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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.
Now it's easy to get overwhelmed by a new challenge of how are you going to solve all the problems presented. Usually, the best way to go about it is to solve one problem at a time and piece all the solutions together. One problem we already solved for you, but I'd like to explain it for you a little bit. Now notice that we can see the underside of this butterfly. Butterfly is here in this scene and our camera is looking up at it. I'll type AA to reveal the 3D options. The default setting for 3D layers is that a light casting onto the top of a layer shows the pixels in the layer.
But the underneath or the backside of a layer is black, it's in shadow. You see that the camera cannot see the top side of that layer that's being illuminated by our light. Well there's a parameter called Light Transmission. It defaults to 0, which gives us this shadowed look where we don't get to see the color of the pixels in this layer. But as you increase Light Transmission the shadow color, Black, is replaced by the color of the layer itself. So that's step one to create a stained glass look, where you get to see the color of a layer from both the front and the back, or the top and the bottom.
Okay, problem number two is making this butterfly flap. That's something that you have learned in this lesson. It's a feature of the new Ray-traced 3D Renderer. If you have a flat piece of artwork like a still image, scan, or movie, you cannot extrude and bevel it as of After Effects CS6, but you can bend it. I'll twirl open it's Geometry Options, and there's this parameter called Curvature, and that's what gives us a bit of bowing look. It simulates a little bit of flap in this butterfly. Now if we wanted just a very simple flap, we could cut the segments down to two and basically fold the butterfly in the middle.
This way it's just bent right around center line of the body. If you want something a little more elegant, you might want to increase the segments to create more of a bow to this object. I'll increase something like maybe 20, that's round enough. Now we get a more fanciful, cylindrical, bowing to the layer. Not entirely realistic, but it's pretty for the sake of this graphical scene. Next is setting up an animation of that bow. Well, I just need to pick a couple of keyframe values. I'll go back to the start my composition, and say, maybe the maximum upward bow is, well, let's call it -50%. And of course I need to remember to enable key framing for this parameter.
Let's say I want this butterfly to flap its swings one full cycle every second. So I want to go half way into my cycle, 15 frames in, and set the Curvature to the other extreme, plus 50%. Now that I have two keyframes, I can copy them, Command+C or Ctrl+C, go to 1 second and paste a repeating cycle. And I can keep doing that to save having to manually keyframe every frame of movement here. I'll go down to 4 just to have the last frame in this cycle.
I'll press 0 to get a quick RAM preview. [Video] And I do have my flapping motion going on up here, but it has a really hard bounce at the bottom and top of those movements. Well, the way to smooth that out is play around with the keyframe interpolation. One very easy method is just to hold Command on Mac, Control on Windows, click on a selected keyframe, and all of the selected keyframes will change to the Auto Bezier Interpolation. Indeed I can go into the Graph editor and show you this slight rounding.
Then I go to linear, go back to Graph Editor, that's a straight up and down bounce. Select my Curvature keyframes, select Auto Bezier, and there is my slight rounding. And I'll RAM preview that. [Video] Take a moment here to calculate. [Video] And that's a bit better, bit more naturalistic. I could go even further and convert those into Easy Ease key frames, which will create a very rounded movement or will actually pause at the two extremes of the movement, because Easy Ease keyframes always come to a velocity of 0 at the key frame.
[Video] Let's go with that. Okay, now that we've got the butterfly flapping its wings, we need to make it fly across the scene. That's simple enough. I'll hold Shift+P to add position to the parameters I can see, press Home, to go back to the beginning. Enable keyframing for position. Scrub the X-dimension, so that it goes off screen to the left, gets us just off screen there, press End to get my last keyframe, and scrub it so it's off screen to the right.
Let RAM Preview that. Now the butterfly is wafting across the scene flapping its wings. The problem with this is that the butterfly is bouncing up and down as it flies. Now butterflies do fly a bit erratically, just as a natural defense against birds and other predators. But our real problem here is that the Curvature parameter inside After Effects keeps the original anchor point the same and then bends the layer away from that anchor point, either above it or below it.
Let's say we wanted to keep the body of this butterfly somewhat level throughout flight, and let the wings deflect above and below that level centered line. In other words, we need to animate the Y position of this butterfly to offset the Curvature's movement. We want to keep our X animation going across the screen. It's a simple two keyframe move, but we do need to add multiple keyframes for the Y deflection. Therefore, I am going to take the position and separate the dimensions for the position value.
I could keyframe X, Y, and Z parameters for every for every frame, but that can get a bit messy to manage. By doing this I get to keep my simple, two keyframe X movement. I'm not animating Z, so I'll turn off keyframing for that. And now I can focus on the Y deflection. Okay, let's look at this keyframe at 15 frames here and see how far down the butterfly has been deflected. Now this is its motion path, and as soon as I start playing around with the Y dimension, the motion path is going to bend. So let's select my Front view here.
Turn on Rulers and pull down a Guide that will show me where that original level flight path is. Now I have a reference I can keep looking at as I deflect the flight of this butterfly. Now I'll turn Rulers off for now and leave Guides on. Clear my previous keyframes, After Effects automatically created X, Y, and Z keyframes when I separated dimensions. Create a new one at this value. Let's offset the butterfly's body, so that it is level with that Guide I have set.
I'll go to 1 second in time and now I need to deflect the Y position downward, so that the body is even with the line there. Once again, once I have two keyframes, I can copy and repeat this pattern throughout my animation. I'll go to 115 in time, paste, select all those keyframes, copy, go to 215 in time, 216 backup a frame, paste. Now I have one missing keyframe here earlier in time.
I could just go ahead and select this high keyframe, copy, go back to the start of my comp, paste, and now I have my up and down movement. However, remember keyframes default to Linear, and for the Curvature we decided that an Easy Ease pattern is going to go best. Let's go ahead and look at all these at the same time and show my animated properties. So I'll start getting these overlaid on top of each other. A good first interpolation for this Y position would be to use the same interpolation style I used for the Curvature.
That way they're easing into and out of the keyframes the same amount, and hopefully the animation more or less matches. So as a first test I'm going to select my Y position keyframes, and convert them to Easy Ease. Now they're rounded just like the Curvature keyframes. Let's RAM Preview that and see how it looks. You'll see across here in the active camera view, butterfly is keeping an even path while it flies across the screen, and the wings deflect upward and downward, even though the Curvature parameter would normally be deflecting the entire body.
So the solution required breaking this down in several tasks. Playing the Light Transmission parameter, so we could see the light through the butterfly's wings; using the Curvature parameter to animate the flapping motion; animating X for a nice a smooth flight across the frame; separating the X, Y, and Z dimensions; and then separately animating the Y position to offset from the butterfly's deflection due to the Curvature parameter. So that's a pretty good solution. I have got another solution here in Butterfly-final, where I went ahead and played around a little bit with the interpolation style in and out of these keyframes to go ahead and let the body get bounced up and down a little bit from the effort of the wings.
It would be rare that a bird or butterfly could keep such a perfect flight path. Particularly something has light and with so little inertia like a butterfly. There might be some natural bouncing to its flight. And that's what I tried to simulate here by adding some additional ease to some of my keyframes. RAM Preview is calculated, and now there is a little bit more bounce to its flight. It's an aesthetic static choice whether or not you like that, but I just want to point out to you the different options that are available. Go ahead and use these helpers, like Easy Ease, to get a start on good keyframes, but do not hesitate to finesse your animation later to make it look more realistic or just more aesthetically pleasing.
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