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A realistic EKG

From: After Effects Apprentice 16: Creating a Medical Opening Title

Video: A realistic EKG

This last idea corner is probably the most fiddly to execute, but it may be necessary if you have a client that really cares about accuracy. You know these vital sign traces we have in the background? Well, they really are just randomly wiggled lines. They're not really based on actual vital signs from a real human being. If your client happens to have a doctor as an advisor, they may say these aren't realistic; they don't represent what you should be seeing. So you may find yourself having to go back and trace an actual EKG or other vital signs chart.

A realistic EKG

This last idea corner is probably the most fiddly to execute, but it may be necessary if you have a client that really cares about accuracy. You know these vital sign traces we have in the background? Well, they really are just randomly wiggled lines. They're not really based on actual vital signs from a real human being. If your client happens to have a doctor as an advisor, they may say these aren't realistic; they don't represent what you should be seeing. So you may find yourself having to go back and trace an actual EKG or other vital signs chart.

Well, if you have access to the exercise files, we have provided such a chart in the Sources folder. Twirl open Sources, Stills and we've given you, thanks to iStockphoto, a very high resolution EKG chart. You could spend sometime masking this down and animating a mask across it or you can create a Shape layer that follows these traceries. I'll show you how to do that. I'll drag the still image EKG chart onto the New Composition icon. It will create a comp that size.

You see that we have a very low resolution, because it is a very large piece of footage. I'm going to zoom-in until I'm really focusing on just a couple of these traces. Now you might be looking at this and saying, this is going to be a monumental drawing job to trace out all of these traces and all of these individual wiggles. Well, with Shape Layers again, you can cheat just a little bit. I'm going to create one of these traces and then use the Repeater and Shape Layers to repeat that one trace for the rest of the chart.

It won't show the individual variations from cycle to cycle, but it will be a lot closer than just using the random wiggle paths. Make sure the chart is not selected, since I want to create a Shape Layer, choose the Pen tool, pick a Color, that's going to be highly visible, let me see, yeah, green may be pretty good here or maybe something like bright blue, just to contrast with the black and with the red and the white already here. I'm going to zoom into high resolution and work on tracing one of these cycles.

I'll start my Pen Path, maybe zoom-in a little bit, add a second point, and make sure that you can see that Pen icon before you start drawing another point. If you don't see it, you're editing your existing point; you're not drawing a new point. I'll undo, get far enough away and draw an additional point. This spike is going to be bit of a challenge, go ahead and draw up to there, and draw through here, and drag out my tension onto my Bezier handles enough to get around that peak.

There's a little bit of a bend here in the middle, and we'll come down to this portion. Oops. I didn't see my icon, that's why I didn't draw a new point, there we go. Lift him over, pull him down a little bit, shorten that handle, make sure my last point is selected and just keep dragging out my points to get a good approximation of this curve.

A little flat area there, and then the trace starts coming back up again, pull that down a little bit, there we go. Here's that flat area. I know watching someone else mask is just barely more interesting than watching paint dry. But fortunately, I'm only doing one of these. Here we go and then we start coming back up again, back to this flat area, it should then match back up with this original point.

And I'll return to my Selection tool, V is the shortcut. Now that I have one cycle traced out, I'm going to use a Shape Operator to repeat that cycle. I'll make sure my Shape Group is selected and add our dear friend the Repeater. You see it has already created a couple more copies of this trace. But they don't line up. That's not a problem. I'll twirl down the Repeater, twirl down its own Transform Settings and change how much we're offset in X, until these lines started to line up.

You may get a misalignment here, between your first and last points. That's not a problem. Go back to your Shape Path and drag on individual points until you see your repeat is now seamless. And as I mentioned, there are going to be some variations from cycle to cycle, but on average it's not too bad. I'll create some additional repeats to go ahead and reach across this entire chart, then hold down the Cmd key on Mac, Ctrl key on Windows, and scrub out X offset by a small value, until we average the same duration as all those other cycles.

I'll press the Z key to temporarily get zoom, and zoom back in on these cycles. Make sure everything is lined up; I'll select my Shape Path and if necessary tweak that first point and maybe even the second point behind it, to get my paths to line up nicely. And now, we have a much more realistic EKG path. The next trick is actually drawing it on and off. And this is very similar to how you drew on your randomly wiggled paths.

With the Shape Group selected, add Trim Paths. Make sure Trim Path is after the Repeater, because you want your trim to go along the entire trace, not just to one of them, twirl it open and start trimming the end. And initially we'll go, wait a second, it is just trimming each cycle individually and in unison. That's not what you want. Well, fortunately Trim Paths has an additional option of whether or not to trim multiple shapes simultaneously, which is what we were doing, or as one big group.

And when I do that, you see the Trim Paths traces on my entire compound repeated path. And now, my offset will drive my trace throughout this repeated shape. I'll turn off the background for now, so you can see this in better detail. Lovely! And that is a lot less work than trying to draw every one of those pulses and cycles individually. I'm not going to make you sit here and watch me do the rest of these.

It's a project you can do if you want to practice your pen drawing skills. And again, up inside the Idea Corner folder, underneath EKG chart, we have actually done this for you. And we animated the offset parameter to have those march across your chart, pretty cool! After Effects is a wonderful toolbox, but quite often, some assembly is required to add together different elements, like a little bit of a Shape Path, a little bit of a Repeater, etcetera, to get the final desired result.

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