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Distorting a layer

From: After Effects Apprentice 13: Paint, Roto, and Puppet

Video: Distorting a layer

In the previous movie we created a Mesh around the Alpha channel of the character we wanted to distort and set up our Expansion and Triangles parameters. In this movie we're going to add more pins and start distorting our character. You need at least two pins to do something with a Puppet tool, generally one pin to anchor and another pin to stretch and distort your character. I'm going to place one right here where he grabs onto this pencil, and you'll notice as soon as I set a pin the little icon at the foot of my cursor changes to a four-point arrow, that indicates that I can pick it up and move it, for example like this.

Distorting a layer

In the previous movie we created a Mesh around the Alpha channel of the character we wanted to distort and set up our Expansion and Triangles parameters. In this movie we're going to add more pins and start distorting our character. You need at least two pins to do something with a Puppet tool, generally one pin to anchor and another pin to stretch and distort your character. I'm going to place one right here where he grabs onto this pencil, and you'll notice as soon as I set a pin the little icon at the foot of my cursor changes to a four-point arrow, that indicates that I can pick it up and move it, for example like this.

As I do so After Effects will distort the pixels encased inside the Mesh as necessary to try to stretch between the two pins I have set. Now in this case two pins give me not really good control because the other foot is coming off the around. I'm going to undo, and go back and set another pin on the other ankle to keep this guy rooted on the ground for now. Now as I am pulling his arm you'll see except for a littlie bit of a toe-tapping action, he now stays on the ground as I distort him around. You can set as many pins as you like but it is a balancing act.

The more pins you set the more control you will have, I'm going to go ahead and undo, but also the more pins you need to manage. For example if I don't want this character bending that much, I might put another pin and say his head to help anchor him. So now you'll see him place like that as I move the arm back and forth, or I'll undo and undo again to get rid of that pin. I might set it somewhere say in his torso, and in this case that limits the movement but you'll note that pulling on one part of the character will still cause other portion of it to move around.

Now you see this yellow outline that I've got over the character. After Effects is always working off the initial Mesh that it drew. It only looks at the Alpha channel at the moment you create that first pin. So another gotcha with Puppet tool is you cannot have a layer with an animating Alpha channel, After Effects will ignore the later animation. This original alliance is particularly important later on when we'll talk about other tools like the Overlap and Search tools. I move my cursor away and undo back to my original position. Now I've got these pins fairly far apart and you can move them individual and have some fun there, have him kick and dance a little bit.

Do little bit of a stretch and squash animation, but you can also control finer appendages by placing pins closer together. For example, say I wanted this pin or crayon that have some character of its own. I can go ahead and put a separate pin at its end and bend just that pencil in relation to the wrist. Since I placed this original pin at a point right where it's kind of touching the pin, it's pivoting around that wrist point; you can move multiple pins together. If I Shift+Click these two pins I can now move them as a unit in relation to the rest of the character.

Most of the pixels in between them might still get bent depending on how those meshes tugging on the overall shape, we'll show you a cool tool later on called the Starch tool which can help cure some of those issues. Anyway I'm going to undo back to where I just have these pins in his feet, his wrist, his pencil, and optionally this one in the middle of the Torso, and do a save. By doing so I've saved a project with these pins in the right place, and I'm free to go ahead and experiment. And you should go ahead and have a little bit of fun right now.

Set additional pins in places like say the top of the hat to bend them around with. May be one in his beard and bend him there as well to create some additional poses, and in general just have fun moving the character around and getting a feel for how pins work. Remember you can select multiple pins and move them as a group as well. But when you're done revert back to at version of the character, and the pins in the feet, wrist, and pencil, because these are the ones we're going to use in the next movie to start animating our character.

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