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Displacement with FreeForm

From: After Effects CS5 New Creative Techniques

Video: Displacement with FreeForm

In this movie I'll show you how to use Digieffect's FreeForm as a 3D displacement map. You can actually extrude layers in 3D using FreeForm. This is one my favorite applications of this effect. Now as before the layer you are treating needs to be a 2D layer, 3D Layer switch turned off, because the effect FreeForm is going to be what adds the actual 3Dness, the perspective distortion. When you are doing displacement mapping, it's just like any other compound effect. You need to use a second layer to provide your displacement map, and just like with any other compound effect, you need to do some work on this layer ahead of time.

Displacement with FreeForm

In this movie I'll show you how to use Digieffect's FreeForm as a 3D displacement map. You can actually extrude layers in 3D using FreeForm. This is one my favorite applications of this effect. Now as before the layer you are treating needs to be a 2D layer, 3D Layer switch turned off, because the effect FreeForm is going to be what adds the actual 3Dness, the perspective distortion. When you are doing displacement mapping, it's just like any other compound effect. You need to use a second layer to provide your displacement map, and just like with any other compound effect, you need to do some work on this layer ahead of time.

It needs to be the same size as the layer you are going to be displacing, the FreeForm layer. Your text or any other object already needs to be in place, and any other animation effects must have been done in a comp prior to this comp. That's why I've set this up in a separate pre-comp were I've given it its position, added a Fast Blur effect. Very sharp edge don't work well for extrusion or for compound blur or for any other compound effects. We're going to have a smooth transition.

I put it in its proper location and I can even add animation to it in this pre-comp if I wanted to. Then all my actual work need to take place up in my final comp. I'll turn that off for now since I don't need to see it. I just want to see its final effect. I've selected my layer to distort and again I will apply FreeForm. And in After Effects, your most recent effect is always at the top of the list. So it looks familiar to the arrangement before. There is my grid, but in this case, I'm not going to be pulling any points out manually. So I don't care what the resolution of this grid is.

This is going to be all about setting up a displacement map and having a really high-quality mesh to see details in that map. I'll go over to my Effect Controls panel, twirl down Displacement Controls, and pick my displacement map layer. In this case, I want my Paladin map that has the text of the word Paladin to be my displacement. And you'll start to see something going on here, but the defaults don't immediately show things very well. You can pick an individual color channel or an Alpha channel or overall Luminance. I've done some work ahead of time to make this a black-and-white text layer, so I'm going to use Luminance.

This additional option Use Alpha as Mask is a nice ability to trim layers if you want to, so you can see just your text, but in this case I'm using a full frame black-and-white map. And finally Displacement Height. How much you want to bump out that layer by, and it's an animatable parameter. So you can have it extrude over tim,e which is kind of cool. I am going to leave it at 20 for now. We will bump it up later on. Once you've set up your displacement layer, now you really need to work with the 3D mesh itself. Let's go ahead turn on just the wireframe so we can see what's going on.

With low Mesh Subdivision, there is not enough detail or resolution is this mesh to really see what's going on in the type. So you're going to really, really, really need to increase this number. Like 100 is just barely starting to show some rounded type. I need to start thinking about like 200 or even 300 to really start to nicely defined that text. But the higher the Mesh Subdivision, the slower or less responsive the effect is going to be. So while I am just experimenting, I am going to knock it down to something more acceptable like 200, and I can increase it later right before I go to render.

At this point, I can go ahead and increase my Displacement Height and get a better idea of the texts pushing out. Okay, now I flip back to full render quality and now you'll see my text has indeed been extruded through this layer. I'll go to an extreme camera move, and you can really see some honest to God 3D depth to that type, particularly when I get completely on edge here. Turn on my alpha, you can see the text has actually been extruded away from the layer. So it is an honest 3D effect, in that it does create actual deaths.

Put this back to some place where we can see it a little bit more clearly. You'll also notice though that my text is a bit on the aliased side. So this is just like in the previous movie, and I am going to need to go into my 3D Mesh Quality and turn on some antialiasing, at least Low, to get rid of some of that edge. Not quite enough. I am going to need a play game between increasing Antialiasing and increasing my Mesh Subdivision to get a smoother render. There we go. Now that I've gone up to 300, you can really start seeing this type a lot more cleanly.

So render quality makes a big difference in how good your displacement looks. You leave it to defaults, it won't even seem like the effects working at all. Now FreeForm is a very render intensive effect. It is doing some heavy-duty processing. So I went ahead and created a version earlier for you look at. I will RAM Preview, and you see that I have animated the text to pop out one character at a time, fading up and it creates a nice 3D effect. I've gone ahead and put my Mesh up to 300 and I cranked up Antialiasing. I might even go a little higher on Antialiasing because I am seeing a little rippling down here on his cloak.

Now this did take some time to render. If I left Multiprocessing off, this 90 frame comp took on the order of about five minutes to render. This is a real case of where you want to go to After Effects > Preferences, and Memory & Multiprocessing, and enable Render Multiple Frames Simultaneously. In this case, I like to leave about 2 cores for the rest of my Mac. I'll have 6 CPUs dedicated to After Effects. I'll have multiple copies of FreeForm rendering in the background, cranking out frames in parallels.

My previews and renders will happen lot faster, making FreeForm more enjoyable to work with.

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After Effects CS5 New Creative Techniques

35 video lessons · 17925 viewers

Chris Meyer and Trish Meyer
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