Wednesday, March 1, 2017

3D Tracked Text on Buildings

Recently, I worked on a project for my school that really focused on communicating our mission statement. I had some great interview footage, but I needed a creative way to introduce the viewer. I immediately went to drone, but I wanted something different. Last year's video started with a drone montage, which made it awesome, but that was last year. I needed to take it up a notch. So, I thought I would somehow arrange people, cones, dirt, or whatever I could find to create the big words of our mission statement. Also understand that I was thinking BIG. I mean, if anything is going to show up from a drone shot 100ft above the ground, it has to be pretty big. While flying around our campus and viewing all the new things we had built, I would bring the viewer's attention to the big words in our mission statement: Christ-centered, exemplary, equipping students as disciples and leaders, service and success, and in the 21st Century. Well, with about four weeks left, I brainstormed with a student drone pilot and without me saying anything, he suggested using After Effects to put the text on the ground and even the buildings themselves, brilliant! After that, I went home and started learning. It turns out that it's not that hard. Here's the final product:

Now, I say it was easy, which is somewhat true, but it depends on the surface you're trying to add the text to. Here's what I learned:
  1. The surface that you put text on has to have elements on it that the software can track. The "Service and Success" title at 0:34 was a pain because there's NOTHING (lights, marks, etc.) that would allow the software to add a tracking point. I ended up using tracking points from the windows below and then moving the text until it worked. After a few tries, I got lucky. I wasn't 100% happy with the final text (notice the word Service is slanted), but it was the best I could get.
  2. In order for the software to create 3D tracking points, you need a surface that looks 3D. I had great difficulty adding text to the tennis courts. I had originally put "Equipping Students" on each court, once on each side (8 total). It looks great on the one side but as soon as I duplicated it to go on the other, it wouldn't track right. Since the court was super flat and there wasn't a lot of distinguishable 3D features on the court itself, I think it didn't track well. I tried and tried to get my first plan to work, but I resorted to putting the text long on each end. 
  3. Blending modes really sell the effect. This may seem like a no brainer, but I learned how much a specific blending mode can sell an effect. Stark white text doesn't look good on our baseball field. I even used the dropper to match the color of the baselines, but it still looked out of place. I think it was because no one has text on their infield like that. So, I decided to blend it to make it seem like it was just slightly mowed into the turf or something. It still doesn't look 100% natural, but I like it more than stark white text. The most powerful blend though was the disciples and leaders shot at 0:29. Disciples isn't all that impressive, but leaders is. It had just rained the morning we took the drone shots, and there were a few water puddles on the rooftop. I thought it might be problem, but as soon as I started playing with blending modes, I found one that made the text look like it was below the water puddles. It blended perfectly to sell the effect.  
All in all, I learned a new effect that takes my work to the next level. At this point, I've only added flat words on fields and buildings, but I know that in the future, I could also add 3D text (to fly through or by), and 3D objects. Looking forward to experimenting more in the future.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Light Leaks

I watched an episode of The 100 tonight on Netflix, and I saw something I wanted to know how to do. I didn't know exactly what to search for so I typed in things like After Effects tutorial glow streaks and After Effects tutorial dream scene. As always, search results bring up new ideas for search terms so low and behold, I discovered light leaks. I narrowed my search to light leaks tutorials and voila, I found what I was looking for in this tutorial by Chris Truini. In the tutorial, he basically creates a solid, draws an ellipse mask, drags it off to the side, feathers it quite a bit, and drops the opacity to about 20%. To wrap it up, he adds a wiggle expression to the position, which makes it randomly move around on screen. When finished with one, he duplicates it a couple times, changes some of the parameters and voila, vintage, retro look accomplished.

I haven't mastered it yet, but I opened the door to a new creative avenue. I added five duplicates of the first layer. I moved one to the top, one to the bottom, one on the right third, and a big one that covered the whole shot.

Here's the before and after of the edit. I didn't make it super bold, but there's a bit more of a vintage look on the after video.

In working on this tutorial, I'm reminded that many of the effects that we learn in After Effects aren't mastered in one tutorial. They must be applied to multiple projects before really getting a handle on them. Every project requires a different look and feel, which means that the effect will need to be tweaked. Knowing just how to tweak it requires a great deal of practice.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Animated Pie Charts

After doing yesterday's tutorial on animating circles, I thought I'd look up something more specific relating to making pie charts. I came across this tutorial from ECAbrams. It was more complicated than I thought. Evan Abrams is awesome, and the tutorial was easy to follow as long as I paused occasionally to finish the expressions, but I had a hard time making sense of how he connected all the layers. Basically, I started with one wedge and linked it to a slider control. After that, I made 4 duplicates to complete the pie chart. The confusing part was mathematically linking them to each other. He walked me through how to add an expression (AKA mathematical equation) that made the next wedge start where the last one ended. This way, when the pieces of the pie animated in, they would all stick together as one continuous unit, no gaps.

While I was able to duplicate what he did, I have little concept of how to apply it. That's a bit frustrating. I haven't developed the ability to see potential connections b/t layers and effects yet. That's something TOTALLY new in After Effects that I didn't experience in Premiere. Layers and effects can tie to each other. This is overwhelming b/c there are an incredible number of effects and layers in every After Effects project, even the small ones. This only shows 60% of the layers and effects in this ONE pie chart I made. 

