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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.
There are several ways to use Adobe Photoshop to create 3D objects that can then be imported into After Effects. The first one we're going to explore is called Vanishing Point Exchange. It's a way of turning a flat photograph into literally a 3D house of cards. Go to File>Open, navigate to inside your Exercise Files for CS5.5, open up the Sources folder, open up the 3D folder, then select building*starter.jpg.
This sort of image is a good candidate for Vanishing Point Exchange. Vanishing Point Exchange relies on you having a number of flat surfaces that connect at nice clean angles, that it can then convert into a series of flat surfaces that are folded together to create a three-dimensional outline of this building. Once you've selected your image, go to Filter>Vanishing Point and you'll open up the special Vanishing Point dialog. Make sure you have the Create Plane tool selected; it's the default, zoom in on your image; you can hold Command on Mac or Ctrl on Windows and press the plus key.
Then use the spacebar to pan around and look for a good cleanly represented first rectangle to use to define as your starting point. Now, these walls are nice clean rectangles, but unfortunately, I cannot see the ends of these walls because this photo was cut off. However, I do get to see all of this nice rectangular window. So I'm going to use that as my starting point and build out from here. With my Create Plane tool selected, I need to first click and select four corners of this rectangle.
Be very careful how you place these, because this is going to be the starting point for the rest of the entire image. Now, I'm carefully placing these points, clicking, then releasing at the four corners of the window, and Photoshop is going to use that information to decide what angle this window is at. If you click at some place that's clearly not a rectangle, like here, Photoshop will turn the outline red, indicating it doesn't really think that's a rectangle, and you should try again. So I'll undo and start again. I'll click once up in this corner, and again, don't be afraid to zoom in even more to see things with higher precision.
You will get an opportunity to change things a little bit after the fact, but get as close as you can on this first guess. You can see I'm being very careful, looking at my blue lines to make sure they go down the middle of my antialiased edge in that window and lining things up the best I can. I'll click, and then Photoshop will create a blue grid for me. Blue means it's happy; red means it's not. Now that I have my first rectangle, I need to expand that out to cover this entire wall. All you need to do is hover your cursor over one of these floor handles along the sides of your rectangle and then just drag.
Photoshop will keep the perspective until you get to the edge of your wall. Now, you notice I'm a little bit off here. That's okay. I'm going to get a chance to fix that. Let's go ahead and drag it up here, define the top edge of that wall, right around there. Again, if necessary, hold down the spacebar and drag to move your display around. I'm going to go off the bottom here, and you'll notice that it won't let you drag all the way off the bottom of the image. I'm going to hold Command or Ctrl, press minus to zoom down, and drag this plane down below the edge of my image.
And finally, I'm going to drag it out to this left side of that wall. So I've completely covered this flat rectangular wall. Now let's go ahead and clean up the perspective on this first rectangle. I'll Command+Plus or Ctrl+Plus to zoom back in, click on this point, Photoshop will let me drag it into that corner to make it right. I can see that it's falling a little bit off the edge of the building along here, so I'll click and drag to get it close. There is a slight difference between the straight lines that Photoshop draws and the real metal edge of this building.
That's probably an indication that there might be a little bit of lens distortion with this photo. If you're doing this for a client, you do want to spend some time taking a few trial passes, seeing if it works; if necessary, doing some processing in Photoshop, so just removing lens distortion to get nice clean lines. But in this lesson, I just want to give you an idea of the workflow, so we're going to forgive little errors like this. Press spacebar, drag down to the bottom, Command+Minus or Ctrl+Minus to zoom down, and grab this point down here and position it.
The other thing I'm going to be looking at is how these blue lines line up with these metal tiles and other details in this image. Go ahead and try to create as accurate of a first rectangle as I can. I'm falling pretty close in there, but I think if I drag down a little bit, I'll get a little bit better perspective. I'm going to zoom in and look. I think I'm doing pretty well. Yup, we're going to use this as our starting point.
After you've created your first plane, you will now start to drag out sides of that plane to cover your other sides of the building and define other rectangles. I'm going to zoom down a little bit, hover the cursor over this nubbin again, and this time I'm going to hold down Command on Mac or Ctrl on Windows, and that tells Photoshop change tools and define a new plane. So rather than extending the current plane, it starts drawing a new plane for me.
I'll make sure that whole wall is covered. Again, there's a little bit of distortion here, so I'm going to grab this point and drag it until things seem to line up. You notice that both walls are moving at this point. So I'm going to click in my other surface to make sure things still look pretty good for it. Now, that's a very good line actually, so I'm happy with this. Now that I've got these two walls defined, I can start defining these overhangs. Now, how far you go here depends how ambitious you are. If you are feeling a bit lazy, if you're a bit pressed for time, you could just hold Command or Ctrl, drag out to here, and just say, oh, that's the entire roof overhang.
In reality, this roof is in a couple of pieces. It comes out flat here, then goes upwards again here. So I'm going to go an extra mile here and define all of these edges. But you can be forgiven for just saying, let's just treat this as a flat roof for now and just go out to this point. I'm going to back up to this edging, right around this white area here. You'll notice that I'm not getting the entire overhang, because it extended the rectangle out from the dimensions of this rectangle underneath. That's okay. I can go ahead and grab an edge, I'm not holding any modifier key, and drag it out to get that edge.
Again, I might zoom in here, use the hand and drag and make sure I'm holding pretty close to these edges. There we go. There is a little bit of lens distortion, but again, we're going to forgive ourselves since this is just a test. Later on we'll talk about how to clean these up later anyway. Okay. Now, if I want to get this upward edges overhang, again, Command or Ctrl, drag straight up to make sure I've got it all covered. I'm going to zoom down to look at this from another perspective. And I see that I do have a choice here of what not to extend up and capture to the sky or to crop off part of the building.
Zoom back in here, pan around. I think I'm going to go ahead and capture as much of this as metal as I can for now. I will end up capturing some of the sky accidentally as well. Again, this is a problem with lens distortion; I'm not exactly getting this building right. But I can paint or clone that edge later on and we'll talk about how to do that. Okay. Now that I have that, I'll select this surface, Command or Ctrl and drag it upward as well, and make sure it joins nicely right up here with my other edge.
I'll zoom in again, get as close as I can, because if I don't do this right, my model pieces in After Effects won't line up either. All right. One overhang left. Select it, Command or Ctrl to start a new surface going off at a perpendicular angle, zoom in to get a better idea of what I'm doing. I'll need to make sure it joins up with the other line, which it does, and then finally, Command or Ctrl and drag upward to finish that overhang.
And again, I will repeat, you can be forgiven if you just simplify this roofline. I'm just doing this to show you what is possible and to get you thinking about steps for when you're doing a real photo for yourself. Obviously, this building has some interesting details, like these beams, that make it hard to exactly represent with nice flat planes. It's an imperfect process. You're going to have to make some compromises and make some decisions. Anyway, there's our building with all of our various planes defined for Photoshop to build into a 3D model.
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