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After Effects: Principles of Motion Graphics with Ian Robinson covers some of the core principles used to create motion graphics, breaking them down into smaller groups of applied techniques in After Effects. The course explores everything from gathering inspiration to integrating traditional typography, transitional elements, animated textures, color, and more into motion graphics. Instructions for building a toolkit with templates and a style guide for future projects are also included. Exercise files accompany the course.
Lighting is one of those things that takes a new designer a little bit of time to get used to. I know it took me a while when I was first getting started, but once I got the hang of it, I couldn't have been happier, because honestly, you can use lights to fix all kinds of situations. For example, in this project I've got a rather flat, somewhat drab-looking scene, but once we start adding lights to it, things are going to go ahead and pop. In this video, we're not only going to look at the different kinds of lights in After Effects, but I'm also going to show you some traditional techniques, such as three-point lighting, and I'll also show you some basic rigging for lights and that kind of thing.
But basically, this is going to be a good overview of how to use lights within After Effects, and some creative uses for them. Let's get started and look at our scene. First thing you'll notice, we have a camera, we have type, and we have our ground plane. [00:00:and the ground plane exists in three-dimensional space, and to show you any keyframes or animation, I am just going to highlight all the layers and press the U key, and sure enough, pull up an expression. This expression is a form of rigging where I've tied the point of interest, which is where the camera is pointing, I've tied that to the transform position of the ALL Winter layer, which is this type layer here.
So if I open up the position data of this type layer and start moving the type off the ground plane, you can see the camera just follows right along beautifully. There we go. Okay, so I will just undo that. To add a little bit more depth and interest to the scene and help focus the viewer on this type, let's add a new spotlight. So go up to Layer, choose New, and Light. Now, the last light that I had used was a parallel light, so let's go ahead and click on Spot light on the Light Type pulldown.
Intensity, Cone Angle, and Feather I'll show you once we get the light set. But first off I want to make sure that you have Casts Shadows enabled for the spotlight. You can leave the default color set to white and the Shadow Darkness and Diffusion, you will notice mine is set to 82 and 11. Whenever you create new lights, this parameter will just pop up with whatever you had used the previous time. So I will just leave it 82 and 11. Let's rename the light appear at the top 'Spot' and click OK.
Now with Cast Shadows on, if we grab our Orbit Around tool here and move around the scene, you can see I really don't have any shadows, and also this whole scene just looks kind of dull still, and that's really because the spotlight is way too high in the scene. So I'll grab my Selection tool, zoom out just scrolling with my mouse wheel, and sure enough, here's the spotlight, and I'll just click on the Y axis handle and drag it down. You notice this light also has a point of interest. I could click and animate that. But we'll do the same kind of rigging for the spotlight that we did for the camera.
So select the Spotlight and open up the Transform options and select the Point of Interest parameter. To add an expression, what we have to do is open our Timeline up a little bit more, so we can make sure to see this Position parameter for the type. Select the Point of Interest, go back up under Animation and choose Add Expression. Now, I could type an expression in here if I was familiar with scripting, but honestly, I kind of think I'm allergic to it. But really, all we need to do is click on the pick whip and drag it down to the Position data for the type.
And when you let go, that's automatically going to fill out the scripts, and then just press Enter on your keypad to set it. You can also just click anywhere in the Timeline. Now, the spotlight is going to follow along anywhere I move the type in the scene. Pretty nice, right? So I will just undo that, and let's look at some of the other parameters for this spotlight. If we close the Transformation options and open the Light options, the first thing you'll notice is Intensity, which is pretty straightforward; it just controls the brightness of the light.
The parameters I use most often are the Cone Angle. So you can actually animate this. It looks kind of neat, like you are setting your own stage here. Adjust the Cone Angle and the Cone Feather. As you drag the edge to make it sharper, it just sort of gives the spotlight a little more pronounced look. All right! In the Light Options for the spotlight notice that Cast Shadows is on, and as I said earlier, there are no shadows. Let's look at some of the other options in our scene.
Whenever you add a spotlight, there are parameters to make sure that the light will actually cast the shadow, yes. But also, each object in the scene that lives in three-dimensional space has a set of material options. So if I select the type ALL Winter and press AA very quickly on my keyboard, that opens up my Material options. And in here, notice the first option, which is off by default, is Casts Shadows, so let's go ahead and turn that on, and now you can kind of see the shadows in the scene.
Let me grab my Orbit tool here and just orbit around the scene. As you can see, sure enough, I have shadows being cast from the type. Now, you would think that would be the only thing we need to look at, but really, one of the things you need to always double-check, even if you have an object casting shadows and the spotlight casting shadows, the object that's supposed to receive the shadows has its own set of material options as well. So again, select the ground layer, press AA, and in here, notice Casts Shadows is off, which is fine, because we don't want to cast shadows from the floor.
We want it to receive shadows, which is Accept, and notice that's on. So if we toggle that, notice the shadows disappear. Now, we'll cover the rest of the material options later on in this chapter, but I think you guys have a pretty good idea as to how the spotlight works. Now I am just going to tweak this for style, and let's go ahead and grab our Selection tool and move the spotlight in closer to the scene. Now, let's move it really close, and we'll tilt it up in the scene so it's sort of shining down. And just so it gets all the type, let's open up its angle.
