After Effects: Principles of Motion Graphics
Illustration by John Hersey

Understanding lighting in After Effects


After Effects: Principles of Motion Graphics

with Ian Robinson

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Video: Understanding lighting in After Effects

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.
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  1. 3m 37s
    1. Welcome
      1m 1s
    2. Using the exercise files
      1m 4s
    3. Defining motion graphics
      1m 32s
  2. 11m 11s
    1. Workflow for creating motion graphics
      5m 7s
    2. Organizing projects for motion graphics
      4m 25s
    3. Defining a motion graphics "package"
      1m 39s
  3. 12m 58s
    1. Collecting visual inspiration
      2m 14s
    2. Listening to imagine
      3m 20s
    3. Creating elements for inspiration
      7m 24s
  4. 33m 4s
    1. Essential theories of typography
      6m 34s
    2. Understanding shortcuts for setting type in AE
      7m 27s
    3. Converting type from Photoshop
      5m 51s
    4. Importing type from illustrator
      9m 44s
    5. Creating shapes from text
      3m 28s
  5. 36m 30s
    1. Understanding the role of timing in motion graphics
      8m 1s
    2. Creating and using markers
      7m 58s
    3. Creating animation with markers
      5m 16s
    4. Using audio to create animated graphics
      5m 47s
    5. Editing techniques for graphics and video
      9m 28s
  6. 49m 27s
    1. Understanding different kinds of type in After Effects
      15m 53s
    2. Using animators with type
      7m 59s
    3. Using type presets
      7m 35s
    4. Creating custom type presets
      4m 35s
    5. Animating paragraph type
      13m 25s
  7. 45m 51s
    1. Exploring the use of color in motion graphics
      10m 40s
    2. Creating and using color palettes
      13m 45s
    3. Exploring color correction tools in AE
      6m 46s
    4. Advanced correction with Color Finesse
      8m 30s
    5. Creating custom color presets
      6m 10s
  8. 59m 6s
    1. Exploring textures in motion graphics
      8m 30s
    2. Building an animated background texture
      16m 48s
    3. Creating textures for type
      10m 19s
    4. Animating seamless textures
      15m 1s
    5. Creating custom vignettes
      8m 28s
  9. 38m 25s
    1. Understanding lighting in After Effects
      12m 57s
    2. Intro to lighting techniques
      5m 17s
    3. Using material settings to enhance lighting
      7m 36s
    4. Adding polish to a light setup
      12m 35s
  10. 50m 32s
    1. Animating swoops and swooshes
      12m 37s
    2. Creating repeating light trails with the Vegas effect
      6m 28s
    3. Repeating patterns with shape layers
      8m 11s
    4. Exploring graphic transitions
      10m 37s
    5. Exploring video transitions
      5m 16s
    6. Adding dynamic elements to a video transition
      7m 23s
  11. 22m 23s
    1. Working in 3D
      8m 36s
    2. Rigging cameras for animation
      8m 45s
    3. Working with depth of field
      5m 2s
  12. 50m 54s
    1. Creating storyboards in After Effects
      10m 20s
    2. Creating an animatic
      18m 14s
    3. Polishing the animation and timing
      8m 45s
    4. Applying the final effects
      13m 35s
  13. 47m 53s
    1. Preparing a map for animation
      7m 59s
    2. Animating and styling a map
      8m 24s
    3. Designing a lower-third graphic
      8m 22s
    4. Adding animation to the lower-third graphic
      9m 10s
    5. Creating bumper animations
      13m 58s
  14. 14m 17s
    1. Defining the toolkit
      2m 2s
    2. Preparing templates
      7m 12s
    3. Creating a style guide
      5m 3s
  15. 1m 3s
    1. Next Steps
      1m 3s

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Watch the Online Video Course After Effects: Principles of Motion Graphics
7h 57m Intermediate Feb 09, 2011

Viewers: in countries Watching now:

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.

Topics include:
  • Converting type from Photoshop and Illustrator
  • Creating shapes from text
  • Using markers in animation
  • Editing techniques for graphics
  • Using type presets
  • Animating type
  • Exploring color correction tools
  • Building animated textures
  • Creating custom vignettes
  • Understanding Lights and Material settings
  • Adding dynamic transitions
  • Rigging cameras for animation
  • Working efficiently in 3D space
After Effects
Ian Robinson

Understanding lighting in After Effects

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.

Find answers to the most frequently asked questions about After Effects: Principles of Motion Graphics .

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Q: How do I transition from one piece of animated type to another in After Effects?
A: There isn't an effect that can create these types of transitions. It's really a matter of animating the type and camera, using basic keyframing and positioning.
If you understand the basics of moving the anchor point of a type layer, animating the parameters of that layer (Scale, Rotation, Position, etc.) and then separately animating the camera around the type layers, you can achieve different types of transitions.  Check out the following videos for more information:

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