Join Chris Meyer for an in-depth discussion in this video 3D lighting, part of After Effects Apprentice: 16 Creating a Medical Opening Title.
Although we've placed all the elements of the opening title in 3D space, we are yet to use 3D light in the scene. As result a lot of the lighting is all pretty flat because all of these layers keep their original illumination. There is no fall off, there is no shadows, etcetera. That's not a bad way to go, because it means you can see all of your sources and you don't need to spend potentially a long time setting up and correcting the lighting in your scene. However, I do like the drama the 3D lights can add, particularly for vignetting effect, which will bring the viewer's attention to the center of the frame and darken the corners, so they don't look at that quite as much.
So let's walk through how would you add a 3D light to this particular composition. I'm going to twirl up some of my layers just to clean things up and add a Layer>New>Light. A spotlight is the most versatile one, because you have a Cone Angle and Cone Feather, which gives you a lot of control over vignetting of the corners. I almost always start with the Color of white and I quite often set my Intensity to higher than 100%. If you don't have a perfect angle between the light, layer, and camera, an Intensity of 100% would actually under light your scene. So I tend to start around 120, 125%.
I'm going to leave light Fall Off off for now, in addition to Cast Shadows. First, I'll get a basic vignetting that I like and then I'll work on adding these parameters as well. I'll click OK. And my extra videos immediately went dark, it's probably a problem with my light position. So I'll go back to my 4 Views and I see that my light is indeed off to the side and really close to some of these layers. I think it will better for me to parent my light to my camera so that as the camera moves across the scene, the light moves with it.
So I'll press Shift+F4 to bring open the Parenting Column, Select my camera as my parent, Type P to reveal the position of the light and Shift+A to reveal it's point of interest. I want to zero out offsets between my light and my camera so they're both aimed the same way in X and Y, and this way they're also aimed straight at the scene. I am also going to set the back of my light, to be it where the back of the camera is.
Now you can see where the light is in relation to the camera and now I have an evenly lit scene. I'll go back to 1 View, so I can see my active camera view more clearly, then type AA to reveal the light's 3D parameters. I can play around with things such as the Cone Angle and Cone Feather to design how much of vignetting I want in this particular scene. I might want just a little bit of darkening of the edges to bring the attention to the center. This is without the light, this is with the light.
You can see where it really transfers where the viewer is are looking. Instead of all round, this brings them towards the center of where the camera is also aimed. That really helps when the title animates on. Without, with. You really see where our attention is now. Now look at this early on in my project as well, yes, I do think I like the drama, a little bit of 3D lighting adds to the scene. Okay. Next, let's play with Light Fall Off. This was introduced in After Effects CS5.5.
If you have CS5, I'm afraid you won't have this parameter, but if you have 5.5 or later, it gives you the ability to decide how much illumination the foreground layers get, versus the background. I'll set the Fall Off to Smooth, this is the most controllable, let's me decide when the light starts falling off and where it stops falling off. Again, immediately things go dark. The light is only extending from 500 to 1000 pixels out from my current light position and that's not enough. So I'm going to scrub up the radius until the light's start point reaches those video layers.
Now we've got some nice illumination on those foreground video elements. Next, I need to bump the Fall Off distance to reach the back layer and then I can decide how much I want to light that back layer. I'm going to hold the Shift Key down to scrub by larger increments and I can decide what to do. If I have a bit of Fall Off, you can see I can under illuminate the background which makes the videos and font pop even more, or I can go ahead and extend my Fall Off distance so the background gets illuminated brightly as well.
I think I'm going to compromise in between these two, just to knock down the background a little bit and help transfer more of my attention to the foreground. Again, this is without lighting, this is with lighting. This helps further focus the viewer's attention onto what we want them to be looking at, the foreground layers and eventually the opening title. Lastly, there are shadows, and shadows can be a bit tricky to set up. I went ahead and cheated and just used a Drop Shadow Effect to have the foreground videos cast shadows on the background etcetera.
Let's try doing that with actual lighting. I'm going to go down to my Video layers, Type E to reveal their effects. I see they all have a drop shadow. I am going to turn off their effects for now. If I decide, I don't need those effects later, I'll delete them, but this just gives me a temporary switch while I'm deciding how things are working out. I need to set my lights to cast shadows, but I also need to set all those video layers to cast shadows. I'll select one of them, Type AA and it reveals 3D parameters.
I can click on casts shadows to toggle it, then copy and paste that parameter to other layers, or I can use the shortcut of Opt+Shift+C on MAC Alt+Shift+C on Windows for casts. And that will toggle it off and on. I'll select my other video layers, and type Opt+Shift+C or Alt+Shift+C so they cast shadows as well. Next, is fine tuning how that shadow looks. Initially, I have a shadow darkness of 60. I'm going to put that up to 100 to see what's going on, and a Shadow Diffusion of 0.
That means I'll initially have very sharp shadows. I'm not seeing a big difference here of with and without shadows. It's not giving me the effect that I want. Well, here's an important thing about lights and shadows and it has to do with the shadow's size. When the camera is at the same location as the light, any shadow cast by a layer will be the same size as the layer itself. If you want your shadow to be larger than the layer casting the shadow, then the light needs to be further away from the scene than the camera is.
To make that happen, I'm going to type Shift+P to bring up the position of the light. I'll start scrubbing it, so it's further back in space compared to the camera, my shadows will start to grow in size, and now I can see the shadows appearing on the background as well as in between the layers. So let's fine tune a look of maybe around there, I'll go to one view again just to see with more detail what I'm doing. That's kind of interesting, maybe around there. Then I'll start adding Shadow Diffusion to soften that shadow, make it bloom out a little bit.
This will add to your render times, but it's better than a hard edge shadow. And then the last thing I might do is reduce the shadow darkness, so it's not a completely inky black dark shadow, maybe somewhere around -- there is a good effect. So again, without shadows, with shadows, without 3D light, with 3D light. It takes a little bit to set up, but it does add drama to your scene.
The After Effects Apprentice series was created by Trish and Chris Meyer. These tutorials are designed for After Effects CS4 through CC, and can be used on their own or as a companion to the Meyer's book, After Effects Apprentice.
- Animating to music
- Arranging layers in 3D space
- Performing time stretches
- Working with 3D camera tracking
- Typesetting and animating text
- Adding effects like drop shadows and motion blur
- Creating and animating shape layers
- Building and delivering a broadcast package