What isn’t a compositor might be a better question to ask but let’s keep this article on point. In short a compositor is responsible for fusing together elements such as live action footage, 3d animation, stock footage and other sources into a single picture. Sometimes the goal is photo-realism for a motion picture and other times the goal is to exaggerate the world for a TV spot.
A good comparison might be the job of a weldor. Wikipedia has a curious description that I found particularly useful:
“Welders typically have to have good dexterity and attention to detail, as well as some technical knowledge about the materials being joined and best practices in the field.”
In order to complete some shots, a compositor might take on other responsibilities such as modeling and rendering a 3D object or element. Similarly, a weldor might need to fabricate a special tool or object needed for a custom vehicle manipulation.
When a weldor is combining various parts of a bicycle frame, it is important that the parts are fused together properly or the bicycle might just fall apart. Much like a visual effects shot that is not sound, you may see it fall apart on screen.
Knowing the tools and understanding the related jobs of this industry might just answer questions you didn’t know you had. Never stop learning and developing new techniques.
Wikipedia also has a note regarding weldors:
“Welders are also often exposed to dangerous gases and particulate matter.”
But I won’t get into that.
After Effects lights can be moved around in 3D space but a lens flare effect can only move in 2D space on the X and Y axis. So how can you add a 2d lens flare to a 3D moving light?
The secret is using a simple expression on the “Flare Center” of the lens effect.
1. Alt Click on Flare Center stop watch to add expression
2. Type this in the expression box:
NOTE: Just change “Light 1” to the name of your light.
This tip can be found in the bump map tutorial around 6:15 for those who would like to see it in action. View Tutorial
Dan Ebberts has an ever useful “3D Lens Flare” case study on his website that includes distance falloff. Check that out.
Here is an anamorphic lens flare project too.
As we get closer to launching Action Essentials 2, I have been developing a simple guideline for better compositing that is broken down to 7 key points. This is by no means a ‘complete’ guide for every scenario but it should be a good place to start. I plan on detailing many of these techniques in the future but here is a basic overview. If you have some tips that have helped you out in the field, please share them in the comments below.
I call it: P.E.R.F.E.C.T.
Here’s another use for the Disintegration Tutorial techniques in a motion graphics example. I used a little bit of shine or a Radial Blur to create a lighting effect as it burns or blows away. You can even play around with the colors to create a magical burn away as well. This tutorial has a cool method for creating light beams if you’re interested.
Keep experimenting and have fun!
The font is called Avalon Quest!
UPDATE: Green screen footage uploaded for Disintegration Tutorial project.
I sometimes make comps at 24 frames per second instead of 23.976 inside of my tutorials but some people have asked, “What is the correct frame rate for film?” Well, there are a lot of various situations to consider but here are a few good rules.
- The frame rate for digital film work is 23.976 so you should use this if you are making a cinematic commerical or movie about robots.
- Some video editing applications abbreviate 23.976 as 23.98 but AE requires the more specific frame rate.
- Film or not, you should work at the frame rate of your source material.
- Non-standard frame rates such as 12 and 15 are great for creating animations for the web or even flash.
- If you have multiple fps sources try to conform things to your output format.
The reason I sometimes use 24 fps instead of 23.976 is probably because I’m lazy and web video can be non-standard without many problems. Of course, it is probably good practice to use standard frame rates so that you can easily author to DVD or Blu-ray. Hope this helps but be sure to investigate your specific workflow, so that you don’t run into problems in the middle of a project. Remember PAL & NTSC standards may vary.
For anyone using CC Particle World instead of Particular, you may know that Particular’s Turbulent Field is not available. This feature allows random 3D displacement of a particles position. A similar effect can be achieved with Particle World by adding a TURBULENT DISPLACE effect. It works best with smaller particle and it has some limitations because it is only 2D but it is a nice way to get away from “perfect” particle movement.
I stumbled upon a recently published list of Tips for motion graphics folks by Computer Arts. There is tons of great advice I’m sure you will find useful. So I started thinking, without restating any of these tips (intentionally), I could make a top 10 list, maybe even 20. So here it is! -5 more.
1. Make Proxies of Elements
Designs can be complex, often times an element is used or reused that can be very heavy on rendering. For example, this circular element contains a heavy radial blur that renders very slow. Other parts of the design still require work and you should not have to waste extra time. So I created a full resolution proxy of the element I could output as well.
In the render settings, there is an option for the proxy use, to use none or current settings. Of course if you really need to change the design element, just disable the proxy and have at it. This is also a great idea for pre-comps and things that are somewhat “finished”.
