Posts in Category "Adobe After Effects"

Mac To The Future

I’ve been a Mac user since 1988, when I bought my first Mac Plus with a whopping 1 megabyte of RAM and a 20 megabyte external hard drive the size & weight of a couple of bricks. The Mac was, more or less, the only platform I used until a few years ago when I worked at Anystream who develops only for Windows.

I love using Premiere Pro and Encore on Windows (as well as the rest of Production Studio), but I’ve always had a fondness for the Mac OS. This is why I’m personally excited, on so many levels, to be able to show you this:


We announced today that Adobe Production Studio is coming to the Mac. That’s Premiere Pro on the Mac above, and we’ll also have Encore and the rest of Production Studio available for the Mac when we release the next version (that’s expected to ship in mid-2007).

All the features in the Windows version will also be in the Mac version (including some new ones, but it’s still too early to talk about that . . .). True cross-platform, baby. It’s the first time Premiere Pro and Encore have ever been on the Mac (of course the original Premiere had its beginnings on the Mac, but that was a completely different app than Premiere Pro) and the tight integration between all the apps in Production Studio, with features like Dynamic Link which let you drag & drop your After Effects compositions into Premiere Pro and Encore without rendering, can now be enjoyed by Mac & Windows users alike.

You gonna be at Macworld next week? Stop by the Adobe exhibit and see the first ever demos of Production Studio on the Mac, being given by the venerable Dave Helmly.

I’ll be at Macworld as well, so if you see me make me buy you a beer or something. I live here in SF and know some pretty good places to get thrown out of…

The Mask of Shame

When the “Cops” style shows were at their peak of popularity, flipping through the TV channels was like it is with poker tournaments today — you couldn’t get away from ‘em. Quite often a few of the faces involved in whatever scuffle was being shown would be blurred out “to protect the innocent” (or, more likely, to protect the broadcaster from getting their pants sued off for the lack of a signed “talent release”).

Well, thank goodness that fad has mostly died out (although the poker tournaments are still with us like a bad hangover on a red-eye home from Vegas). But there are still situations where editors need to obscure something (or someone) in a shot, and there are a few different ways to do it. How it gets done depends on if your subject is moving.

I’ll start with an example that answers a question posted in a comment here a few weeks ago (BTW, for those of you posting comments, I need to personally approve the comment before it shows up on the blog, and due to the massive volume of “comment spam” I get on a daily basis I’m only able to sort through and find the real, non-spam comments every week or so – that’s why it can take so long to see your comment appear). The writer of said comment had a project where he was shooting a computer screen with a spreadsheet on it and he wanted to blur some “sensitive” parts out. I assume this was shot locked-down with a tripod (if not, it should be) so this would be a non-moving subject. We can take care of this one in Premiere Pro.

I’m going to use a different visual example, a locked-down shot of a car with a licence plate I want to get rid of. You need to start with a clip that’s already cut into a timeline. Locate that clip on your timeline, click to select it, then select Edit>Copy. Move the Current Time Indicator (CTI) to the first frame of your clip, and select the video track above it by clicking on the track’s name (it will turn highlighted indicating that it’s selected). Select Edit>Paste, and you’ll have a duplicate copy of your clip sitting right above the original.


Go to your Effects Panel, and in the Contains field type “Gaussian Blur”. Locate the Gaussian Blur effect, then click & drag it to the duplicate copy of your clip on the timeline. Then, go to the Effect Controls Panel and twirl down the controls for Gaussian Blur. Change the Bluriness value to 30 (or whatever value sufficiently obscures your shot).


Now, it’s time to crop this layer so only the area we want blurred out is blurred out, and the un-blurred original copy of the clip is visible below. Go back to your Effects Panel and type “Crop” in the Contains field. Drag the Crop effect to the duplicate clip in the timeline, and then in the Effect Controls click the name of the Crop effect to select it. This will reveal the direct-manipulation Crop controls in the Program Monitor (it’s the outline around the frame with the boxes at each corner). Drag the corners of the Crop controls to isolate only the area you want blurred out.


