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Working with transparency and refraction

From: After Effects CS6 New Features

Video: Working with transparency and refraction

We've extruded and beveled our type. Let's play around with transparency. This is one of the major new features that the ray-traced renderer gives you. So as I start to increase the Transparency, you will see parts of the back services and back bevels of this text. And you can see one of the reasons why I increased the Specular Highlight Intensity: now you get some really nice kicks off of those bevels. I am going to press C to return to the Unified Camera tool, right-click, and move in a little bit closer, so you can see some more detail of what I'm doing here.

Working with transparency and refraction

We've extruded and beveled our type. Let's play around with transparency. This is one of the major new features that the ray-traced renderer gives you. So as I start to increase the Transparency, you will see parts of the back services and back bevels of this text. And you can see one of the reasons why I increased the Specular Highlight Intensity: now you get some really nice kicks off of those bevels. I am going to press C to return to the Unified Camera tool, right-click, and move in a little bit closer, so you can see some more detail of what I'm doing here.

I will also pull it down a little bit-- there we go--and press the V to back to my Selection tool. You can see the more what's going on with transparency if you have a layer behind. That layer behind can be 2D or 3D, but there's reasons for it to be 3D, and I will show that in a second. First, let's import a couple of stills. I would recommend importing any large still images or footage that you have, particularly ones that have interesting color or detail. I will press Command+I or Ctrl+I and select a couple of large images. There is this one from the Bousque. I do not want a JPEG sequence.

And there is this photo I have of the Corvette that I am particularly fond of, and I will open those up. Now I will drag the Corvette behind. I am in a custom view so I can't see it, but I will switch back to active camera, take my Corvette, right-click on it, transform it to fit the comps with so I can see more detail, and I am going to take my text, preview those transforms, and scale it up a little bit so it takes up more screen. There we go. Now you can see this 2D background layer through the 3D text.

Things get even more interesting when you start taking advantage of the Index of Refraction. When light hits the barrier between different materials, say between air and glass, it actually bends. This causes some visually interesting distortions. An index of 1 is basically air to air. That's why nothing particularly interesting is going on with this type. I am going to back to Custom View 1, where I am seeing just the type right now, and start to increase the Index of Refraction.

And as I do so, you will see some more interesting detail happening inside my text. That's because the light rays are deflecting as they go through the various surfaces, creating some more interesting overlaps in these bevels, etc. You can just play with Index Refraction to get a value that looks nice, or you can be bit more scientific about it. For example, I will just tab over to a web browser, and I will use Wikipedia to search for Index of Refraction. And doing so, I get a definition of what it is and more importantly, a list of different indices of different materials.

And this will show me that water has an indices of 1.335, diamond 2.4--very distorted--amber, ice, the cornea and lens of the human eye, and all sorts of other materials, like acrylic glass and different types of glass. It seems that a typical glass number is in the range of 1.5 to 1.6. Let's see how that looks. I will enter 1.5. That will be little more glass-like, just a little more distortion in there.

Now notice that transparency is not the same as opacity. As I increase Transparency all the way to 100%, I still see the specular highlights as the light hits those different edges. So that's something to keep in mind while designing. You can go ahead and have just a little bit of transparency, and have a more interesting-looking object than if you just turn down the Opacity. But I will go with something like 50%. We can see thing a bit better. I am going to switch back to the active camera so I can see this front on again. When you have a 2D layer behind a 3D layer, the Index of Refraction doesn't do anything; it's a straight-ahead alpha channel composite.

However, when you put that 2D layer in 3D space--they are at the same distance from the camera right now, so I will type P for position and scrub the Corvette image a bit further away, press Shift+S for scale and scale it up to fill frame here. I will move this text down a little bit, and you see it in even more context of how it's distorting that grill. When you have an Index of Refraction greater than one, other 3D layers behind a transparent object get distorted as their light rays pass through the 3D object.

That's why you are seeing interesting details such as the chrome of this grill being offset as it comes through our transparent type. I will go ahead and set the index back to one. That's just simple air, not very interesting. But as I start to crank it up, now you start to see some interesting things happen as the light rays pass through our transparent text. So that's something else to keep in mind when you're designing with the ray-traced 3D renderer in After Effects. Even if you have a 2D background layer, go ahead and enable its 3D layer switch because it will have more interesting interactions which your 3D objects inside your composition.

I am going to switch back to Custom View again to see things at a bit of a jaunty angle. Now you really see how even this flat layer is creating some very interesting refractions through our glass text. There is one other parameter here, Transparency Rolloff, that basically affects how light is treated as you go around angles and bends. Just so you can see its effect more clearly, I am going to save a snapshot of how it looks with Transparency Rolloff set to 0. And then I will crank up Transparency Rolloff, well, just for example to 100%, and then recall the snapshot to compare before and after.

You will see a slightly different rendering around edges and bevels and the way things reflected. So it's a way of treating your objects to create more realistic objects or just to dial in more of the graphical treatment you desire. So far, we have just seeing refractions of an object behind passing through a transparent layer. In the next movie, let's talk about actual reflections of one object into another.

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After Effects CS6 New Features

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