Join Chris Meyer for an in-depth discussion in this video Cartoon Effect, part of After Effects CS4 New Creative Techniques.
Perhaps the most interesting of the new effects introduced in CS4 is the Cartoon effect. What this does is take your live-action footage and make it look like it was filled by hand with color. Now, there have been other cartoon- style effects from others in the past. What makes this one different is, well, one, it's free with After Effects CS4 and it's accelerated by the GPU, the video card inside your computer. So it's rather snappy. Let's try it out. I'll select my footage and apply Effect > Stylize > Cartoon. The first parameter I play around with is Fill, Shading Steps. I might reduce it to get a good color combination or color balance in the image. For me the sweet spot's between 2 and 3, these are where I get these really bright colors that I personally like.
The second parameter I like to adjust are the Edge, Threshold and Width. That reduces the prominence of these black lines around the face and other edges in the image. By reducing the Threshold, you can see we've reduced number of lines in the image, and we can also play around with how thin or thick those lines are. So now we have an image that's a bit more pleasing on the eye. The third set of parameters I go after are the Detail Radius and the Detail Threshold. That decides how realistic or how flat-shaded this looks. If I go to some extremes, you can see I get a very flat-shaded look, very, very smoothed out, almost surreal looking.
Somewhere in between is where I can decide how much detail I have got, particularly in the face and in the line, it gives me more of a look that I'm after. And again, this is very iterative, you can go back up to Shading Steps and control just what sort of color and breakdown you have in here, maybe a different look right in that area and then Shading Smoothness, whether or not you want this very highly-detailed look or something as just little bit of detail, a little bit smoother to look like that. Now I mentioned edges earlier and this is an area in which you can refine further by twirling down the advanced section of this plug-in. Here you can go ahead and play around with the Edge Black Level, the Edge Contrast and really tweak this out a bit more to give more the look that you are after.
Let's move onto this second example and I will show you some corrective things you may need to do with Cartoon. Here's another live video. I will select the footage and apply Effect > Cartoon. Remember the most recently applied effect is always at the top of the Effect menu. And you see, again we have the black lines and a lot of darkness in the background and I will scrub through here to see how this looks. Now I can make my same adjustments in terms of Shading Steps, Edge Threshold, overall the image is very, very dark looking. Well, don't be afraid to pre-process the image before you apply cartoon.
In this case I'll apply Effect > Color Correction > Levels. Place Levels before Cartoon and play around with the Gamma and the White point to go ahead and change what sort of colors are being shoved into Cartoon in the first place. By pulling down the Input White to right where the activity starts in the image I already have a more balanced kind of result. And again, I can play with Gamma just to tweak what range of colors Cartoon is going to give me in the end. And now I have got something that's rendered much more like a pastel than my original result without the Levels effect. Before and after, so don't be afraid to pre-process your footage before playing around with Cartoon.
Now the one other thing I will point out is you may notice that there is some brightness going on around the edges of this image. That's an artifact of Cartoon's processing hitting the very edge of your frame. If you're going to do this for web video, you might want to take your image and scale it up very slightly, just to get those edges cropped off by the edge of your composition and so you won't see them on web video. I'm going to go back to my first example. I'm going to go ahead and Reset Cartoon, and say well, what if I'm not feeling particularly inspired today or what if I'm having trouble getting a good look out of Cartoon? Well, don't forget in After Effects CS3, they introduced this function called Brainstorm. What Brainstorm does is give you several variations on your selected effect or selected parameters. And if you want to really play around, then go ahead and increase the Randomness and keep brainstorming until you get different looks, like this is a really interesting posterized look. I'll hit Brainstorm again and keep getting these different variations.
If I see something I like, like these posterized looks, I can say include in the next Brainstorm and continue from there and get variations on that theme. This is a particularly interesting one as well. If you see something you like, go ahead and do Save As New Composition. It will save it off to its own brand new comp and then you can continue to Brainstorm and look for other alternatives. Now, the last tip I'll give you about Cartoon is it doesn't look quite right on live action footage. It's because the frame rate is too high, it's too realistic. Go in to your Composition Settings and play around with lower frame rates, such as 15 or even 12 frames a second to get motion that's more aligned with what a cartoon should look like.
So hopefully, that'll give you some ideas about how to use the Cartoon effect.
Motion graphics artist Chris Meyer, who has used After Effects since version 1, created After Effects CS4 New Creative Techniques to highlight some of the most exciting features in the latest release. These include several new effects; integration with Photoshop 3D layers; and independent control and keyframing of the X, Y, and Z position parameters. The new composition manager and mini-flowchart are big improvements, as are the Flash export features. Enhanced integration with Adobe Device Central greatly eases authoring for mobile devices. Other interesting changes Chris discusses include the newly bundled Mocha tracking and stabilization program, Wiggle transformations for shape layers, and Pixel Bender integration.
- Implementing the new Cartoon, Bilateral Blur, and Turbulent Noise effects Finding assets in a project or the Timeline with QuickSearch Understanding the new pixel aspect ratios (PARs) Working with XMP metadata Using the new splash screen and interface additions