The Puppet Tool, which is one of my favorite new features in After Effects CS3, is bound to bring out the Frankenstein (or at least Frankenberry) in most people. It’s the easiest way to create animated characters from still images, and I’m going to be showing you how it works using a production still from our “Aquo” shoot up in Whistler, BC.
These little birds were just about everywhere, and I thought it would be funny to have this one peck the heck out of that bike tire. The first step here is to separate the “character” (in this case the bird) from the background using Photoshop. I used the Quick Selection tool to select the bird (you can see the selection in the image above), removed it from the background, and then used the Clone Tool to clean up the background plate (Photoshop 101 stuff.)
The bird, the background, and the cleaned-up plate.
Next, import the Photoshop file into After Effects, making sure to select “Import As Composition” in the import dialog. Once it’s imported, double-click it to load it up, then select the Puppet Pin Tool, which is that new push-pin looking thing on the right side of the After Effects toolbar.
The next step is to place pins on the character based on how you want it to move — the fewer pins you use the better the results are likely to be. First select the layer in your timeline, then select the Puppet Pin Tool, and click on the image to place the pins. For my bird, I put one on his head, foot, tail, and back.
To animate the pins, you can twirl down the controls for the Puppet Tool in your timeline and set keyframes, but the easier way is to motion sketch. Just hold down the Cmd (Mac) or Ctrl (Win) key and when you place your curser over a pin it turns into a stopwatch.
Clicking and dragging records your mouse movements in realtime, and you see an outline of your character as you draw. It’s really easy to record an animation this way. You can do multiple passes, to animate as many pins as you want, and you see the ones you’ve recorded play back as you record new ones so you can easily synchronize motion.
I started out by doing a pass just wiggling the tail, and then I did a pass of his head pecking away at the tire. I then animated the scale of the scene to zoom in over time. Here’s what I got:
Now this is a really simple example, you can go in much deeper with this tool. Holding down the Puppet Pin Tool in the toolbar reveals the Puppet Overlap Tool and the Puppet Starch Tool.
The Overlap Tool controls which parts of the character cross in front of or behind of the others, and the Starch Tool pretty much does what it says it does – it keeps unwanted warping from occurring. You click on the character to apply either of these tools.
I’m finally back home in San Francisco for awhile and have adjusted to one time zone for the first time in a really long time. The past few months traveling the globe and spreading the word about Production Premium CS3 have been both exhilarating and exhausting. I’ve gotten to meet so many of you in so many parts of the world I’d never expected to find myself in and see the incredible work being done with the tools we make here at the Adobe factory.
For the next few months you won’t be seeing much of me out on the road, but you will be seeing a lot more content from me online (with a 6-week hiaitus thrown in there when my baby arrives later this summer). My colleague Jason will be grounded as well as he is in the same boat (impending Fatherhood) so you’ll be seeing some of our talented Adobe colleagues like Karl Soulé presenting at the types of events you’d normally find me or Jason at.
But enough about the minutia of my professional life. In the spirit of changes and transitions, I’d like to show you how to create an animated DVD menu transition using Encore and After Effects. One of the things that makes Encore unique is its tight integration with AE, so the process here is rather simple.
What I’ll do is create a transition so that when the user clicks the “Play Movie” button on the DVD menu, the menu will animate away to black and then the movie will begin.
I’m going to use one of the menus in Encore’s Library as the example here, so you can follow along if you wish.
The Library has loads of royalty-free content like menus, buttons, and design elements that can be easily modified, so you can do something quick like I’m doing here, or use the elements in the Library to save time when doing custom menu design. In this case we just want to see the template menus, so click on the first button on that row of buttons in the middle of the panel. That toggles the Library’s display to show only menus. By default, it shows you the menus in the General category, but you can search within any of the categories by pulling down the menu at the top of the Library Panel.
Making sure you have the General category selected, scroll down and locate the Entertainment Menu. Double-click it and you will see it appear in the Project Panel. To load your new menu in the Menu Viewer, double-click it in the Project Panel.
At this point you can customize the menu by, for example, changing the text by using the Text Tool along with the Character and Paragraph Panels (as I’ve done) or sending the menu to Photoshop for modification by right-mouse clicking (or cmd-clicking) the menu and selecting Edit Menu in Photoshop. But for now, let’s just take what we’ve got and create the transition. Go to the Menu menu (this always cracks me up – there’s a menu called “Menu) and select Create After Effects Composition.