2. King of the Kaps lock
Have you ever noticed how fast you can move around in After Effects with the Caps Lock on? It’s because rendering is disabled however, you can still do almost everything. In big compositions (even small ones) this can save time navigating, editing clips and even keyframin’ without any tax. There is also the Live Update button but this way is much better. Practice using your pinky and toggle on!
3. Watch your Video Someplace Else
Change your scenery and watch a quicktime on another computer or on your desktop outside of AE, perhaps in the presence of another person. You will look at things in a new way revealing aspects you may have overlooked and you might even get some constructive criticism too. At which point you tell your wife to get here things and leave.
4. Safe Experimentation
Do you like what you have created so far but want to try something risky? Duplicate your composition and continue working from the copy. No regrets just a free and open mind.
5. Be Ambitious but not Unrealistic
When working for a client, plan your project carefully. Don’t put all your time into 1 shot and assume the rest can be pulled together last minute. Leave extra time to finesse the end result. For example, a 3d scene can look great with some GI and refractions and all that jazz but rendering will be a nightmare and re-rendering is a nightmare you can actually die in. You can make things look great with standard rendering and creative lighting so don’t be lazy here.
A commercial isn’t usually judged on the best part but rather what is lacking. Remember this, with today’s technology, you can create anything imaginable, but deadlines are a reality and you don’t want to shoot and miss.
Sometimes during my work in AE, I solve little problems and add them to memory without telling anyone. Well before I forget, I want to make a short list. You’ll probably see more posts like this now that I have an outlet. These may be simple but I found them to be quite useful and allowed me to break certain routines.
1. Fade in Fade out Adjustments:
So you have a video element that has 2 keyframes in the beginning that fade the clip in and 2 more at the end to fade it out. Now you want to lower the opacity but you normally have to adjust both keyframes. Instead I just add an expression by alt clicking the stopwatch and typing value*.5 this cuts all values by 50 percent.
2. Helping Failed Renders due to image buffer errors:
Often times HD projects will fail on render due to image buffer errors or all sorts of things. Here are a couple things to try during clutch situations.
- Change the AE secret preference to purge after 1-4 frames. (hold down SHIFT while accessing the edit menu/preferences. The “Secret” menu appears.
- Another thing to try is render to an image sequence like PNG or TIFF, this way if the render fails when going to a QuickTime, you still have good frames that you can add to by rendering the incomplete portion.
- Another thing to try (if you have access) is loading your project into a 64bit machine since it can handle more memory and actually allowed me to finish a render when my 32bit machine couldn’t.
3. Working Late
Order a pizza before they close so that you can have a late snack after most places close. Be considerate of toppings that will still taste good after refrigeration. When you have rendering problems they can last all night but then you pull out a cheesy friend and somehow it’s not so bad.
Film grain is a necessary part of visual effects and used commonly in motion graphics to add a more natural look. After Effects has great tools for adding film grain that are based on real 35mm film stock. The only problem is that it renders very slow! There is an alternative plug-in called noise that creates nice random but somewhat sparatic grain that can look a bit ‘digital’. The add grain is a much more fluid formula. Only problem is that it renders very SLOW!
What I like to do is create a grain video loop that I can place on top of my video with the overlay transfer mode. Similar to our free fast film grain preset found here, except the quality of the grain is much better.
When matching grain of CG elements with Live Action footage it is sometimes hard to see grain detail in dark areas for accurate matching. What you can apply a temporary adjustment layer to the top of your comp and add the equalize filter. This makes it easier to see the grain frequency more clearly. Yay!
- Create a new comp that is 150 frames
- Apply Add Grain and adjust the settings to your taste
- Render the video out to quickTime PhotoJPG
- Import to AE and set the loop to 10 in the interpret settings
In addition to After Effects there are other great tools I found myself using frequently on this latest project:
This great little After Effects plug-in makes it easy to add environments to 3D scenes and saves a ton of time. I use it almost as much as Particular. www.Trapcode.com
Probably the best tool for creating realistic blur for individual layers or by using a depth matte. http://www.frischluft.com/lenscare/lenscare.php
This program is hard to describe but I use it to create spherical environment from digital still images to create 3d Environments and backgrounds. http://www.hdrshop.com/ Learn as much as you can on this subject it is great.
This tool makes shooting still images for panoramic easy and consistent. Be sure to check it out all the helpful resources within.