And that’s all there is to it, as long as you have a locked-down shot with a non-moving subject. If you are dealing with motion, though, it’s time to go over to After Effects. You can select your clip in the Premiere Pro timeline, select Edit>Copy, then Edit>Paste it right into an After Effects timeline.

Over in After Effects, I’m going to use a shot with some actors walking around and blur one of their faces out. The way I’m going to have the blur follow the face as it moves around the frame is by using the Motion Tracker. If you’re using the Standard version of AE then you don’t have the Motion Tracker – so if you need to do this sort of thing you should upgrade to AE Professional.

First, create an Adjustment Layer above the video layer in your AE timeline by selecting Layer>New>Adjustment Layer. Then, go to your Effects & Presets Panel and type “Gaussian Blur” in the Contains field, and drag the Gaussian Blur effect to the Adjustment Layer. Select the Adjustment Layer, go to the Effect Controls, and change Blurriness to 30.

Then, go to the Toolbar and select the Elliptical Mask Tool by holding your mouse button down on the Rectangular Mask Tool and selecting the Elliptical Mask once the pop-up appears.


Make sure your CTI is at the first frame of your timeline, then in the Composition Viewer draw a mask around the face you want to obscure.


To soften the edges of the masked blur, click on the Adjustment Layer in the timeline, hit the letter “F” key on your keyboard to reveal it’s Mask Feather property, then change the Mask Feather value to 8 or so.

Now you’ll need to move the Anchor Point of your layer to the center of your mask (because that’s where we’ll need the motion to be centered). Click on the Adjustment Layer in the timeline once again, then select the Pan Behind tool (it’s the one just to the left of the Elliptical Mask Took). Click-and-drag the Anchor Point of the layer, which by default is dead-center in your Comp, to the center of the mask.


Then, deselect the Pan Behind tool by hitting the letter “V” key on your keyboard.

Okay, now it’s time to motion track our actor’s face, then apply the tracking data to the masked Adjustment Layer so it follows the actor as she moves through the shot. Call up the Motion Tracking workspace by selecting it from the Workspace pulldown menu in the upper-right corner of the interface. Select the video layer in your timeline, then, in the Tracker Controls panel, click the Track Motion button. The Layer panel opens (should be nested with the Composition Viewer) showing the video and a Track Point. Drag the Track Point on to the nose of the actor (or whatever point is appropriate).


It’s worth mentioning here that you’ll have different tracking challenges based on the footage you’re working with, and you’ll want to try and find something to track that has a good amount of contrast. If your track point moves out of view – e.g. the subject turns their head away – you can always track your shot in sections.

Making sure your CTI is at the first frame of the timeline, click the Analyze Forward button in the Tracker Controls – the button that looks like a “Play” button.


The Motion Tracker plays through the shot and tracks your subject. If it isn’t tracking well on your footage, try adjusting the sizes of the inner and outer boxes of the tracker, or clicking on the Options button and checking “Track Fields”. More info on tweaking the AE Motion Tracker for optimal results can be found in AE’s help system by selecting Help>After Effects Help.


Once you have an accurate track, click the Apply button in the Tracker Controls to apply the tracking data to the masked Adjustment Layer (you may need to click the Edit Target button in the Tracker Controls first to make sure that the Adjustment Layer is selected as the target). Click OK in the dialog that appears and your masked blur now follows the motion track.


If you need to get your finished shot back into Premiere Pro, simply use the Dynamic Link feature – drag the Composition from your AE Project Panel and hover it over Premiere Pro on your Windows Taskbar, then drop it into the Premiere Pro Project Panel.

Motion Tracking is a major timesaver for tasks like this (imagine having to manually keyframe that mask over a really long shot) as well as any situation where you want to have an effect or a layer or any other part of your composition follow a moving object within footage. It can also be used to replace entire elements, such as an ad on a moving bus or the contents of a computer screen, by using the Perspective Corner Pin tracker. It’s definitely worth learning how to use, and you’ll be able to say “we’ll fix it in post” with a much higher degree of confidence.

Kuler Than Thou

The new technology just keeps rolling off the assembly line at Adobe Labs. It seems like every time I return from traveling (was working in Mexico City last week) there’s something new to talk about — and this time it has to do with . . . (hold on to your hats, folks) . . . Color Theory!!!!!

