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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.
3D is more processor and render- intensive in After Effects than 2D is. Fortunately, you can tap the power of your video card to help speed that up. However, it is a dual-edged sword. Let me show you what I mean. I am going to open up the comp 08-OpenGL*starter. If you've already been playing around with this composition in other movies, delete any lights you may have already added to the scene. I already have a section of layers and I have a 3D camera in the scene. I am going to select the Orbit Camera tool and drag it around my composition, and you can see how smooth and response of After Effects is. That's great, However, things slow down when I add more render-intensive things, such as 3D lights.
I'll go to layer>New>Light. I am going to use a Spot light, set the Intensity to 100, fairly generous Cone, a little bit of Feather to it, Falloff is introduced in After Effects CS5.5; I will leave it off for now. But importantly, I am going to turn Casts Shadows on. Shadows are one of the more render intensive features inside After Effects, particularly if I add a little bit of Shadow Diffusion; this really kills your render times. I'll click OK. I have some nice lighting, but the light is too close to the scene.
So I am going to press V to return to my selection tool and drag the light further away. You can already see as I drag, the comp is very slow to update. So this is a bit little annoying. However, I really notice a problem, when I press C, to go back to my Camera tool and try to orbit the camera out of scene. You will see it's nowhere near as fluid now as it was before. It's taking a long time to go ahead and update my scene. But let's look at ways to improve that.
Down here along the bottom of the Composition panel is a button called Fast Previews. In the comps that we've given you with this project, we've set fast previews to Off. That shows you all of the layers at their highest-quality and does not take advantage of the video card inside your computer. Let's drop down to Fast Previews Preferences and make sure that we've turned on Enable OpenGL. That says go ahead and take advantage of an OpenGL compatible video card that might exist in your computer or laptop.
If you want to see just what your video card is capable of, go ahead and click on OpenGL Info, it would show you what card is installed, how much Texture Memory your card has. By the way, more is better. Texture Memory is basically how many layers After Effects can load into your video card and keep them there. If you can keep all the layers in your video card, performance is really good. Half of a gig, to a couple of gigs of Texture Memories is far better than this basic card that I am using. Also of interest is this list of features that your card supports.
Mine happens to support Blending modes, Adjustments layers, Track Mattes, it can Accelerate Effects, Antialiasing, Motion Blur, even lights and shadows. But just because it says supported, it doesn't means it's always at the highest quality, and I will show you what I mean. I'll click OK. I am going to temporarily make sure Enable Adaptive Resolution with OpenGL is turned off. Adaptive Resolution is an old alternative, but After Effects would not calculate all of the pixels just to speed things up, and we'll click OK. Next, I am going to set Fast Previews to OpenGL-Interactive.
In other words, use the OpenGL engine on your video card to make After Effects snappier, more interactive. Now when I drag the Orbit Camera tool, you'll see things happen very quickly and very fluidly, just like when I did not have light or shadows, and that's just fantastic. I really like this. However, there is no free lunch. Carefully look at the outlines of the shadows in this layer, particularly in the upper left in the areas that I am circling now, see how crunchy they look? Well, as soon as I release the mouse, they'll rerender and be smooth again.
That is what OpenGL-Interactive means. It says only use the OpenGL engine when I have the mouse button down and I'm editing a parameter, camera position, light position, et cetera, but as soon as I release the mouse, switch back to the normal high quality software renderer. If you want to know when OpenGL is engaged or not, keep an eye on this button. It turns yellow when OpenGL is engaged. I'll make sure I'm in OpenGL- Interactive mode, click, and now you will see it turns yellow as I drag around.
I'll pause here, notice the crunchy shadows, Fast Preview is still yellow, I'll release the mouse, Fast Preview has turned back to its normal color. and then the scene renders sharp again. So that is the trade-off. If you have a client looking over your shoulder and they're very image-conscious, you might want to leave this off while they're there, so things always look good. However, if you're by yourself and you're arranging layers in a 3D scene or creating a camera or light animation where you need After Effects to be very snappy, you can turn OpenGL On.
Always On means to stay in that mode all the time, no switching back and forth. But you can see, here are things like the shadows are crunchy again. A good trade-off is OpenGL-Interactive. If you have a particularly slow computer, there is one more button you can press, but warning: it's a dangerous one and it causes people many headaches down the road. Along the top of your Timeline panel is a button called Draft 3D. What Draft 3D does is turn off the most render-intensive things in your scene.
In this case shadows and lights. Well, it does make the scene very, very fast, but it's nowhere near how things should look when they finally render. A lot of people click this button not knowing what it means, they leave it on, and they go, why aren't my lights working, why aren't my shadows working? It's because you've turned on Draft 3D. So this is when it's time to follow Trish's golden rule. If you ever turn on a button and you don't know what it did, turn it back off immediately, otherwise, it might sting you later on.
In our case we leave Draft 3D off all the time.
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