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Next we're going to show you a wonderful set of distortion tools in After Effects, known incredibly as the Puppet tools. But before we do so you need to reset your workspace. It's probably at Paint right now, go ahead and set it back to Standard and select Reset "Standard" to make sure you're at a good, clean starting point. Now I'm going to go ahead and switch to my special AEA workspace which optimizes the layout for screen capture but it is very similar to Standard. If you have access to the Exercise Files that came with this lesson, go to the Comps folder and open up the Comp O4-Puppet*starter.
Now for those who're in a modern art you may recognize this as a character from a mural painting called Harlequin's Carnival, and there is lots of interesting appendages for us to tug on, bend, and distort. To perform puppet distortion you use the Puppet tools represented by this Pushpin icon along your toolbar. If you don't see your toolbar by the way it's underneath Window>Tools. I'm going to select the very first tool called the Puppet Pin tool; this is what you perform your distortion and animation with.
As soon as you select any of the Puppet tools some additional parameters will appear along the top of your toolbar. We'll discuss each of these as they come up, but for now make sure the Mesh Show is currently checked or enabled. To use the Puppet tool first make sure your Current Time Indicator is at the very start of your composition. This is because Puppet tool is different from the other tools in After Effects and that it sets keyframes the moment you start to use the tool. And more than likely you want your first keyframe to be at the start of your comp. Hover your cursor over the object you'd like to distort and you see the cursor is changed to a little pushpin.
I'm going to hover over someplace that I'd like this character to be anchored, for example maybe his ankle or his toe. Click, as soon as I do so, you'll see that his outline, his Alpha Channel has been encased by a Mesh made up of individual triangles. If you're having trouble seeing these triangles, the layer's label color actually affects the color of that Mesh. I want to pick something strong like a Purple so that you can see it more clearly. Now Puppet is actually an effect applied to a layer, and like all effects in order to see its custom user- interface you need to select the effect.
By doing so you'll now see the pin that we've placed on this guy's ankle. If you want to see the Mesh select the Mesh and now that will appear. The triangles in this Mesh determine how much resolution you have when you distort the character. More triangles cleaner distortion, but also more triangles longer render times. I personally find the default of 350 to be a bit course, it will give me kinks in many of my characters. I tend to set this to at least 500, and if I have a fast computer I will set it up to a 1000.
You see we now have a final Mesh and this will give me smoother distortions. The other interesting parameter here is Expansion. It's basically saying how far beyond the Alpha channel should After Effects draw the Mesh that encases your character. Now you might think, oh, although it's just to follow the Alpha Channels, set it down to 0. The problem with doing that is that triangles are actually just a bunch of straight line segments. If you use too few of them and have no expansion they may cut off portions of the character you're trying to outline.
If I set this to a very low number like 200, and zoom in a little bit here, you'll see that the Mesh is actually cutting off, for example, parts of his head, so that's why you need have enough triangles to get a good approximation of your character, and set the expansion a little bit bigger such as 1. The other thing that Expansion controls is how different sections of your character are bound together. If I have a higher expansion like the default of 3, you'll see that this area here with a hair in the hat gets meshed together.
Hair in the hat, these two pieces of hair and a strand off the left are now all meshed together and these guys have their own independence. If I set it too high, the whole top piece would get meshed into one. You may want this in some cases, for example this now means that this entire unit will bend as a whole. However, if I want finer control, a smaller mesh will now break this up to where the stem, these strands are now treated separately than the hat on the top strands, so Expansion also affects how finely you can control your character.
I'm going to press Shift+/ to center my Comp panel and in the next movie we'll show you how to create additional pins to distort your character.
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