For those of you that think I’ve geeked way too far out this time, stay with me. Color Theory is one of the fundamentals of graphic design (including motion graphic design), and since most people come into motion graphics on a “sideways” path (i.e. without having gone to design school) it’s something that not everybody understands. One of the many reasons you learn Color Theory in design school or art school is to help you understand how colors relate to one another, which is the first step to being able to create an appropriate color palette for a motion graphics project.

In a project for a corporate client, it’s often the case that the client will require that only their brand palette be used, so that their brand identity is reinforced. But even if you don’t work with these constraints it’s a good idea to create a working palette for your projects as it helps you to keep a cohesive look and feel. I like to use the analogy of a music ensemble — there are a set of instruments each with their own sonic characteristics (i.e. timbre) but it’s also how those instruments sound together that makes up the texture & feel of a piece. There’s a reason to use a string quartet, as opposed to, say, the Stanford University Marching Band to convey the mood of serenity. I think you get my drift.

So, being that having a color palette for a motion graphics project is important, and being that our goal here at Adobe is to create tools that make you more creative & productive, we rolled out a new web-based application called Kuler last week. It’s free to use and you can access it at


Kuler lets you create and share color palettes, as well as browse & download palettes created by other Kuler users. It’s designed to help you create palettes based on the rules of Color Theory, so even if you haven’t got a clue you can create tight, logical palettes with just a few clicks of the mouse.

When you first launch Kuler, you’ll see the screen above showing some of the highest rated palettes created by the growing community of Kuler users (you can see one I created based on the colors of the old “Good ‘n Plenty” candy box). To create your own palette, click on the Create button and you will be presented with Kuler’s easy-to-use palette creation interface:


To start with, adjust the sliders under the first swatch to set your base color. In my example, I’m using red. Then, you can create several color palettes based on the rules of Color Theory by clicking on the names of the rules, which are (with examples):

Analogous: Matches colors with adjacent hues

Monochromatic: Focuses on one color with varied intensity and lightness in a single hue

Triad: Spaces your colors in a triangle around the wheel for a contrasting theme

Complementary: Uses the opposite two colors on the color wheel for a simple theme based on two hues

Compound: Combines interesting colors from multiple hues

Shades: Creates subtle variations of the base color’s hue

Custom: Lets you drag individual color circles around the wheel with complete freedom

It’s easy to see, from the examples above, how many possibilities there are just staying within the rules of Color Theory. But it’s also easy to expand on this by dragging the color circles when you’re within a rule – thereby using the rule as a jumping off point to creating a palette that will look cohesive and pleasing.

Once you’ve created a palette you can save it, publish it for other Kuler users to use (if you wish) and then download it as an Adobe Swatch Exchange file that can be opened in Illustrator CS2. You can also use the swatches as they appear in Kuler to sample with the eyedropper tool in After Effects, Photoshop, or most other Adobe tools. Use this as the basis for the colors you use in your backgrounds, text, and other colored elements in your projects .

As someone who came into motion graphics “sideways” and didn’t learn Color Theory until I took a post-grad class at Pratt Institute after I’d already been working in the field a couple years, I can’t emphasize enough how much better a designer you’ll become by broadening your understanding of color. Whether this is a new concept to you, or you’ve had this down cold for years, give this great new (and free) Adobe tool a spin on your next project.

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 . . .

Some Background Information

Animated backgrounds are used in just about every area of video postproduction. You see them all the time behind “talking heads”, as part of DVD motion menus, as the foundation of interstitial graphics on TV (e.g. “here’s what’s coming up next”), and as elements in complex motion design pieces. In After Effects 7.0 we include an entire set of Background Animation Presets, which make it easy to get started, but it really isn’t hard to create your own animated backgrounds from scratch if you learn a few basic concepts.

The first thing you need to know is how to manipulate the Fractal Noise effect in After Effects, which is by far the most useful effect for creating animated backgrounds. To start off, create a new composition in the format of your choice (my examples below are in NTSC DV) and make its duration 5 seconds. Then add a new solid to your comp by going to Layer>New>Solid, and in the Solid Settings dialog click the “Make Comp Size” button. It doesn’t matter what color it is, just go ahead and click OK.