One of the things I like to do is take something that exists in the real world and try to recreate it digitally. In this example, I extracted the helicopter on the right and replaced it with my helicopter. The key was matching the lighting, color, blur, and grain of the original shot. What is really great about this technique is having a reference for what things are supposed to look like. Then when you are working on a 100% CG shot you will have the proper chops… I mean skills to get it done. These kind of excercises will give you that real world experience needed to become a great compositor.
Here is a great site where you can watch intro title sequences for feature films. Get ready to be inspired!
Be sure to check out our forum for other inspirational links or post some of our own.
Here is a fun method for creating translucent glass frames in After Effects that I”m working on.
When I record this tutorial I’ll probably add a little more detail to make it look even better. Although the simplicity makes it very interesting and who knows maybe for the tutorial I’ll go out of my way to make it look worse just for fun. You never know : ) Enjoy.
In this new (not-so-short) Short-Cuts Episode we’ll take a look at creating sparks in AE with CC Particle World and uncover some hidden features as well. This tutorial uses the new Per-Charachter 3D in AE CS3.
Be sure to stay tuned to the end for a sneak preview.
Our first Short-Cuts episode is online. Now there is an outlet for all the little things that would otherwise get buried in my backyard.
In this new Short-Cut tutorial, I’ll cover a cool tip for generating bump mapping with 3D light as well as utilizing 3D position with 2D effects.
This one ran a little long but in the future expect 1-5 minute videos with short tips and tricks.
Here is a sample of what’s coming up on Video Copilot. The idea is to make your CG objects cast shadows in the real world. The first image shows a Text Layer in AE casting a shadow on the street using a transparent solid layer. The second example is a 3D object with a matte/shadow material on a floor plane. This material allows only the shadow to render on the object so you are able composite in a live action scene.
Years back, I was working for a studio on a very complicated shot. The supervisor explained what was needed and provided the source material. After a moment of reluctance I was suddenly hit with a rather impressive solution.
The supervisor was still standing over me and I began to explain my brilliant solution. Then while in the middle of divulging this master plan, he interrupted and asked “So you’re all set?” I replied “Yeah, no problem”, and then he said “Great!” as he walked away.
I wanted to explain to him my incredible solution and further impress upon him that I was a valuable member of the team. But he didn’t want to hear it; he wanted to see the shot finished.
The following morning after dailies, he casually told me “Nice job with your shot.” as we all walked to our posts. There was no congratulatory announcement or trophy at my station, just a friendly “nice-job” in passing. If they only knew what I went through.
Then later, I was asked to come back on another project so I guess they liked the work after all, despite the lack of my creative explanations.
I learned that supervisors don’t really care how you get your work done; they just want to see it completed. They have other things to do just like you so don’t worry that your hard-work will go unnoticed because it won’t.
Soon you’ll be known as the guy that gets things done, and that is like the MVP of VFX.
When you create a title or graphic in After effects, you may want to composite the render over footage in your editing application instead of AE. To do this you need to simply export your video with the alpha/transparency information.
To render it this way, add your comp tot the render queue (be sure to have no background layer) and use QuickTime as the output format. Select a codec like Animation or PNG and be sure to change the depth to RGB + Alpha. This option is not available for all codecs.
Some editing applications like Vegas video require you to set the properties of the footage to premultiplied so that it will interpret the transparency correctly.
Getting back to Motion Graphics…
I’m working on a new tutorial that will demonstrate practical ways to use gravity and give mass and elasticity to layers.
I know I haven’t been posting as often but I’m working on some important website updates before we transfer to the new Dedicated Servers. These updates will make it easier for me to post more frequently and some other great features you’ll just have to wait and see. I still plan to release a new tutorial every week; although this one may be out on Tuesday or so. Of course, don’t worry if there isn’t a new tutorial one week, just go outside and play some hopscotch. And I’ll let you know when the little Kramer is here. Tick-tock.
Wouldn’t it be cool to turn a simple photograph into a 3D scene? It can be done. Basically you arrange several white solids in 3D space to resemble the shape of your photographed room. Then using a 3D light you can ‘project’ the image onto the walls with Light Transmission. Now you can use a camera to move around the room.
NOTE: The video below was created from a single image. Only 2 white solids where used, one for the floor and one for the wall. Additional solids can be used to create more walls as needed.
In the new After Effects CS3 there is a feature that allows you to use PhotoShop to create a similar effect called Vanishing Point. Obviously if someone is standing in the room it messes up the illusion. Ideally you would want to have a simple scene that could be composed using square solids.
I was going to record the tutorial tonight but I’m not feeling so hot, but I will try to have it ready for tuesday (tomorrow) and the Earth Zoom for next week and the meaning of life the week after. Needless to say, this is a trick that everyone should at least know about.