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I'd like to share with you a few more tricks and issues of using the Puppet Pin tool with layers that have complex Alpha channels. I've closed my other compositions and if you have access to the Exercise Files, open up 08-Multiple Shapes*starter. This line of text has what I would refer to ask a complex alpha. I'll turn on the Transparency grid so that you can picture it better. Each character has its own Alpha separated from the other characters. Also the letter "i" has separate Alphas defining the dot on the top and the body of the "i".
When you select a layer and then select the Puppet Pin tool, and I'm going to make sure the Mesh is turned on so you can see it, and use the default for Expansion and Triangles. After Effects only looks at the Alpha channel enclosed by where you click. It does not search for any other little snippets of Alpha channel that might exist elsewhere on that layer. Therefore, when I click the inside of the "r" only the "r" got the mesh. This sort of isolation can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on what you intend to do.
Now another interesting thing about Puppet is the way that it renders the pixels that it deforms. Remember Puppet is an effect. If I go ahead and open up the Effect Controls panel for this text layer, you'll see I already have a Ramp and a Bevel Alpha effect applied followed by Puppet. If I click on one of these puppet pins and start dragging this character so that it overlaps, portions of the other unmeshed characters, and turn off the mesh for now, you'll see that the Ramp has been rendered, the Bevel has been rendered then the shape has been deformed by the Puppet effect.
If the Puppet effect appeared before these other effects, you would have a deformed shape for the "r" then the whole layer we get a Ramp and a Bevel Alpha. So if you're working with complex alphas like this and you're not quite getting the definition between shapes that you'd hope for, watch your effects stacking order over in the Effects Control panel and I'm going to undo to get this "r" back in this un-deformed position. There is a problem with this auto-meshing procedure if you want to deform an object that has multiple pieces of alpha, for example, this "i." If I was to click on the bottom of the "i" and turn on my mesh again, you'll see only the body of the "i" got the mesh, not the dot up top.
If I'm going to stretch one against the other, clicking on one point and stretching doesn't really work. It becomes separated because they're two separate meshed objects. I'll undo, click on the top of the "i" and I'm stretching just the "i" but not the dot on top. Well, there is a way around that to group pieces of Alpha channels on layers, and undo to get back to my unmeshed state for the "i" and then I'm going to choose the Masking tools.
A trick with the Puppet Pin tool is to enclose a portion of your layer inside a mask. Once you've done that, you can then click with the Puppet Pin tool somewhere inside the mask but outside the alpha of the character. When you do that, After Effects will create a mesh out of the masked shape, not the Alpha channel for the object you have clicked inside. Just go ahead and add a couple more pins here and now I can go ahead and move that "i" as a group.
You might be saying, "But Chris, what about my other pieces to this layer?" No problem. Go to your Masks in the Timeline panel and change its mode to None, that means don't actually cut out the visible pixels in this layer. And now I've got my deformable "i." I'll click my Puppet effect again, and I can start bending these around the other characters. Notice it goes in front of the "m" and behind the "r." Unlike a normal mesh, you cannot use the Overlap tool to make one mesh go in front of another.
Instead you have to reorder the meshes in the Timeline panel. Let's say you wanted to bend this entire word as it though on a sheet of rubber, rather than trying to bend each character individually. No problem. I'm going to delete my Puppet effect to get back to my starting point and delete the mask I created just for the "i" and instead mask the entire word or namely enclose it all inside the mask. I'll switch to my Puppet Pin tool, click inside the mask, not inside one of the characters and now I will get a mesh for my entire mask shape.
And I can have fun bending the entire text as a unit. And in this case, I might want to increase my number of triangles to get a little bit nicer resolution to my deformation. And as you saw my previous example, you can mix and match these techniques, individual shapes or shapes enclosed by masks even inside the same layer. So with those few nuggets of knowledge, how to manage your mesh, and how to manage the effects stack, you should be able to get even finer control over your puppet distortions.
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