Then apply the Fractal Noise effect by going to Effect>Noise & Grain>Fractal Noise and your comp will look like this:


Next, to animate the noise, set an initial keyframe for the Evolution property by clicking on it’s stopwatch icon in the Effect Controls panel. If you can’t see the Effect Controls panel, hit the F3 key on your keyboard to reveal it.


Then, hit the End key on your keyboard, which will bring your Current Time Indicator to the last frame on your timeline. Turn the Evolution dial in the Effect Controls clockwise 2 rotations, which will animate the noise 2 cycles over the duration of the comp. To preview the animation, go to Composition>Preview>RAM Preview.

Not too interesting, eh? Well, that’s just the starting point. By learning how to manipulate the controls in Fractal Noise, and then adding some complimentary effects, you can achieve an incredibly wide range of looks. For starters, go back to the Effect Controls and pull down the Fractal Type menu at the very top of the effect. Try selecting each of the options and doing a RAM Preview to get an idea of the basic look of each. Once you’ve finished, select Dynamic Twist (which will look like fig 1. below).


Next, you’ll make the noise more abstract by lowering its complexity. In the Effect Controls, click on the setting for Complexity (the default is 6.0) and change it to 3.0 (figure 2, above). Next, to stretch it out and make wavy lines, twirl down the Transform property in the Effect Controls by clicking on the triangle to the left of its name. Uncheck the Uniform Scaling checkbox, and set Scale Width to 600 (figure 3) and Scale Height to 35 (figure 4).

Now RAM Preview again to see the results. Quite different from where we started out, eh? And the best part is the animation is the result of just 2 keyframes set on the Evolution property.

In order to make this more interesting, we’re going to apply 3 complementary effects: Levels, Fast Blur, and CC Toner. Levels (which works the same way as Levels in Photoshop) will let us adjust the brightness & contrast with a great degree of control, Fast Blur will make the background more abstract, and CC Toner will let us colorize the final result.

First, apply Levels by going to Effect>Color Correction>Levels. By moving the 3 triangles below the Histogram, you can adjust your black and white levels, as well as the gamma. Move the triangles so they’re about where I have them below.


You can see the result is much different from the Fractal Noise effect by itself. Try playing with the sliders below the Histogram to see what kind of looks you can get, then go back to the settings in the figure above.

Apply the Fast Blur by going to Effect>Blur & Sharpen>Fast Blur. Set the Blur Dimensions to Horizontal, click the Repeat Edge Pixels checkbox, and increase Blurriness to 300 by clicking & dragging on its value to the right, which will allow you to see the adjustment in the Composition Viewer as you make it.

Then add some color to your animation by going to Effect>Color Correction>CC Toner. Click the color swatch for Midtones, and select a vibrant blue color.


Finally, RAM Preview to see your finished animated background. Experiment by changing the Fractal Type, tweeking the Levels settings, blur amount, and mapping different colors in CC Toner.

Most of the Background Animation Presets in AE7 use this formula, or a variant thereof. Since the Presets are just a stack of effects & keyframes, applying them and then “looking under the hood” to see how they were created is a good insight into how to create more varied backgrounds. A good keyboard shortcut is “UU” (i.e. hit the letter U key on your keyboard twice in rapid succession) which shows you what properties on a layer have been modified from their default settings. By applying a Background Animation Preset, then hitting the F3 key to reveal its Effect Controls, then hitting the UU keyboard shortcut, you can get a good overview of how the preset was constructed. Then to see how it was animated, hit the “U” key on your keyboard which will reveal on the timeline only the properties that have keyframes. The example I just took you through is very similar to the “Red Speed” Background Animation Preset in AE7.

If you create an animated background that you really like, save it as a preset for future use by dragging the effects & keyframes from the timeline to the Effects & Presets panel. You’ll get a dialog asking you to name your new preset, and then it’s yours to use again and again (or share with others).

HOW, it’s done.