You’ll get a dialog prompting you to save your menu as a PSD which will then open up in After Effects. I recommend you save this PSD as well as the AE project you’re about to save, in the same folder as your Encore project in order to keep everything together.
After Effects will launch and create a new project for you, with a single composition that contains all the layers of your menu. Go ahead and save it.
Double-click the Comp to open it in the Composition Viewer.
Yes, this is After Effects and not Encore — the interfaces are nearly identical . . .
At this point there are unlimited creative options as this is a standard After Effects composition. For now, we’ll do a simple transition to black using the Burn Film effect, which simulates what happens when motion picture film gets stuck in the gate and burns away. In order to have the effect apply to the all the layers in our menu, we’re going to Pre-Compose them.
Select all the layers in your Timeline, then select Layer > Pre-compose
In the Pre-compose dialog, accept the default setting “Move all attributes into the new Composition” and click OK.
Now, apply the Burn Film effect by selecting Effect > Stylize > CC Burn Film.
The main parameter in this effect is Burn. Click-and-drag on the value for Burn in the Effect Controls to see how it effects the menu.
One thing about this effect is that once it “burns away” the image, it reveals whatever is beneath, which is in this case nothing. In order to make this look like an actual frame of film burning away, we want white to be revealed. So let’s create a new solid layer by selecting Layer > New > Solid.
In the Solid Settings dialog, click the Make Comp Size button, and make the color white, then click OK. Then, in your Timeline, drag the new White Solid layer below the Pre-comp layer.
There we go. Now for the finishing touches. Let’s have the image start to burn away from the area of the Play button by moving the center of the effect. Select the Pre-comp layer, then go back to the Effect Controls. Click on the name of the Effect CC Burn Film, and you will see a cross-hatch appear in the center of your Comp. Drag it to the middle of the Play button.
Now it’s time to animate the transition. Three seconds should be about right, so select Composition > Composition Settings and in the Duration field select all the timecode and type in 300, which represents 3 seconds and 0 frames.
When you’re done, click OK. Next, set an initial keyframe for the Burn parameter by clicking on its stopwatch in the Effect Controls, and then set its value back to 0.
Move the Current Time Inditator (CTI) in your timeline to 2 seconds (0;00;02;00) and change the Burn setting in the Effect Controls to 100.
Select Composition > Preview > RAM Preview and see what you’ve got.
The last step will be to have the transition fade to black at the end, so make sure your CTI is back at 2 seconds and select the White Solid layer. Hit the letter T key on your keyboard to reveal its Opacity settings, and then click on the Stopwatch for Opacity to set a keyframe.
Move the CTI to the end of the timeline and change the Opacity setting to 0. RAM Preview and here’s what you should have (click to play back):
Now, let’s get this baby over to Encore. All you need to do is click and drag the Comp from the AE Project Panel to the Encore Project Panel. This can be done by arranging the apps side-by-side, or by using the cmd-tab or alt-tab keyboard shortcuts to toggle between applications.
You can also go to Encore’s File menu and select Adobe Dynamic Link > Import After Effects Composition, then drive to your AE project and select the comp.
Finally, let’s weave the transition into the navigation of the DVD. For this next step you’ll need to import a piece of video and put it in a timeline, and this will be our “Main Movie”. Go to your flowchart and click-and drag from the Play button in the Menu to the Main Movie timeline.
Then set the transition for the Play button by going to the Properties Panel and clicking the Transition tab. Click on the Pickwhip (the little swirl) and drag it to the After Effects comp in your Encore Project Panel.
You’ll see a Transition icon appear in the Flowchart, in the link from the Play button to the Main Movie timeline. To preview your navigation, right-mouse-click on the Menu and select Preview From Here. Click the Play button and watch the magic happen.
Other ways of incorporating animated transitions into your menus is to do them from one menu to the next (e.g. to transition from the Main Menu to the Scene Selection menu). With some imagination, this can be one of the most creative and fun parts of DVD creation.
Hey, would you rather see these tutorials as a podcast as opposed to written in my blog here? Please send me comments and let me know . . .