Join Eran Stern for an in-depth discussion in this video Integrating 3D renders with After Effects, part of After Effects Breakdowns: N-Trig Commercial.
- [Voiceover] I must admit that this project is massive in its scope. Each After Effects composition consists of several layers, solids, adjustment layers, Illustrator or Photoshop multi-layered documents, and dozens of animated layers. All of those are arranged in a handful of precomps inside precomps inside of other precomps and I think that you get the drift. In some cases, we will see layers, or effects, which are not active, and by that I mean that their visibility switch is turned off.
Apparently, this is a result of exploring different design directions and testing a few alternatives. Some of them didn't make it to the finish line, and were only futile attempts. I revised this project a bit so it will be easy to understand, but made an effort to leave those experiments intact so you get a chance to see the real process. Anyway, let's dig in now, starting with this line sequence composition. It will help us to understand the transition from ink to paper, and especially learn how to integrate 3D renders with After Effects 3D compositions.
So, I'm going to double-click on this line sequence composition. Then I'm going to select this paper precomp, double-click on it, and then I'm going to press on the grave or tilde key, in order to fill the screen with this timeline. For the moment, I'm going to turn off a few layers so it will be easy to concentrate on the task at hand. What I want to show you now is this 3D render line. So I'm going to double-click on it and open it in its own window, and I'm going to also go to the beginning and create a RAM preview, so you can get a sense of what we are about to explore.
So this is the beginning of the movie, where we see the blue line on a piece of paper, and the camera is tracking its movement and closing in on this texture, until we're actually diving into the ink. And this serves, of course, as the base for the first transition from ink to paper. This animation was done using Autodesk Maya, and was rendered using a sequence of EXR files. Now, EXR, or OpenEXR, is a deep raster format developed by ILM, and it's used broadly in the computer graphics industry, both for visual effects and animation.
What's special about it is that it offers more precision, and it supports 16 bits per channel, and it can hold more than the usual four channels. So more than red, green, blue, and alpha, such as depth, for example, velocity or vector information. In other cases, there may be entire render passes all folded into one single EXR file. It's also known, at least to my experience, to be more stable when working inside After Effects, so I'd rather work with this file format rather than the RLA, RPF or Softimage .PIC, which are also formats that can hold more than four channels.
Anyway, I'm going to stop the RAM preview. The reason for using this method here is that it offers, actually, the most flexible way to work, meaning that if you find some mistakes down the line, since you are rendering to a sequence of frames, you can actually just replace these frames and this is exactly what happens over here. So we can see that the first pass, over here, layer number seven, was actually used until frame 263, and then there were a couple of errors, so in order to fix those errors, instead of rendering the whole bunch, for example, frame number 264 was replaced over here, and you can see that in this composition, this is the correct frame, instead of the frame that was rendered originally.
Now we are continuing to use the same sequence and here in the end, we also have got two more fixes, so frame number 284 and 285 were rendered separately in order to solve this problem. Now, everything that you are seeing coming from the 3D was actually rendered in black and white, or more of a sepia look. The color that we are seeing here is based on this solid layer, so what we have over here is just a simple solid layer.
If I'm going to press T, we can see that the opacity was set to 20%, and the blending mode is Screen. If I'm going to turn it off, we can see the original black and white or sepia render, this was coming out of the 3D software, and then we are colorizing it over here inside After Effects, using this solid, and this method is going to be used across several compositions when we are going to explore them. So I just want you to pay attention.
Now, I'm just going to climb up one level to this paper comp. Remember, this was the comp that I switched off a couple of layers, and I do want you to pay attention to this camera, and the name of it is cameraShape2. If I'm going to press U, we can see that this is what's known to be a baked camera, meaning that all the 3D movement that the 3D camera had in their 3D software, in this case, Autodesk Maya, were translated to After Effects using this baked camera.
And just so you know, you can export baked camera directly from Maya to After Effects and you will get all the keyframes and all the 3D coordinates. So this is a very cool and easy way to match other layers, and you will see that other layers are using it down the line, using the movement that was already built inside the 3D software. You can use the same method in order to export null objects, and then you can replace them with solids or just use their 3D coordinate system, or you can actually replace them with lights.
And this is what was done here, you see this Emitter light is actually a light that was exported from that 3D package, and later on we are going to use this 3D light in order to drive the particle system over here. So the conclusion is that when you are working with 3D software such as Autodesk Maya, Autodesk 3ds Max, or MAXON Cinema 4D, always remember to export your baked camera with lights and null objects to After Effects.
This way, you can easily match it up later when the time comes to add more elements in the compositing stage, and I'll show you the first example of how you may want to do this in the next movie.
The featured product is the N-trig pen, a digital pen that "draws the line from idea to technology." You will reverse engineer the finished project to understand the practical steps and creative decisions the filmmakers made along the way.
Eran Stern shows how to decode a client brief, present design concepts for signoff, create previsualizations and animatics, and then transition the design to After Effects. Many of the effects, such as dust layers, streaks of light, and geometric lines, are achieved using some of Eran's favorite third-party plugins (Particular, Form, and Plexus). The lessons are full of practical examples for broadcast television as well as online distribution. Along the way, Eran weaves in tips, shortcuts, and professional techniques that will amaze both veteran After Effects users and new motion graphics artists.
- Analyzing a client brief
- Presenting to a client
- Creating animatics
- Integrating 3D renders with After Effects
- Animating lines and particle effects
- Creating an animated paper-to-digital transition
- Modeling a digital pen with third-party plugins