The HOW Design Conference wrapped up yesterday in Las Vegas, and thus I survived my 2nd trip to that town so far this year. It was a close one, though, as the conference was inexplicably held at the same place and time as the eBay Live! conference, and though the hallways were extremely packed with people it was no problem telling who was going to what conference (believe me).

It was actually one of my favorite speaking gigs of the year — I delivered some presentations on taking existing design assets from Photoshop and Illustrator and animating them in After Effects. The HOW attendees are largely graphic designers working in the print medium (although many work in web & video as well), and most had never seen this sort of thing before.

After the sessions, I got a lot of questions regarding the animated posters that I showed in my talks (Adobe had a poster design competition for the conference and here are some of the winning entires).


These posters were created with Photoshop and Illustrator, and we brought them into After Effects with their layers intact and animated the individual layers to great effect. I’m currently not able to post the finished video files, but I did want to post instructions on how we did the animated masks for the animated poster below (designed by Rozina Vavetsi):


Animating masks is one of the fundamental techniques in After Effects, and this is a very basic example of how to do it.

First, you need to import your Photoshop or Illustrator file as a Composition, which will keep all of its layers intact. With Illustrator files, it can be a good idea to import the file as “Composition-Cropped Layers” if you have many layers since it makes it easier to select your layers in the AE Composition Viewer when you’re animating.

This menu appears in the bottom-left of the File Import dialog when you are importing an Illustrator file. Make sure to select “Composition” or “Composition-Cropped Layers” when importing layered Photoshop or Illustrator files if you want to work with the individual layers.

You will then see a new Composition in the After Effects Project Panel, as well as a folder containing the layers of your PS or AI file. Double-click the Composition, and the timeline will show all the layers of your original file.

The four layers of the Illustrator file in the After Effects Timeline.”

So, with the “Tree Lady” poster above, we animated masks to reveal the branches, to make it look like they were growing out of the woman’s body. Each of the branches was on its own layer, and we did several masks on each to reveal each segment of the branch individually. So, using this example, here’s how you animate a mask. First, select the Pen tool from the Toolbar.

The AE Pen Tool (keyboard shortcut is the letter G).

Then, select the layer in the timeline you want to mask, and draw a simple mask around the area of the image you want to reveal over time. Start by drawing the mask where you want it to be at the end of the animation, and then we’ll back up in time and change it to where it’s going to be at the beginning.

Click on the first mask point you created to close the mask (Left), and only the portion within the mask will be visible (Right).

To animate the mask, hit the M key on your keyboard, which will reveal the Mask Shape property for your layer in the Timeline. Decide how long you want the animation to last (this example is 10 frames), and move the Current Time Indicator in the Timeline ahead in time by that many frames. Click on the stopwatch icon for Mask Shape to set a keyframe (this represents where the mask will be at the end of its animation).

The inital keyframe in the timeline.

Then, drag the Current Time Indicator to its original position. Select the Selection Tool in the Toolbar (shortcut: letter V key on the keyboard), and one-by-one, select and drag the mask points to where you want them to be at the beginning of the animation. In my example, I dragged the 2 upper points down and to the left. As soon as you make a change, you’ll see a new keyframe on the timeline, where the Current Time Indicator is positioned.

The beginning mask shape of the animation (Left), and its keyframe in the Timeline (Right).

Hit the spacebar on your keyboard, and you’ll see your mask animate. You can add as many masks as you want to each layer, so the next step would be to draw a mask for the next branch on the layer, and have it begin animating as soon as the first animation ends.

Once you’re finished, you can control the timing of the whole shebang by nesting this Composition into another Composition and using Time Remapping, but that’s a whole other can of worms and I’m putting the “Gone Fishin” sign on the office door for the weekend.

Lost in Expressions

Years ago, I did a bit of work in Web Design. This was before there was a Dreamweaver or GoLive, when you had to write all the HTML code manually. That was enough to send me running for the hills, and that’s why I got into Broadcast Design where you didn’t have to deal with any of that.

