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Warping with FreeForm

From: After Effects CS5 New Creative Techniques

Video: Warping with FreeForm

One of the things we all love about After Effects is that it comes with so many effects. Well, CS5 is no different. In this chapter, I'll discuss the new effects which come with After Effects CS5 and then in the next chapter, I'll talk about some previously existing effects which got really nice updates. Now the most important new effect has got to be Digieffects FreeForm. Some of you might remember the old Forge FreeForm effect. It was a way of taking any 2D layer and warping it in 3D space. You can even extrude other objects like text through your 2D layer to create Well it's been updated.

Warping with FreeForm

One of the things we all love about After Effects is that it comes with so many effects. Well, CS5 is no different. In this chapter, I'll discuss the new effects which come with After Effects CS5 and then in the next chapter, I'll talk about some previously existing effects which got really nice updates. Now the most important new effect has got to be Digieffects FreeForm. Some of you might remember the old Forge FreeForm effect. It was a way of taking any 2D layer and warping it in 3D space. You can even extrude other objects like text through your 2D layer to create Well it's been updated.

It has been made 64-bit effect and it's kind of fun to play around with. So let's talk about that one first. The first thing that we're going to do is play around with warping this 2D layer. Now I've already setup a 3D camera move. I'll go into my Top view and you'll see my camera lights are already setup in the scene, but you won't see my layer yet. The reason is these layers must be 2D layers. Whenever you apply a 3D effect such as FreeForm, Sphere, Invigorator, etcetera, it must be applied to 2D layers.

The reason is that the effect is going to do the 3D distortions. You don't want a second copy of 3D on top of it by also making a 3D layer. The second thing is you'll notice I'm going to be working at half resolution during this tutorial. The reason is that FreeForm is a very powerful plug-in, but it also requires a lot of CPU power. So you tend to work at a lower resolution just so you can work more quickly and interactively. I am going to apply Effect > Digieffects > FreeForm and you can see that my layer is already popped into 3D space and now reflects the camera move around it.

I did not enable the 3D layer switch to this layer. It just automatically reacts to my camera because FreeForm itself is a 3D effect. When the effect is selected, you're going to see there's a grid placed over your layer. This grid basically defines where you're editing or warping points, the points you get to pull on, exist on the layer. They're not connected to how it renders. That's actually done down in 3D Mesh Quality where you set the Mesh Subdivision to decide how smoothly your work is going to take place.

The grid is all about giving you control points. And speaking of control points, I'm going to move this up to 4 just to give myself a few more points to warp. The Editing Controls section determines how you get to pull these points around. For example, when Manipulation is set to X,Y,Z, you can grab a point and move it out, left, right, wherever you want it to be. If you want to just carefully pull things out in Z space to give things depth, make some things closer to you, some things further away, you might want to restrict this to just Z only.

When I do that, I can say all right, I'm going to pull this character forward in space so that he protrudes a little bit and I'm going to go ahead and let it recede a little bit where his jacket is and where his head would actually fall off and I'm going to push this wizard, this mage in the background, further away so I've got a little bit more of a 3D perspective on that portion of the scene. And I'll push this back there and like that.

And now when I move my camera around, I now it actually has some depth and dimension the way that I pulled this particular layer out, and back again. Of course, your warping is not restricted strictly to 3D space. If I was to put this back to say X,Y,Z in any dimension, you can go ahead and use this as a normal warping plug-in to go ahead and do things like bend the rock perspective down a little bit, just to change how this is designed. Maybe you can pull this corner up a little bit to bring in that corner of the room, and do other normal warpages to a layer.

Big difference with FreeForm is you can warp in the X, Y and Z, bring things to close to you or further away. Once you've setup your warp, you'll want to start to refine how well it renders and again that's in the 3D Mesh Quality section. Mesh Subdivision controls how smoothly this is rendered, how many pieces it's broken into, and how those are interpolated in between. 30 is a very low number. It's good for interactivity while you're deciding how you want to bend your layer around. But when it comes time to actually render this layer, you want to increase it to at least 100, maybe even higher to get a higher quality rendering.

If you are just curious to what your wireframe looks like, that's what my warped wireframe looks like. 30, it's kind of rough, but at something like a 100, we start to get some smoothing to my bends as we mover around in space. There you get a better idea what's going on and you'll see that this layer is actually starting to pull away and warp away from my grid. Again the grid is just control points. It's not the exact shape your layer is going to render into. They're just points you're pulling on and then the Mesh Quality decides how it's going to interpolate in between those control points.

I'll return it to full quality for now. Antialiasing determines how smoothly it's going to render. None is very fast and interactive but again when you do a final render, you'll probably want to increase the quality. You notice, for example, this aliased edge appears kind of rough. I'll increase to Low Antialiasing and that edge smooths up considerably right in there. So you want to go to at least low quality and there's some additional image filtering as well to further smooth that out. You have some additional controls over how this will render. For example, the Surface Controls decides some basic shading.

Diffuse, Specular, and what they refer to as Roughness. You will notice that here's a bit of what I refer to as glare in this image. If you're used to working with 3D layers in After Effects you may be familiar with the metal parameter. It determines whether these specular hotspots are based on the layer's color or on the light's color. With FreeForm, they're based on the light's color. So my white light is going to create some white glare. You can play around a little bit with your Diffuse and Specular settings. I might knock down my Specular a little bit, might bring in my Diffuse a little bit, and work and try to balance those out to get a look that I like.

Roughness also affects how much the layer picks up and reflects lights. Finally Backside Controls determines what do you do with the backside of this layer. If the camera was to go all the way around it, or if you were tumble it, or if you were even to fold this layer over on top of itself, what would you see on the back? You can pick any other layer in the comp to be on the back. Just make sure it has the aspect ratio as the layer FreeForm's applied to. And that's just a rough guide of how to quickly do some mesh distortions with FreeForm. Of course, you can take this much further. Have a lot more resolution in the grid, make a lot of finer control in exactly what points you bring out, like, maybe I want to bring out his face a little bit more here, give him a little bit more prominent chin, bring out his forehead a little bit and you can keep going to town.

With a lot of work you can even do things like bend this over into shapes, curl it on top of itself, etcetera. Another use for FreeForm is to give it a displacement map where one layer's alpha channel or luminance can be used to displace or cause bumps in the layer the FreeForm's applied to and I'll talk about that in the next movie.

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After Effects CS5 New Creative Techniques

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Chris Meyer and Trish Meyer
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