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In this course, author Chris Meyer shows how to create and animate vector-based artwork directly inside Adobe After Effects. The course covers the ins and outs of working with shape layers, including creating shape paths, applying shape effects, and reordering shape operators. The course also contains a series of exercises on creating common motion graphics elements using shape layers.
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 Online Training Library®.
In this chapter, we're going to create a little crosshair display element. And doing so, we're going to learn how to create gradient fills and also work a little bit more with the Pen tool. If you have the exercise files, open up the comp 04-Display*starter. Since we intend to use this as an element in another composition later on, we've just gone ahead and created a relatively small 400x400 pixel composition. And we've created a rounded rectangle or more accurately, a rounded square, as our starting point. I'll select that shape layer, and we'll see the fill and stroke reappear on my toolbar.
If I click on Fill, what we see it currently is a solid color with an opacity of 100%. I can confirm that by turning on the transparency grid. Obviously, we can't see through this, which doesn't make it all that great of a crosshair. You need to be able to see through those things to see what you're aiming at. Well, that's okay. You can change the fill color and fill type after the fact. One way is just to click on the Fill options and change it right here along the top, or if you're the type of person who likes to learn keyboard shortcuts, hold Option on Mac or Alt on Windows and click on the color swatch until it cycles through to the type of fill that you want.
This is a linear gradient fill. But for a bull's eye, I think we want a radial one that radiates out from a center point, so I'll Option+Click or Alt+Click one more time and now I have a radial fill. When you have a gradient and you have the shape group with that gradient selected, you will see an additional set of user interface elements that define where the center of that gradient is-- I'll undo--and how far it extends. In this case, I want to extend out to the edges of my rectangular shape, so I'm going to drop off that dot right around here.
Notice you will not see that user interface if you just have the shape layer selected, because at this point, After Effects does not know what fill you might be talking about. So make sure you select at least the group that has that gradient fill, or even the effect itself. Next, let's edit the colors used in that gradient. I'll go back and just normally click on my fill color--no Option or Alt has held down now--and instead of our normal color picker, we get this Gradient Editor. Now, this Gradient Editor is very powerful.
Not only does it allow us to edit the colors used, it also allows us to edit the opacities across this gradient. This always remembers the last gradient you created, and it looks like the last one I made was rather complex. Let's simplify things. I'm going to remove a couple of these stops by merely pulling them away from the gradient bar and take the remaining opacity stops and drag them out so they go over the full extent of my gradient, from my start to my stop. Now, I mentioned earlier the crosshairs are a lot more useful if the middle is transparent.
So I'm going to select this left-hand opacity stop, which is for the center point, and reduce the Opacity down to a very low value, so you still see mostly through my gradient but just have this little bit of color tint left. And then I'll select my ending stop and bring it down as well. So overall, I have a translucent piece of, say, glass for my crosshair site. But most importantly, I am very transparent in the middle, so I can see through it. By the way, in between any pair of gradient stops, you're going to get this midpoint, which allows you to edit the curve of how colors or opacities fall off between these stops.
For example, I can keep it transparent for much longer and just have tint in the corners, or I can bring the tint in much faster and just have a center spot that's more transparent. I'm going to put it around here for now, so I have a nice vignetting on the corners. Now, let's change the colors. Actually, this turquoise to black range isn't so bad, but just to get some exercise, I am going to drag these out to the ends again, make the center some variation on red, maybe a little bit of a darker tint of red off to that direction, and then leave my far corners black.
Again, I can edit these later if I want to. I put in my fall off, so I can have red for most of the shape. We're just tinting the center a little bit like that. Click OK and now I have my gradient-filled rounded rectangle. I'll turn off the transparency grid. Now, I can see it against my gray background. And again, you could always edit where the gradient starts and stops. You can drag these points to do so. Again, you need to have the Selection tool active and have the gradient or shape group selected. Or frankly, you can just twirl open the gradient fill and manually edit the start and end points, as well as other parameters of this gradient.
For example, you can change the Highlight Length to create something that's more of an angled spotlight or hotspot sort of look. But I'll keep it centered for this particular purpose.
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