Son of Ben Kurns

Quicker than I could scarf down a slice of deep dish in Chicago earlier this week, I got a comment from Steve K. on my last posting, imploring me to show how to do the Ben Kurns Effect (a.k.a. Pan & Scan, Pan & Zoom, Ken Burns Effect) in After Effects. Steve’s been the Product Manager of AE for years now, and it amazes me that he still never misses any opportunity to promote it. Besides, I love showing cool stuff in AE so I figured I’d take it a step further and show y’all how to do a 3-D Pan & Scan in AE. This has become a pretty popular technique, lots of doc-style shows and films are using it. The first film I saw that used this at length (and by “at length” I mean for the entire duration of the film) was The Kid Stays In The Picture. Almost the entire movie was photographs busted up into layers in Photoshop, then animated in 3D in After Effects.

When done correctly, this is a much more dynamic and interesting way of panning & scanning. The third-dimension adds tremendous depth (literally and figuratively) to what could be just another stab at “being like Ben Kurns.” Oh Ben, why did you step in front of that subway train all those years ago, why?

So, start off by opening your photo in Photoshop. Remember that you want your photo to be as high-res as possible, especially if you’re planning to zoom-in in great detail.

Then, you need to break apart the key elements of your photo into individual layers. In the case of my example, below, I need to separate myself, the airplane, and the background. To start off, create a selection around the foreground element (usually a person) by using the Magic Wand, Marquee, and Lasso tools (Photoshop 101 techniques).


Once you have your foreground element selected, cut & paste it into a new layer. What you’ll wind up with is the foreground by itself, and the background with a big gaping hole in it.


Next, use the Clone tool (a.k.a. the Rubber Stamp tool) to fill in the hole in the background. In my example, it was pretty easy to fill in the sky, but a bit more challenging to “recreate” the airplane since my body covers a good deal of it.


Now it’s time to repeat the first two steps — this time selecting the airplane in the same manner as before, and cutting & pasting it into its own layer.


Then, once again, use the Clone tool to fill in the blank areas in the background.


So what you’ll wind up with is a Photoshop file with each of the key elements on its own layer.


Now we’re ready to bring our Photoshop file into After Effects. Switch over to AE and select File>Import>File. Select your Photoshop file, but before clicking the Open button, make sure you have “Import As: Composition” selected in the pulldown menu in the lower-left corner of the Import File dialog. This will bring the Photoshop file into After Effects with all its layers intact. If you were to select “Import As: Footage” it would flatten the layers and then there’d be no point to doing anything in 3D.


You’ll see a new Composition in the Project Panel, along with a folder containing the individual Photoshop layers. Double-click the Comp to open it, then change the comp settings to your desired format & resolution by selecting Composition>Composition Settings.


Pull down the Preset menu and select your format (I’m using NTSC DV for this example), and at the bottom of the Composition Settings dialog enter your desired duration. 5 seconds is a good place to start (00;00;05;00).

Next, you need make your layers 3D by checking in their 3D Layer checkboxes.


Then, add a Camera to your timeline by selecting Layer>New>Camera. The Camera Settings dialog appears.


Pull down the Preset menu, and select 35mm. This will simulate a 35mm film camera lens – applying different lenses will give you much different results so after you complete this tutorial go back and experiment with the different lenses to see what’s possible.

Next, we’ll stagger our Photoshop layers in Z-space (depth). This will give them the effect of being in 3-dimensional space. Select all 3 layers on your timeline, then hit the letter P on your keyboard, which will solo the Position property. Each layer has 3 coordinate values: X (horizontal), Y (vertical), and Z (depth) – although you won’t see the values labeled as such. Adjust the Z position of layers 1 and 2 to bring them closer to the camera – in my example I moved Layer 1 (me) to -600 and Layer 2 (the airplane) to -300. Negative values bring the objects forward in Z-space, while positive values move them further away.

I’ve moved the camera to the side in the screencap below to give you a sense of how the layers look staggered in Z-space.


Now it’s time to animate the Camera to create the 3D Pan & Scan. Click on the little triangle to the left of Camera 1 in your timeline to twirl down its properties. Click on Transform, then click on the stopwatch icons for Point of Interest and Position to set an initial keyframe for these properties. Position represents the actual position of the Camera in 3D space (thus the X, Y, and Z values) and the Point of Interest is what the Camera is pointing at. We’ll animate both of these properties.


