
      5m 12s
    12. Iris properties in CS5.5 and later
      6m 16s
  6. 29m 15s
    1. Creating a 3D light
      6m 35s
    2. Working with Point lights
      3m 20s
    3. Working with Spot lights
      3m 48s
    4. Creating shadows
      10m 13s
    5. The Light Falloff feature in After Effects CS5.5 and later
      5m 19s
  7. 48m 6s
    1. Enabling ray-traced 3D in CS6
      3m 26s
    2. Extrusions in CS6
      3m 39s
    3. Bevels in CS6
      5m 39s
    4. Bending layers in CS6
      5m 35s
    5. Transparency in CS6
      4m 20s
    6. Refraction in CS6
      4m 6s
    7. Targeting Surfaces in CS6
      3m 23s
    8. Reflections in CS6
      7m 35s
    9. Environment layers in CS6
      5m 40s
    10. Quality vs. speed in CS6
      4m 43s
  8. 11m 33s
    1. Quizzler challenge for CS6
      1m 42s
    2. Quizzler solution for CS6
      9m 51s
  9. 41m 6s
    1. Vanishing Point Exchange in Photoshop Extended
      9m 18s
    2. Vanishing Point Exchange in After Effects
      4m 38s
    3. Importing a 3D model into Photoshop Extended in CS5.5 and earlier
      9m 7s
    4. Creating 3D objects using Repoussé in CS5.5 and earlier
      9m 46s
    5. Live Photoshop 3D inside After Effects in CS5.5 and earlier
      8m 17s
  10. 20m 58s
    1. Introduction to dimensional stills
      3m 41s
    2. Cutting up the source image
      2m 25s
    3. Repairing the layers in Photoshop
      8m 26s
    4. Animating the resulting layers in After Effects
      6m 26s
  11. 25m 27s
    1. Rotation vs. orientation
      3m 15s
    2. Understanding the axis modes
      4m 4s
    3. Scaling issues in 3D
      4m 57s
    4. OpenGL acceleration in CS5 and earlier
      6m 23s
    5. Fast previews in CS6 and later
      6m 48s

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Watch the Online Video Course After Effects Apprentice 11: 3D Space
4h 49m Intermediate Oct 19, 2011 Updated Dec 06, 2012

Viewers: in countries Watching now:

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 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 library.

Topics include:
  • Keyframing motion paths in 3D
  • Managing multiple 3D views
  • Auto-orienting cameras along a path
  • Creating shadows
  • Understanding Vanishing Point Exchange
  • Importing a 3D model into Photoshop Extended
  • Scaling in 3D
  • OpenGL acceleration
After Effects
Chris Meyer Trish Meyer

Creating shadows

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.

Find answers to the most frequently asked questions about After Effects Apprentice 11: 3D Space .

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Q: This course was updated on 12/06/2012. What changed?
A: This was a more extensive update than the other After Effects Apprentice courses. We added three new movies to Chapter 4 that cover 3D camera features in versions CS5.5 and later, such as depth of field blur. We added a new chapter on the 3D ray-traced renderer in CS6, and another chapter featuring a Quizzler challenge for CS6. Lastly, we added a movie that shows our premium subscribers how to use the exercise files, and added new sets of exercise files designed for After Effects CS5.5 and After Effects CS6.
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