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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 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 library.
In the previous, movie I carefully arranged my scene so that a layer providing reflection bounces pixels off a reflective 3D layer and back to the camera. However, it can be hard to arrange your scene to make sure you've got an interesting reflection no matter how you're viewing your 3D layer. For example, I have got my Active Camera view selected, I'll turn on it's Transparency Grid, and by doing so you'll notice the sides of my text aren't reflecting anything, there's nothing behind or off to the sides to bounce pixels or bounce rays back to the camera.
You could build up another layer behind, another layer of to the sides, and maybe layers above and layers below, or you can take advantage of a nice feature in After Effect CS6 referred to as Environment layers. I'll return my layout to normal, where this timeline panel is back with the other timeline panels, switch back to 1 View for now, and open up the composition Ray Trace5-Environment Map*starter. My initial layout of this scene is similar to what you've seen before. I have a light, a camera, extruded and beveled text, and the still image layer that has its 3D layer switch turned on.
I am going to double-click this layer so you can see it in this layer panel, and say Fit up to 100%, and it's a very special image, a panoramic image. It's actually 360 degrees around, and 180 degrees from top to bottom. Ideal panoramic images have this 2:1 aspect ratio, twice as wide as they are tall, 360 degrees versus 180, and also are seamless at their sides. Return to my composition. If I want this panoramic image to be wrapped around my world, I need to select it and go to Layer > Environment Layer.
Doing so changes how this layer is rendered. You'll notice that we now see only a small portion of this layer. I'll go to Top view and select my camera. This camera doesn't see the whole world now, let alone our whole environment layer, it only sees this slice of the world. Therefore, we're only seeing a slice of our background environment layer. I'm going to select the environment layer and twirl open its Properties, and you'll notice it has far fewer options than before.
It has no material options, there's no options on how it reflects light, it's two purposes in life is to be an evenly illuminate background, and to be a source of reflections for other 3D layers inside this composition. Twirl down it's Options, and you'll see that its primary options are Opacity, so you can blend together multiple environment layers, and Rotation and Orientation. And indeed, you can spin this environment layer around your world to go ahead and lay it out the way that you want. I'll Undo to get back to 0 degrees.
Okay, let's select our text layer, type AA to get its 3D-specific parameters, and now increase the reflection intensity. As we do so you'll see it starts to reflect the environment layer. And the reflection that you're seeing is on the other side of the world from the camera's current location. In essence, one part of your environment layer has been wrapped around behind the camera. You'll also notice you've got reflection on the sides, in the bevels, along the bottom, et cetera.
That's because this environment layer is wrapped around a globe completely in composing your 3D world. So you've got pixels reflecting in your lawyer no matter what your perspective is on the scene. I'll go back to my environment layer, and as I rotate it, you will see that not only does it rotate, reflections also move across my reflective layer, because it's seeing different parts of my environment. Environment layers also have the option to set them to be in both reflections and in the background, to be in reflections only, or to be only in the background and not being reflected.
You can use environment layers not just to be wonderful reflective sources, but also to create environments such as star fields, universes, and such. I'll set it back so it's both a reflective source, and appears on my render. Now the big caveat about using environment layers is that you need a huge number of pixels to keep nice, sharp reflections. I am going to go back to my camera for a moment, double-click it. And you notice its angle of view is 65 1/2 degrees, more or less. That means out of the 360 degree circle that my environment layer has been spread around, I'm only seeing 65 degrees of it, or just over 1/6th of the pixels available in that entire environment layer.
If you have a high def comp, of say, 1920 pixels wide, you multiply that by 6, you need quite a huge environment layer to have really sharp reflections. Another alternative to having a huge environment layer is to create a pre-comp that has the necessary number of pixels, and composite together multiple images to create a rich environment that you can then nest into your final comp, enabled as a layered environment layer, and then have the camera render that. So when you are working with environment layers, you'll either need to have a huge number of pixels to keep things sharp, a very wide angle camera to see more pixels of your background, if I turn this off and go to the comp's 50 millimeter camera, you'll see it renders only a small slice of our background compared to my wide-angle lens, or you'll have to live with blurry reflections to soften up the fact that you don't have a lot of resolution in your environment layer.
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