Design in Motion

with Rob Garrott
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Design in Motion
Video duration: 0s 8h 15m Intermediate Updated Sep 19, 2012


Design in Motion is a series of creative techniques featuring short projects using After Effects and CINEMA 4D. Taught by motion graphics expert Rob Garrott, the course covers how color correction, expressions, rendering type, lighting, and animation are used in each program, and the topics are updated weekly. Using these tips and tricks, motion graphics designers will find designing to be a more efficient process.

Topics include:
  • Communicating emotion using color correction
  • Using expressions to control animation
  • Rendering type in a seamless environment
  • Doing more with less in the After Effects render queue
  • Creating bouncing animated type using dynamics
  • Creating realism with Global illumination
  • Working with Xrefs to simplify the workflow
After Effects CINEMA 4D

047 Fun with paint splats in After Effects and C4D

Hi! Rob Garrott here and welcome to Design in Motion; the weekly series where we explore important fundamentals in the world of motion graphics. Now back in the day when I first started, there were no digital cameras. If you wanted to create a moving texture for a 3D project, you had to shoot it with a very expensive camera and then figure out how to convert it into a format that computer could use with even more expensive proprietary equipment. Nowadays of course digital cameras are cheap and plentiful and everywhere, and the image quality is fantastic. This means that it's never been easier to utilize video in your 3D animation projects.

Now we are going to use some very simple paint splats that I shot with my digital camera to give life to our 3D animation project in CINEMA 4D. Let's take a look. Here is the effect we're going to be recreating today, and I'll hit play here inside of QuickTime. We've got this really cool paint blob that swoops through the scene, hits the floor and disappears through the floor leaving a big blob of paint there. Now the walls of the room, the paint blob, are done in After Effects. The blob flying through the air and the shadow were created with CINEMA 4D, and what we are going to be doing is merging these two techniques together.

We have a live action paint blob that merges with this 3D paint blob that's flying through the air. The way I created this paint blob was by shooting some paint on paper in my driveway with my digital camera. And this is the QuickTime movie that we're going to be using. I will scrub through that, so you don't have to hear the audio on it, and you can see that it pours down into frame and leaves a really cool splat with lots of extra little splats around the side. Now my exposure is a little bit thin, it was really bright sun that day, and it was hard to see, but don't worry, we'll be able to fix that using a little bit of Levels adjustments inside of After Effects.

Now before we move into After Effects, I want to review the CINEMA 4D file. Recreating the whole thing from scratch would take a little bit too long for this movie, so I am just going to walk through the steps that I used. So let's switch over to CINEMA 4D and this is the scene file. Now we're not looking through the camera and that's because I have it set up in a separate viewport. If you go to the Window menu and go to New View panel, now we're looking at what the camera is seeing. And you can see as I scrub through, it matches up perfectly. So the way I created this blob was by creating something called a Metaball, and underneath the Metaball, if I uncheck the option for the Metaball, I have a bunch of little spheres and they're cloned onto this spline using a Cloner object.

And under the Object Properties, you can see that I have the mode set to be Object and I have this spline right here dragged into that object field. I'm then using under the Effector Properties a Step Effector, a Random Effector and a Formula Effector to modify these. And what's happening is the Step Effector is controlling the size of the blobs along the length of the spline. The Random Effector is redistributing them so they are not all in a line, and the Formula Effector is giving them a little bit of movement so they are not just static.

Then the entire thing is moving along the spline by animating the Offset property and that's the only keyframe in the scene other than the camera. And so I've got that all swooping along the spline and traveling down through a floor object. Now I have an Object Buffer set on the Metaball itself. Now the Metaball object is what's creating the smooth skin. And if I back up in time to where the object is visible, on the Metaball there is three properties and the Hull Value controls how accurately it conforms to the spheres that are in the scene. I'll undo that.

And the Editor Subdivision controls how smoothly the whole thing is drawn. And you want to be really careful, never drag the Editor Subdivision to be lower than the Render Subdivision; you'll usually get a crash when it happens. And the 5 for this purpose is going to give us a really nice smooth geometry when it renders. Now the lighting in the scene is very simple. I've got an overhead key, and on the Details page of this overhead key, it's set to be an area light. And if I back up a little bit here you can see I've got this area light here and it's covering the whole scene, but under the Details page, I have the area light set to Show in Reflection.

