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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.
In this movie, we're going to move from Transparent layers, where you can see through them to the layers behind, to Reflective layers, layers that allow you to see the image that's in front of the layer being bounced off the face of the 3D object you're looking at. I'm going to open up the comp Raytrace4-Reflections*starter. I have some extruded and beveled text in front of a still image that has been placed in 3D Space. And to get a better view of what's going on I'm going to change my layout to 2 Views - Vertical. Up top is my Active Camera, so I can see what's going to render, and down below I have a top view of my scene where I can see most of the layers, but let's improve this view.
I'm going to select View > Look at All Layers, and that will initially resize my views so they all fit inside this viewport. I'm going to press 'C' to bring up the Unified Camera tool, right-click and drag to zoom back a little more in scene, and give myself some more room to move these layers around. Press 'V' to return to the Selection Tool. Initially, my layer that I wish to reflect is sitting behind my text. There is nothing in front of the text to bounce off of it and back to the camera, and let's see the consequences of that.
I'm going to select the Text layer, type AA to reveal its 3D specific parameters, and I'm going to twirl up Geometry Options for now as I don't need them. I'm actually going to go ahead and drag this Timeline panel over here to the left into the same frame as my Project panel, so that I can see this long list of parameters closer to the images I'm working with. I'll drag this a little bit wider just to make sure I can see the parameters. Watch what happens when I increase the reflection intensity of the text with this initial layout of my scene.
As I increase Reflection Intensity, you'll notice that the face of the text goes dark. There's two things going on here. One, there's nothing in front of the text to reflect back to the camera, so what's been reflected in essence is black space. Two, After Effects employs what's called an Energy Conserving Shader. What that means is, as it increases the amount of reflection it's calculated into shading the face of this text, it's reducing the diffuse color of this text.
If your scene was properly laid out this will keep a roughly equal luminance as you mix together reflections and the original color of the layer. But if you don't have scene laid out properly, your color disappears, and all you see is, well, nothing being reflected. You will notice, however, that the sides of the text are indeed reflecting portions of this image behind. Basically you have pixels of the image that are hitting these edges of the text and getting bounced to the camera, so you will see these glancing reflections.
I'm going to go ahead and select my background layer, type AA to reveal its 3D specific parameters, resize my window a little bit here, and change its Appears in Reflections parameter, so it's only Appears in Reflections. Now you can see more clearly how that Background layer is being reflected off the sides of this text. And I'll turn the Reflections back on. Now let's lay the scene out a bit little more properly to get real reflections. To do that, I need to move my layer that has the image I wish to reflect somewhere in this scene so that its pixels can get bounced off the face of my 3D object back to the camera.
You can scrub the Position values of this layer or you can just go ahead and pick it up in one of your views and drag it. As I do so you'll see a couple of things happen. One, it's now between the camera and the 3D layer, that arrangement is not going to work. I'm going to need to get it out of the way of the camera. I have it behind the camera now, but you still can't really see the reflective qualities of this layer. That's because it's still in front of the light. The light needs to illuminate this layer so that it can bounce pixels back to my reflective 3D object.
As I drag my layer a little further away from the camera, now you'll see these reflections appear in the layer behind. And I can rearrange my scene so that the Reflective layer is better illuminated by this light. You notice I still have specular highlights hitting the edges of my text. The Energy Conserving Shader in After Effects does not reduce the strength of your specular highlights, it just reduces the strength of the diffuse color, the diffuse lighting of your layer, as you increase reflections.
Now you can start to arrange your scene a little bit better, to get the desired reflection pattern that you want. How far the reflection source is away from your 3D layer will have an effect. I've now pulled it so far away that it doesn't cover the entire text, but I could always scale it up larger, and of course you can move it to sides, rotate it, et cetera, to get different views. There's a couple of tricks you can employ to ease your layout of the scene. If you don't intend to actually see this layer, you just want to use it as a reflection source, you can do two things.
One, you can set Appears in Reflection to Only. That way you don't need to bother with where this reflective source is in the scene relative to the camera. Here it's in front of my camera, which would normally block its view, but since I have Appears in Reflections set to Only, it's still appearing as a reflection in the scene. It disappears from the Camera's view but it still appears in reflections. Two, you notice I still have some lighting issues, I would have to pull my light back, or maybe add another light, or add ambient light. But if all I want is this reflection source to be evenly lit, I can change its Accepts Lights parameter to Off.
Now it will reflect its original color values, regardless of what's happening with the lighting in the scene. Now I'm free to place my lights to go ahead and get the specular highlights that I want, or to blend the amount of reflections with the amount of diffuse color of this text. There's one more trick I'd like to show you. You'll notice that my reflection is mirror sharp right now. That might be what you want, it may not be what you want. Sometimes slightly soft or diffuse reflections look a little nicer. Well, you could blur your source image, or even better, you can fine-tune how each layer responds to those reflections.
Basically change how each surface behaves in your scene. And in this case that parameter is called Reflection Sharpness. As I reduce the sharpness, you'll notice my reflections start to get soft. This means, for example, you could have a floor that had a very diffuse reflection such as this, and then have a mirror or other piece of glass in the scene that had a perfectly sharp reflection. You don't need to alter the source, alter how each layer responds to that source. Now you might also notice that my reflections are a bit on the noisy side when I reduce the Reflection Sharpness.
That's an issue I'll talk about a couple of movies from now when we discuss ray-trace and quality. But what I want to focus on in this movie is how you have to layout your scene. You have to make sure that pixels from one layer are getting bounced off your reflective 3D object, back to the camera, and that you've taken into account the illumination of that layer throwing off the reflection, either by positioning your light carefully or just telling it not to accept lights so it stays naturally, fully illuminated.
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