Now, scrub on the X, Y, and Z values for Position to move the Camera to its starting point. Then, scrub on the values for Point of Interest to get your Camera pointing in the direction you want. Once you’re happy with the starting position, hit the End key on your keyboard, which will bring the Current Time Indicator to the last frame of your timeline (you can also drag the CTI all the way to the right). Then, modify the Position and Point of Interest to position the Camera in its ending position.

In my example, I’m starting zoomed-out with the Camera down and to the left, and over the course of 5 seconds I’ll animate it up, to the right, and move it forward to zoom-in.


After Effects will animate the Camera between the start and end keyframes. To see your animation, select Composition>Preview>RAM Preview.

You’ll notice that the Camera starts & stops on a dime – not very natural or elegant looking. Typically a real camera will ease out of its initial position, then gently ease in to its final position. Drag across the initial keyframes for the Camera’s Point of Interest and Position, then right-mouse-click and select Keyframe Assistant>Easy Ease Out (you can also select this via the Aniimation menu).


Repeat for the ending keyframes, but this time select Easy Ease In. RAM Preview again to see the difference.

OK, now we’ve got a nice, interesting, 3-dimensional pan & scan, but as Steve K mentioned in his comment, you have way more control of your animation in AE than you do in Premiere Pro. The Graph Editor (which we introduced in AE7) gives you an incredible variety of ways to tweek your keyframes – open it by clicking on the Graph Editor button on your timeline.


You can click directly on the keyframes in the Graph Editor to modify how the Camera animates – try pulling on the Bezier handles to change the curve of the Position and see how you can get a different feel by adjusting how the Camera moves out of its initial position and into its final position.


This whole technique I’ve just taught you is used pretty heavily in motion design these days, not just for panning & scanning photos – you see it all the time in TV commercials & promos. You can take it a step further by adding lights (Layer>New>Light) and adjusting the Camera’s depth-of-field, enabling shadows, etc. Hitting the letter “A” key twice on a 3D layer in the timeline reveals its Material Options where you can make these kinds of adjustments.

Well, that’s an intro to panning & scanning in 3-D using After Effects and Photoshop. Of course, you can also do this in 2-D without breaking the layers apart, and then it’s more-or-less the same as doing it in Premiere Pro (although AE does give you much more control with the Graph Editor).

Now I’m gonna go get me a slice of deep dish. Oh, wait, I flew back home to SF yesterday. Don’t know where I am anymore . . .

12 Responses to Son of Ben Kurns

  1. Steve Kilisky says:

    Now we’re talkin! I too was mesmerized by Kid Stays in the Picture (both the AE work and the story itself). The movie Frida also had some memorable multiplane sequences done by Amoeba Proteus (I believe) and most recently, I commented on my blog by what I think is an outstanding example of this technique by Leftchannel for an DJD2 music video.Thanks Bob.

  2. justin says:

    I believe that Errol Morris’s documentary The Fog of War also used this technique quite a bit. The sequences with the bombs falling from above onto Japanese cities were done in this manner. It is a little on the subtle side, but it really adds a lot of depth and intrigue to the motion.

  3. henry kim says:

    keep these coming, you are the freakin bomb!

  4. Michael says:

    Thanks for the ideas….dope !!respectMichael

  5. Krystle Wright says:

    The information you’ave presented was very interesting. I’m not a master in this field but I would like to do this someday. My question is that how do you actually compose a picture without the use of a photograph.

  6. Hey Bob.I have a tutorial that adds a fe steps that makes it easier to line up edges for achieving proper perspective on initial camera placement. It is a free download at Photoshop for Video website. I also have a full length DVD out that goes deeper into relighting the scene.Have a look at let me know.-Rich Harrington

  7. Bob Donlon says:

    Richard’s training DVD “Motion Control – Working with Photos in 2D & 3D Space” is indeed excellent and I recommend it to anyone doing lots of pan & zoom.

  8. Thierry says:

    Very nice. Thanks.Would have been nice to see the final rendering mpg.keep the good work!

  9. Glenn Mitchell says:

    I’d love to watch the final animation

  10. Chad says:

    I love how these tutorials choose ideal images. Try this with a more complex background.
    Also it would be cool to have clouds moving. As well as the propeller.

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