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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.
As we've been working through the last couple of movies dealing with reflections, you might have noticed that these soft reflections look a bit on the noisy side. Also, some of these beveled edges can look a bit rough and crunchy. We observed that when working with environment maps, or ordinary reflective layers. Well you can improve this quality, but it does come at the trade-off of speed. I am going to open up this comp, RayTrace6-Ray-tracer Quality*starter. Here I've already set up a scene where some extruded and beveled 3D text is reflecting a fairly busy photograph.
When reflections are set to 100% sharpness, the scene looks pretty good, although these edges could use some improvement, to be honest. I'm going to select the extruded layer, type AA to reveal its 3D options, scroll down to reflection sharpness, and back it off to around 50%. As I do so, you'll see just how noisy these reflections are. Well that is the result of not having enough rays in the ray-traced 3D renderer to properly resolve a nice, smooth, version of this scene.
Well you can edit that setting. The shortcut is to hold Command on Mac, or Ctrl on Windows, and click on the name of the renderer up in the upper right corner of the comp panel. I actually prefer just a single click on this, or even go through Composition > Composition Settings > Advanced tab, because this will enable the live preview feature and allow me to edit parameters without leaving this dialog. And move it off to the side here, and open up the options for the Ray-traced 3D Renderer. You have two parameters you can adjust, Ray-tracing Quality and the Anti-aliasing Filter.
The Anti-aliasing Filter has a relatively small effect on your rendered scene. It decides how to blend together adjacent pixels to smooth out their transitions. You'll notice I have some crunchy edges around the bevels of this type. If I go to the highest quality for anti-aliasing, Cubic, and click OK, you'll see a slight change or improvement in those edges, but not a lot. Let's reopen options, set this back to Box, again lower qualities will always render faster then higher qualities, and instead play around with Ray-tracing Quality.
A setting of three basically says a box of three rays horizontally by three rays vertically, nine rays in total, are being shot at the scene for each pixel that you have. When this setting is too low you end up with a lot of noise in your scene. If we set this to something higher, such as, say, a 10 x 10 box of rays per pixel, I'll click OK, leave the comp dialog open, you'll see it takes a little while to render, but now the reflections are a lot more smooth, very creamy looking.
Our edge is cleaned up as well. And now that we've done that, changes in the Anti-aliasing Filter can be that final 1% of polish to go ahead and smooth out little imperfections such as around the curve of this A. Now this is how long it is taking just one frame to render, you could imagine how this would multiply if you have to render a long scene. So the real trick when working with Ray-traced 3D renderer, is one, install the fastest NVIDIA CUDA accelerated card you can inside your computer. And two, bounce off these ray-traced settings.
When you're just developing a scene, laying it out, framing your objects, deciding how things will be lit, et cetera, work with a low ray-trace quality. One is pretty ugly looking, you don't even get to see soft reflections, but something in the two to four range will at least allow you to see things such as soft reflections, and render somewhat quickly. Then, right before you render, play around with the options and see how many rays you need to resolve your scene smoothly, so it looks beautiful.
Here's six rays, pretty good, but a little bit of noise. And then once you've found the minimum number of rays that will give you a lovely looking scene, use that for your final render. Then render over lunch or while you're sleeping or whatever because it may take a while. I happen to be a quality wonk, that's why I keep sneaking the setting up. Little bit better, 10 was even nicer. Again, I want to reinforce, you don't want to use this high-quality setting while you're still letting out your scene, because you'll quickly become frustrated with how slow things are. Work low, render high.
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