Well, After Effects has had a Javascript-based programming language called Expressions for a couple of versions now. It’s something that I avoided like the plague at first — I mean, how do you make heads or tails of something like this:

columns = 10; //number of columns in grid
tHold= .2; //hold time (must be less than tmin)
tMin = .5; //minimum cycle time (can’t be zero)
tMax = 1; //maximum cycle time
gap = this_comp.width/columns;
origin = [gap,gap];
xGrid = columns – 1;
yGrid = Math.floor(this_comp.height/gap) – 1;
start = 0;
end = 0;
j = 1;
while (time >= end){
j += 1;
start = end;
end += random(tMin,tMax);
targetX = Math.floor(random(0,xGrid));
targetY = Math.floor(random(0,yGrid));
x = random(); //this is a throw-away value
oldX = Math.floor(random(0,xGrid));
oldY = Math.floor(random(0,yGrid));
if(targetX == oldX && targetY == oldY){
origin + [oldX,oldY]*gap;
}else if (time – start < tHold){
origin + [oldX,oldY]*gap;
deltaX = Math.abs(targetX – oldX);
deltaY = Math.abs(targetY – oldY);
xTime = (end – start – tHold)*(deltaX/(deltaX + deltaY));
yTime = (end – start – tHold)*(deltaY/(deltaX + deltaY));
if (time < start + tHold + xTime){
startPos = origin + [oldX,oldY]*gap;
targetPos = origin + [targetX,oldY]*gap;
easeOut((time – start – tHold)/xTime, startPos, targetPos);
startPos = origin + [targetX,oldY]*gap;
targetPos = origin + [targetX,targetY]*gap
easeIn((time – start – tHold – xTime)/yTime, startPos, targetPos);

OK, I know some of you programmers out there are gonna write me and say “oh that’s grade-school level”, but for the rest of us it’s enough to make us put our heads in a 500 degree oven.

Well, the reality is that simple Expressions are actually easy and can save you loads of time when creating animation while opening up a wide range of creative possibilities.

First off, you can use the Expressions LIbrary to have AE plug the code in for you. When you Alt+Click (Opt+Click on Mac) on the Stopwatch icon to set a keyframe for a property, it opens the Expressions Editor for that property. You’ll then see a fly-out menu icon (the little circle with the triangle in it). Click it, and you’ll see all the categories of Expressions.


In addition, some really useful Expressions are very easy. Take “Wiggle”, for example. This puts random motion on a property over time, and the code looks like this:


Not as daunting as that first set of code, eh? What the (4,10) represents, is the frequency & amplitude of the wiggle (frequency=4, amplitude=10). So let’s say you apply this to the Position parameter of the layer, it will move it at a frequency of 4 times per second, at a maximum of 10 pixels each time. Give it a try and see the results. If you want it to move more frequently, set a higher frequency — if you want it to move over a larger area, set a higher amplitude.

If you haven’t already figured it out, I didn’t write the Expression at the beginning of this post. That one came from the AE Expressions Lab on an incredibly useful Expressions & Scripting resource called This site, created by Dan Ebberts, has a set of pre-baked Expressions that you can simply copy & paste into your AE projects. This is probably one of the easiest ways to get started with Expressions, and no, not all of Dan’s Expressions are as complex as the one I pasted above.

One last thing — there’s a hidden goodie in one of the Project Templates included with AE7. Go to File>Browse Template Projects, and once Bridge launches, double-click the thumbnail that looks like this:


What you’ll find in Template Project is a set of comps that have loads of neat Expressions (also created by Dan Ebberts) that you can copy & paste into your own projects.

Lights in the Kitchen

Cool effects in Adobe After Effects are often the result of a recipie of some kind (a little of this effect here, a tad of a blending mode there, and you’ve got something really interesting). The best kinds are the ones you can just set up & go without much keyframing or other manual steps, and when you come up with something new, or learn a recipie from somewhere else, you can save your concoction as a Preset to be used again and again and again . . .

Here’s a simple way to add realistic light rays to a piece of footage. First, apply the effect CC Radial Fast Blur to your clip in your timeline (Effect>Blur & Sharpen>CC Radial Fast Blur), and in the Effect Controls set the Amount to 80.


Frame 1 above shows the original clip, and frame 2 shows the clip with CC Radial Fast Blur, amount set to 80. Next, to adjust the contrast (which will give you punchier light rays), apply Levels (Effect>Color Correction>Levels). Then adjust the Input Black & Input White on the Histogram (the left & right triangles below the Histogram graph) so that they line up with the left & right edges of the Histogram, respectively.