And what that does if I zoom in on this area and hit Command+R or Ctrl+R, that gives me this great looking specular highlight that is across the top of this shiny object, giving it a very wet feel, making it feel really reflective. I then have a fill light that's bouncing up under and the key light is the one that's casting the shadow on the ground. So let's take a look at the Render settings, Command+B or Ctrl+B. And I've got Multi-Pass on and the only passes that I have are the RGBA, the Object Buffer which is for the paint itself and the Shadow Pass. And the key is I do have the Compositing Project File options turned on.

Now when I render that out I am going to get an AEC file that I can then import into After Effects, and so, let's move over to After Effects now and build this little composition. Now I'm in the After Effects START file and I want to look at the things that I have in here. I've started a Pre Comp in here and this Blue Room PRE are the walls of that blue room. And what I did was, I took the original file that I started with and I pre composed those blue walls without a camera. And so when we double-click on that and look at it, it really doesn't look like much, but if I change my camera from Active Camera to say Front view, and then back out a little bit, you see that I've got these planes that are intersecting each other.

And basically I built the walls of the room in three dimension using 3D layers and just lined them up numerically. And then I'll be able to use this Blue Room PRE in my camera file with all the C4D renders. Then I have the QT file and the QT file is just the paint splats that we had from before. And then I've got the blue solid here that is part of his Blue Room PRE comp. So let's import our CINEMA 4D elements. So let's double-click on the Project window to bring up the Import File dialog.

Now if you are seeing this goo.aec file as grayed out, that means you don't have the correct import plugin installed in your After Effects Plug-ins folder. You can get this file from the Maxon website, and if you're confused about this process there's quite a bit of information on it in the CINEMA 4D Essentials Training Course or the C4D Essentials Course in the section related to working with After Effects. And in the Project Files in the 3D Renders, I am going to import goo.aec and I am going to drag that into the goo folder here and I'll take this goo folder and let's drag it out of the hierarchy completely.

Now that may be tough to do, you have to enlarge the window here so you can get it out of the hierarchy so that pops out like that. And this goo composition when we open it up, that has the 3D camera that we need. So I am going to switch the scaling percentage to Fit up to 100%. So now I've got everything in here. When we scrub through, we don't really see anything, that's because the only thing in here is the shadow layer. So inside this goo composition we're going to drag in our Blue Room PRE comp. And when I drag that in, it doesn't look like there's much of anything going on. And the reason for that is two-fold.

First, I am looking through the wrong camera. Earlier when I was showing you guys the Blue Room composition, I had switched my active camera to be Front, and so, what I want to do is switch that from Front to Active Camera. And now when I see, I see these blue lines in here along with the shadow pass. Now I want this blue room to use this 3D camera, but rather than turn it to be a 3D layer, what I am going to do is collapse the transformations. That's going to force the three layers inside this PRE Comp to behave as if they were using this 3D camera.

So I'll click on this icon right here and when I do now these layers are moving with the camera. And you can see as I scrub through, everything behaves correctly and it's great. So the next step in the process is to prepare the actual paint blob that's going to be swooping through the air and hitting the floor. So inside my Special Passes folder I've got my object_1 and, and I'll grab those to drag them onto a New Comp button and I want to pre comp them together, so I'll hit OK, and let's take these and put them into the Pre Comp folder and call it Goo PRE.

Now inside the Goo PRE composition I am going to tell this RGB layer, using the Modes column, to use the Luma Matte of the object buffer one, and now when I scrub through I can see that I've got my goo isolated over transparency, and that's perfect. So now I can go back to my goo composition and I can drag in my Goo PRE, and I'll put it right below the shadow pass, and now I've got my shadow on top of the goo and you can see that it hits the floor and disappears nicely. The next thing I want to do is to create the paint splat that's going to be on the floor.