So open up the Cone Angle, just click and drag. Okay. So that's our primary light. If we grab our Orbit Around tool just to explore, you can see it's casting kind of the neat wide shadow, and again, part of the reason the shadow is wide is because I have such a wide angle on my spotlight. Usually, when people light a scene, they do what's called a three-point light setup. And to describe it, you have one main light, like the spotlight, that illuminates the primary focus for the viewer.
The second light is usually used to add a little bit of a colorcast in the scene. So let's add a second light. Go to Layer > New > Light. This time instead of spotlight, let's add a point light. And notice the point light still has the options to cast shadows, and the darkness and diffusion will stay the same. The only parameter we can really adjust is the intensity. Now usually the second light is a lot less intense. So let's go ahead and bring the intensity down to around 30%.
Also, like I said, a lot of times the secondary light has a slight color tint to it. So let's go ahead and change this from a white color to kind of a warmer yellow color. Now, this is pretty drastic when it actually enters the scene, so we don't need to have a very saturated color. Just go ahead and click OK. I know you can barely tell a difference, but once we add this to the scene, notice it has changed things a little bit. Let's find our light. Here it is, way up in the scene.
So let's move it down, and I'll just move it in the scene here a little bit. Let me change the magnification so you can see what's going on. There we go. So here's our point light. Now, a lot of times it makes sense to have the point light sort of off to the side. It's not a general rule that you use a point light for the secondary light; a lot of people like to use multiple spotlights, but I just wanted you to see the general effects of the point light. If we turn off the spotlight, notice even with the point light here, this is all it's adding to the scene, and I did make a mistake when I added this because this is casting a shadow off of the type.
Here let me grab the Orbit Around tool, so you can kind of see it. Let's press AA to open up our Light Options and disable Casts Shadows. There we go. And while we're here, let's go ahead and rename this light 'Point'. Okay. The next light I want to show you is called a parallel light. The easiest way to think of a parallel light is to think of it kind of like a laser. All it does is cast light in a specific direction, and there is no beginning, there is no end; it just sort of goes. Let's get started.
Go to Layer > New > Light, and this time choose Parallel, and we'll rename it Parallel. And with the color, let's make sure that it's a typical white Light, and again, we want to make sure to disable Cast Shadows. Now, before I do that, notice there is no option for diffusion. And that's because there's no simulated falloff with the parallel light. It just keeps going. So when we click OK, let's see what happens in the scene.
Notice the type is illuminated, but the ground really hasn't changed. Well, let's move up in the scene here. I am just going to press my Spacebar and pan up here. As you can see, the parallel light is just pointing off, kind of into outer space, and it's not pointing down at the ground at all. What we want to do is just bring this down into the scene. I know that didn't make much of a difference, but let's look at the options for the parallel light. And as you can see, the Intensity was still set way down to 31.
If we bring the Intensity up, notice you can bring the Intensity way over 100% and wash out anything that you have focus on. But let's set the parallel light back down to around 40, and in a traditional three-point light setup, this light would actually be behind the subject because you want to create what's called a rim light or a key light that creates highlights off the edges. Since this isn't a true three- dimensional object, this isn't really going to do that, but in the interests of showing you a traditional three-point light setup, I'll go ahead and move this into the background.
If you want to move a light that has a point of interest and you want to keep the point of interest in the same place, all you have to do is click on the control axis that you want to move the light and then after you start dragging, hold down Ctrl on the PC or Command on the Mac, and that way the point of interest will always stay in place. So now the parallel light is behind the type, and as I move it up or down in the scene, you can see it's illuminating the scene a little bit more or a little bit less. Even if I move the light forward in the scene, notice that it's not changing the illumination at all.
Like I said, there's no beginning as well as no end. So it really didn't matter that I moved it behind; the only reason I did move it behind in the scene was just because I like remembering that the point of interest is pointing in the direction of the light, and since I wanted the light to come from the back of the scene, it just makes sense to organize it that way. But technically, all we had to do was just flip the light around. Okay. Now, let's turn our spotlight back on and look at our scene, and as you can see, we've created a fair amount of visual interest here. Let me zoom that up and feature this.
Now that we have our three-point light setup, let's go ahead and look closely at the scene, and I want to show you the last kind of light we could add to a project. Let's turn off the visibility of the three previous lights. Go up to Layer and choose New > Light, but this time let's choose Ambient Light. Notice with Ambient Light the only thing I can adjust is the Color and the Intensity. No Shadows, no Cone, no Feather, nothing like that, okay? So, let's click OK, and see what happens.
Well, it's pretty boring, but all the Ambient Light does is literally add a floodlight across the entire scene that is completely flat and even. If overall you like the lighting of your project--let's say with these three lights--but you just wanted everything a little bit brighter, that's when you add your Ambient Light in and just go ahead and adjust the Intensity accordingly. While lights are very utilitarian in their purpose, I like to think of them as the polish for my projects to help drive home a design.
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