Additionally, every parameter can be given a mathematical expression to make it happen over time, happen randomly, loop continuously, and more. For example, if you enter an expression: wiggle(10,10) on the position parameter of an object, it will wiggle ten pixels ten times per second. That's just the tip of the iceberg. The amount of base knowledge one has to acquire before really knocking out something super creative in After Effects is incredible.

A couple of things to work on:
  1. Run through more tutorials like this so I start developing a baseline set of expressions I can apply to various situations. I know two or three, but it's not enough to do anything advanced. 
  2. Look for opportunities to pair layers to each other. Take notes during tutorials and list layers that traditionally get pick whipped (paired) together.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Sweeping Circles

I've seen a lot of logos and title intros that use animations like this so I thought I'd give it a whirl (pun intended). This sweeping circles tutorial by Mikey Borup did a great job of laying out the basics. The number of keyframes in the final project looks pretty wild, but it's really a bunch of duplicates.

I set up an animation for one of the circles and then copied it to other circles. Then, all I had to do was move the copied keyframes around a bit to offset them from the other ones. That differentiated the animations enough so it didn't look like they were all moving in the same manner. How is this different than Premiere shape layers? In Premiere, you can generate shape layers, but as far as I know, you can't animate the paths (start and end), change the stroke width, easily turn a circle into a dashed line, or add a repeater to make one shape layer into ten. These are just a few of the things the tutorial covered, and I was reminded of how deep the effects panels go in After Effects.

The final animation is pretty random, but I'm happy that I took some time to play with it. Right now, I'm seeing this really useful in creation some animated lower thirds. One or two large circles like this would be a slick way to reveal some text or even a video clip. I can also see it useful for animating pie charts and other forms of data. Eventually, I'll probably start generating some title sequences with animated shape layers like this, but I'll probably start small. We'll see what opportunity comes first. One more tool added to the toolbox. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Fly by Text

Fly by text is something I've seen before, but I've never really made it. I've tried it in Adobe Premiere, but it never turned out well. In Premiere, you can animate the scale of text to make it look like it's flying by, but there are limits to how big you can make it. In the end, you can achieve the illusion that it's flying by (just by animating scale from really large to small), but since there are limitations to scale, it's hard to sell it. In contrast, After Effects allows z-space animation, which gives projects a three dimensional feel. In Premiere, you're stuck with just x and y. When I finished with the z-space animation, it looked great. I started seeing how this animation could be applied to pictures and videos as well. Imagine a series of pictures flying by just like the text. After finishing the basic animation, I colorized it with hue effects, added a radial gradient, threw in backgrounds, added swishes, camera shake, and turned on motion blur. Click the link to the tutorial by Andrew Cramer if you're interested in learning it yourself. Coming in at nine minutes, it's shorter than most After Effects Tutorials. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Waveform Animations

I remember a while back seeing a tutorial on how to analyze a song for amplitude data and then taking that data and parenting it data to scale, position, and/or rotation of other objects. I had in mind to get out and learn this skill when I came across a different one that caught my eye. I found this one on how to make a simple waveform animation of any song. This effect in AE simply takes an audio track, analyzes it and then animates a line to make it look like an EKG machine. The effect can be really sporadic with a high energy song. I'll need to try it with a slower song or even with a human voice some time. I can already picture it in my head. Right now, I see this effect useful for:
  1. Making waveform animations for spy scenes that have microphones listening in on conversations
  2. Music videos that require high visual energy
  3. Recreating EKG machines w/o actually having to turn a real one on
  4. Compositing blurry waveforms with other backgrounds to add emotion to a clip
Beyond that, I can't think of much, but it's nice to know that I can re-create a waveform of any audio track with just a few clicks. If you have any other ideas where it might be helpful to create a waveform of an audio track, post it in the comments. Special thanks to ECAbrams for the tutorial.  

Thursday, June 12, 2014

HUGE Time Saver Discovery

I haven't done loads with After Effects in my career, but I've done my fair share in the last 5 years. My talent lies more in Premiere which I use almost every day. After Effects was always that expensive toy that I couldn't get my hands on let alone learn very well. With that being said, up to this point if I ever wanted a title sequence or something I made in After Effects, I would "simply" render it out and then bring in the file to Premiere. I've been doing this for 3 years only to find out today that it was a waste of my time. Thanks again to ECAbrams, I learned something awesome in this tutorial on workflow between After Effects and Premiere. Here's the tutorial:
THE biggest thing I learned from this tutorial was that I didn't have to export clips from After Effects or Premiere to go from one to the other, I can just import the project file! Unbelievable! I vaguely remember hearing something like this when I was drooling over the Adobe CS5 roll out videos 2 or 3 years ago, but it must have faded since then.  Thanks ECAbrams for a great tutorial. This tutorial alone will save me a ton of time in the long run.  

This has me thinking now. If I went for 5 years doing something inefficient for this long, there has to be something else I'm missing as well. If you're an experienced editor/graphics animator and you can think of one of those aha moments you had like I just did, post it in the comments below. Workflow shortcuts are so essential to our work. Maybe we can save each other some serious time by citing all the seemingly obvious things that some of us just plain miss. Take care and happy editing.