In order to do that I have to start off with this QuickTime movie and pre compose that as well. So let's drag this QT movie onto a New Comp button, and then take this new comp and drag it into the Pre Comps window. Now inside here, I've got my paint splat and what I want to do is to mark where that goes. Now this is a very long composition and my actual goo file is only about three seconds long. What I want to do is pre-time this movie so that it's only about three seconds long as well, so I end up with the paint splat in the right place.

So I want to have my splat occur somewhere in this region here. So if I take that down and find it, there it goes right there. And I'll use time remapping later on to get what I need out of it. There we go, excellent. Drag it down just a little bit further. So when I have the first hit of the paint, start it right around a second and a half. There we go. I can drag that in and there we go and there it hits right there, boom. So now it's going to be really easy to find that when I drag it into the composition.

So what I want to do next is to create a new composition that's going to be the splat all by itself. Now this is the actual movie file and the reason I put it into so composition was so I could retime it easy. And also I want to put a levels adjustment on it to allow me to have a cleaner matte. You notice as I move the cursor over the white areas, if you look at the Info, you see that the white isn't pure white. It's hovering in the 216 area. So if I put a levels adjustment on this I can blow out that white and get a good clean matte out of this.

So I am going to go to the Effects and under Color Correction, I'll do Levels. Now in the Levels, I'm going to start off by dragging this to the right. And you can see now I am at 255 all the way around. And then I am going to punch those blacks a little bit. I don't want to crunch them too much, just want to bring somewhere right about here or so. And you can see as I scrub through there I've got a really great looking splat and if I adjust that open, maybe just to get a little bit more highlight there, there you go. Pretty good and you could see that I am still mostly in the 255 zone everywhere.

Now the next thing I want to do is to create the splat pre comp. So I am going to go out here to the Project window. And if you notice my movie file is 1280x720. I'm going to click on the New Composition button and I am going to make a new composition that is 1280x720; 30 frames a second. And I am going to make it about three seconds long just like my main composition. And I am going to call this one Splat PRE. Now in the Splat PRE comp I am going to drag in the movie file and you can see there at the second and a half mark is my splat just like I needed it.

What I need to do to create the color for the splat is to create a solid layer and then use this black and white image as a layer mask for that solid. So let's create a new solid by hitting Command+Y or Ctrl+Y on the keyboard, and I am going to start off by making this an orange solid. I think in my original rendering it was red, but I think I am going to try this orange this time. And I'll leave it on orange. And I'll make it the comp size which is 1280x720, I'll hit OK. And then I'll move this below and under the Modes column I'll tell this to use the above layer as a Luma Matte. And what I end up with is that if I turn that on you can see it's the wrong direction, it's the reverse of that, so I have to switch that and go Luma Inverted Matte.

Now what I have is a splat that is perfectly isolated and you could see that it starts off with nothing, and then boom, there is my splat and I've got perfect transparency. Now you'll notice that near the edges of my image some of the little tiny paint splats are getting cut off near the edge. So rather than to see that cut off in the pre comp that we are going to be using this in, I want to make sure that I don't see any of those little tiny splats get cut off near the edges. And so on the orange solid I am going to create a mask. And if I hit the letter G on the keyboard and that brings up the Pen tool and I am going to turn on RotoBezier, and I am going to trace a very rough outline that is not smooth at all.

And I want to do it so enlarge this window. Let's turn off the Transparency previous so it's easier to see what's going on. And those flat edges are what I want to avoid. So I am going to start here and on the solid layer and I'm going to just draw a very loose non-straight path all the way around my object. And it doesn't really matter; the thing I am trying to avoid is cutting off any paint splats, so I am just kind of picking the path of least resistance through the dots. There maybe one or two that get cut off and that's okay, be much cleaner than the whole edges that we're going around.

And I think the trick is to make sure that you have it as irregular as possible, so that you don't really have a noticeable pattern like a straight edge. And when I deselect that you can see I've got a great looking splat edge and it looks like none of them are cut off. So now when I scrub through this, you can see that it goes splat and we've got a nice little splat that's self contained in this area. Okay, now the next thing that I want to do is to center this splat up. I'm going to take the movie file and I want my splat to show up here in the center.

