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Setting Camera Blur either using the Camera Lens Blur effect or settings in the camera is simple enough, but how do you dial in those effects that are so cool the Japanese coin the term bokeh just to describe them? In this case, the source shot is low dynamic range and it lacks well-defined highlights that give us really great bokeh. However, the Camera Lens Blur effect is designed to enhance them in cases such as this, where they're effectively missing. The Gain and Threshold controls work together to boost highlights.
In this case if I just boost Gain, you're not going to see a big difference. I'll undo that. As I move my cursor around the screen, take a look at the Info panel on the upper right. You'll see values that are in the 160s, 170s, 180s, 190s, but nothing much is up at the level of 204. That threshold is where the highlights are going to kick in. So by lowering it down, below the highlight values I just saw, to say about 163, the Gain control is now going to have a much stronger effect on the resulting image and you see the highlights start to come out.
So now if I change the Iris shape, you're going to see the image look different, but without the well-defined highlights it's hard to tell exactly what's going on. When you do have clear points of light, such as in this shot, you can dial in Iris properties precisely. I'll just apply the effect, turn on Repeat Edge Pixels, and crank it up again. In this case it will also help if I set a region of interest.
By limiting the area that the effect works on to just some small portion of the image, I'll get real time performance out of the Camera Lens Blur effect. So if I boost the Gain on that highlight, you can see it really clearly. And if, for example, I rotate it, you'll see it rotating in real time. The point of Rotation is to match any existing highlights you might already see in the image. You can also influence the Roundness to get rid of those corners that you see in the octagon.
You can change the Aspect Ratio to match an anamorphic lens. Just undo that. And there's also this Diffraction Fringe control. Now, this gives a very interesting extra effect to the bokeh. That is sometimes seen and described where it says if the highlights are pushed more to the edge than the center. Let's take a look at the whole image to see the result of that. The same settings that I was just adjusting exist under the Camera controls.
So here you see things like Iris Shape, which under the Camera by the way is set to Fast Rectangle, and also the Gain and Threshold controls you saw before. There's an easier way to get really great bokeh happening with the After Effects camera and a 3D scene, however, and that's to boost the project back to where we had it previously with this scene, to 32 bits per channel. I'm just Option-clicking in the project window to boost that and notice the huge difference in the image. If I move my cursor over that highlight area, you'll see values up there in the Info panel that are well above 1.
Now, in 32 bits per channel, 1 is the equivalent of monitor white, so what we have here are highlights that are being held and a value well above monitor white. In the real world, light values exist that are much brighter than your monitor and those are being recreated right here in this 3D comp, and that will give you really great looking and interesting bokeh. It's essential, however, to assign some Iris Shape besides Fast Rectangle if you want the other controls to work.
If I add Octagon and throw the Focus Distance out quite a bit, I'll make it long and raise the Aperture a lot... Oh, and I do need to enable the Depth of Field effect. Now you'll start to see things happening. I can bring those same dynamic highlights to that target down at the bottom by just opening its effect controls and adding an exposure effect.
Boosting this value also sends those values well above white and now I've got something to play with. So I can raise the Aperture a bit more, make the Focus Distance further out, and pretty soon I'm creating some pretty cool abstract art. Unique and surprising characteristics lurk within any image you do focus, particularly one like this with highlights. You can easily enhance these qualities even in a low dynamic range in After Effects project, or you can create over range values that mimic the intensity of real world lights in a 32-bit per channel project.
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