Creative lighting can have a big effect on the beauty of a shot, especially in the areas of vignetting, hot spots, and highlights. In Lighting Tricks in After Effects, instructors Chris and Trish Meyer demonstrate how to alter the lighting of already-shot footage and text animations in After Effects. Although it involves the use of 3D lights, no prior knowledge of 3D space is necessary; this trick works on stationary full-frame footage as well as 3D elements.
- Creating vignettes and metallic looks using simple 3D light tricks
- Working with the Layers Material options
- Applying lighting effects to text, including Specular and Shininess
Skill Level Intermediate
- [Instructor] Hi, this is Chris Meyer of CypberMotion, and I want to show you some lighting tricks inside After Effects, some ways to create vignettes, and some ways to create some really interesting hot overexposed looks. Also ways to create nice metallic or shiny reflective looks in After Effects. Now all of these do use 3D lights in After Effects, but this does not mean you need to go flying about in 3D space or have an understanding of how to create 3D models or even create a 3D world. These are very simple tricks that you can use on full-frame footage or simple text layers. So let's go ahead and dive in.
Now here I have a very simple composition with a single 2D full frame video layer. Let's go ahead and add a new light to this. Do Layer, New, Light. The keyboard shortcut is Command + Option + Shift or Control + Alt + Shift + L for light. Now you get these light settings, and there is no default light. It always remembers the last light you created. For this effect, we'll be using a spotlight as it's the most flexible light, and we'll create the sort of vignetting that we like. We'll start with intensity at 100%.
Cone angle 90 is how wide the light is spread. That's a good starting point. Cone feather, 50% is a good starting point too. And I'll start with a color of white. We can change any of these later but these are good starting points. Click OK, and we get a warning from After Effects. Cameras and lights do not affect 2D layers. To light any layers in After Effects you do need to put them into 3D space but it's not that hard. Click OK. There's my light, here's my layer in After Effects, and all I need to do is enable the 3D layer switch for this particular layer.
Click it on. The layer doesn't move in space but now we have the effects of our lighting. Now we have quite a severe drop off, quite a severe vignetting going on. Let's tweak that up a little bit. Let's start to light, and first off let's make the light a lot easier to control. Spotlights normally have two points to them, the back of the light, which we can move around, and the light's point of interest, which is where the light is aiming. Now steering both of these can be like steering both ends of a long fire truck, and we don't need that complexity for this effect, so pick Layer in After Effects seven, look underneath Transform, and open the Auto-Orient dialog, and the keyboard shortcut is Command + Option + O on Mac or Control + Alt + O on Windows.
I'll turn auto-orientation off. Click OK, and now we can just move our light by picking up the back and moving it around. When you move lights in After Effects, if you see one of these little arrows turn up like X, Y, or Z, you're going to be moving it only in that axis, but to freely move a light, just move the cursor just a little bit off the center to where you don't see a letter, and just pick it up and drag it. So here I've got it centered over the eye. Now I want to open it up so I can see more of my image.
With the light layer selected, type P for position just like any other layer. This third parameter is its Z depth, it's position in Z space, forward and backwards. And we just need to scrub this value to go ahead and back off the light in space. There we've backed it off a little bit so we have little bit more of a vignette effect. Now go ahead and pick up the light and recenter it. Now beyond positioning you can go ahead and change a lot about how this light is feathered and how wide of a cone of light it casts.
There's a couple ways of opening the light's parameters. You can double click and get the same dialog you had when you created a light, or if you want to play around with things inside the timeline panel, select the light and type AA. I joke that AA stands for Animators Anonymous 'cause you are getting in deep when you get into this stuff. The light's cone angle is how broadly it broadcasts the light, and so you can go ahead and tighten up your spotlight or broaden it out a little bit. And let's go ahead and tighten it down a little bit just so we can see what we're doing. Then cone feather is how the light falls off.
If we go ahead and increase the feather we have a nice soft fall off. It almost always takes away from how broad the light is broadcast. It doesn't necessarily make it wider. Or if we go down to a very small feather we can go all the way to a very hard edge spotlight. For vignetting effect you might want something fairly soft. I'm going to go ahead and crank this up. Let's go ahead and increase our cone angle. And there's our nice little vignetting look. Not too bad. Okay, so here's the real trick to lights. See this intensity parameter? You might think it can only go down and you might think its maximum is 100%, but in reality you can crank up lights beyond 100%, and as you start doing that you start getting these really bright burned out overexposed looks, really interesting special effects that you might normally have to shoot that way, but it's easy to add this after the fact to any footage in After Effects.
Now the thing with lights is that their default of 100% intensity, they tend to reduce the amount of illumination inside the composition. This is with no lighting, this is with the light turned on. It has to do with the way that the light's being reflected back to your eye. By increasing the intensity you can compensate for this. So even if you don't want these bright blown out looks, you may find yourself increasing intensity beyond 100% just to create a more pleasing more aesthetic look to it. The cone angle is a very similar effect to moving the light back and forth in Z space.
I'm going to hit Shift + P to reveal position as well, and again this is a way of tightening up the light. When you're doing something very simple like full screen video such as this, you can use either the Z position or the cone angle to go ahead and control how wide the light is cast. No big difference. The second thing I want to point out is if all you want to do is edit just the intensity of the light, select the light and hit T, same as opacity, this time it's T for intensity, and that will reveal just the intensity parameter.