So if I hit Command+R or Ctrl+R on the keyboard to bring up the rulers and I drag my ruler to the very center, and then I'm going to take the movie file and I'll hit V on the keyboard to get the Move tool, and I am going to drag that movie file over. Oops undo--I accidentally dragged just the movie file, I want to grab the movie file and the solid so they travel together. And I am going to bring that over so that the splat is right in the center of this composition, that's going to really easy to move things around when I get into the 3D space. And so there you're going to see it, it hits right in the middle. Nice! So now I can go back to my main composition, the goo composition, and I can bring in my splat.

And if I go to my Splat PRE and drag it in, I'm going to put it right here below the goo and above the blue room. When I do that, I need to find where the splat starts, there it is. So it's not a 3D layer yet, so what I need to do is make it a 3D layer. So let's start off by turning it on as a 3D layer. And I don't need these lights anymore I am going to turn them both off. And the next thing I want to do is to rotate that splat so it's in the right position and orientation. So let's bring up P to start off with, and let's raise this up a bit so we can see it.

Let's start by changing the Position to 0 by 0 by 0, and then we'll bring up the Rotation hitting R on the keyboard and raise that up again. I want to change the Orientation to 270 on X only. Now what I can do is scrub forward in time, until it hits. You'll notice that there is the paint splat right exactly where it needs to go. And it's a little bit small right now so let's scale it up, take that paint splat and I am going to hit the letter S to bring up the scale. And let's scale it up so it's little bigger.

Now the only thing we need to do now is figure out if the timing is right. And it seems like it might be, boom. Let's do a little RAM Preview to see. I'll hit 0 on the numeric keypad. (video playing) I think that's actually pretty good from a timing standpoint. What I want to do is I might tighten it up just a little bit with a little bit of time remapping. We're getting this weird thing at the end and that's because the composition is actually longer than the camera file, so what I'll do is move it to the end there and bring that in, so that when next time we RAM Preview we won't run out of space there.

Now I can bring up the Time Remapping, I'll hit Command+Option+T on the Splat PRE layer or Ctrl+Alt+T. That brings up the Time Remapping keyframes for that. And I'm going to start off by finding out where the splat starts at, and it starts right about there. There we go. And I am going to add a keyframe for that, and let's drag it backward in time and find out where the splat finishes and it seems to be right about there. And now what I'll do is add another keyframe and let's center the layer up.

And I want to tighten these up just a bit, and so let's take these and drag them forward, there we go and then drag that one backward just a bit. That's going to have it be just a little bit speedier on its reveal. Nice! I think that's going to work out just fine. The last thing I want to do is adjust the color of the goo so that it matches the color of the paint splat. And the way I'll do that is using the CC Toner plugin.

So I select the Goo PRE and go to the Effects, and then go to Color Correction and then CC Toner, that's going to turn it kind of brownish at first. Then I am going to click on the Eyedropper for the midtones and sample that orange color. And then on the Highlights I am going to do the same thing. On the Shadows I'll do the same thing as well. And when I do that that washes it out a lot and so I'll take the Shadows, and then just darken them down just a bit, not too much, hit OK, and now we've got a great looking orange kind of glowey paint blob that hits its mark.

Now you notice that the Shadows are a little bit thick right there, they feel kind of heavy and oppressive. So if I go to the Shadow Pass and hit T on the keyboard, and I'll bring down the Opacity on the Shadows, that'll make it not quite as dense. There we go. I think it's going to feel a lot better. Splat! Let's do a little RAM Preview and see how that looks. (video playing) Now you notice you're hearing the audio? Let's that turn that audio off and that was on Splat PRE. And we can preview again without all of that extra noise.

So that paint splat was just shot in a few minutes in my driveway and you can see it gives a really great result. Using little bits of video in your animation projects gives them a sense of energy and realism that's nearly impossible to create with software alone. Today's digital cameras make it super easy to do. If you're uncomfortable using a video camera, check out the Fundamentals of Video: Cameras and Shooting from Anthony Artis right here on That's it for this edition of Design in Motion. Keep it moving and I'll see you next time.

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