Your Histogram will look different based on the footage you are using.

Frame 3, above, is the shot with Levels applied and the Input Black & White adjusted. Finally, you’re going to composite this over the original, unaffected clip. Select the clip in your timeline and select Edit>Duplicate. On the lower version of the clip, remove the CC Radial Fast Blur and Levels. Then, on the upper version of the clip, select the Add Blend Mode by clicking on the Mode pulldown menu and selecting Add. If you don’t see the Mode pulldown menu in your timeline, you may need to right-mouse-click on any of the columns on the left side of the Timeline and select the Mode column to display it.

Then, with the upper layer selected, hit the T key on your keyboard to solo the Opacity property. Adjust the Opacity to around 60% and you should see something close to Frame 4, above. Depending on your footage, you might need to tweek the above setting a bit, but the resulting effect is usually very convincing.

So do you have some AE recipies that are killer? You want to show ’em off to your fellow AE users? Well, we’ll be at Siggraph 2006 in Boston and I’m looking for some Adobe customers to showcase their AE or Flash work on the main theater stage @ our exhibit. If you’re interested, drop me a line.

All Broken Up

I get asked a lot of questions about Particles in After Effects 7. Particle generators can be a little hard to get your head wrapped around at first, so I recommend “CC Particle Systems II” as a good jumping-off point. It’s one of the first particle generators ever developed for AE, and while it’s not as feature-rich as Particle Playrground, or other third-party particle generators, it’s an easy one to learn, and you can apply the knowledge to more complex incarnations. The “CC” stands for Cycore – these are the 60 additional Cycore Effects that come included with AE7 on a separate installer on the AE or Production Studio installer disks.

Start by adding a new solid layer to your AE comp (Layer>New>Solid) and make it the size of your comp. Then apply CC Particle Systems II (found in the Simulation category in the Effect menu). Do a RAM preview and you’ll see a pretty basic fireworks effect.

The Particle Systems II effect controls and the default results in the Comp viewer.

The basic concept with a particle generator is that a particle is born, it does something over time, and then it dies.

At first, all the controls in the Effect Controls panel will be twirled up (i.e. hidden). Click on the triangles next to Producer, Physics, and Particle to reveal their respective controls. Most of these are pretty self explanatory (Velocity, Gravity, etc). The first place to start is to decide what kind of particle you want to generate. Pull down the Particle Type pulldown menu and try each of the selections to see what they look like.

A pretty common application of a particle generator is to create fire & smoke. So to start off, select Shaded&Faded Sphere from the Particle Type pulldown. Then change your Birth & Death color to something more resembling fire. When the particles are born, we want them to be an orangey red. When they die, we want them to be pretty close to black.

Then start from the top of the screencap below and change the settings one by one. Each time you change something, do a RAM preview, or just hit the spacebar, to see the results of your changes. This will give you a basic idea of the influence of each of the controls.


So once you’re about where I am in the screencap above, you should have something pretty close to fire & smoke. To give it some extra punch, apply Levels (Effects>Color Correction>Levels) and adjust the sliders on the histogram as I have them below (again paying close attention to the visible results in the comp as you make the adjustments).


If you started with a blank comp, your background will most likely be black. Change the background color to white (Composition>Background Color) and do a RAM preview to see the results.


You should be seeing something pretty darn close to the screencap above. The next place to go would be to animate the Producer Position – try setting an initial keyframe at frame 0 and then moving it around the comp over time to see what happens.

Strike The Anvil

I’ve mentioned my friend & fellow Co-op City escapee Dean Velez in a few previous posts. Dean recently left the employ of Total Training in order to strike out on his own — he’s offering up After Effects training via his training company The Anvel .

Clearly, nobody gets out of Co-op City 100% sane.

The training is subscription based, and although I haven’t yet seen any of his content, he’s one of the best AE artists & trainers in the business so I imagine it’s gotta be really good.

On a different note — if you think all this business travel I’ve been doing is glamorous, click here to see where I’m “living” this week.