Maya, Cinema Studio 3D, and the other big beasts are often rounded up when a 3D effect or animation is needed. However, without recourse to those programs we can create a very creditable 3D animation using After Effects.
Although we can use After Effects to rotoscope light sabres we would have difficulty using it to create battle droids. Instead, After Effects’ three-dimensional space resembles more a Victorian children’s theatre where two-dimensional figures are manipulated in three-dimensional space.
We will go though the steps of lighting and animating a TV ident that started out as a flat logo in Illustrator.
The effect will be to see the logo moving through 3D space casting shadows as it spins and tumbles towards the screen.
1. First create your logo Illustrator now holds TV and video settings in the opening dialog box. So go to File > New. From the Document Profile drop-down menu select Video and Film; from the Size menu select PAL D1/DV. Create your logo at the largest size it will be seen on screen. Save the logo as an Illustrator CS5 file.
2. Create your composition Create a new After Effects project and create a new composition: Pal DV1, 720 x 576 at 25fps. Import the Illustrator logo and place it directly into the timeline where it appears slightly narrower due to the different aspect ratio of broadcast pixels. Create a new solid layer and place it under the logo.
3. Convert to 3D In the timeline there are a series of icons, called switches, one of which is a cube. Click in the boxes below it to convert the two layers to objects existing in 3D space. If the icons can’t be seen, then select Columns > Switches from the Timeline menu in the top right-hand corner of the timeline palette.
4. Viewing the objects In the composition window select 2 Views – Horizontal from the Views drop-down menu. Click on the Right view to activate it and select Active Camera from the 3D View pop-up menu. Click on the left view and from the 3D View pop-up menu select Top. Select the solid layer in the timeline. Coloured arrows will appear.
5. Moving through space Each arrow represents a direction of movement in the 3D Space. The red arrow moves the object in the x-axis, that is from left to right. The green arrow moves the object in the y-axis, that is up and down, while the blue arrow moves it in the z-axis; think of this as closer to or further away from you.
6. Position the layer Select the solid layer and in the Top view, click on the blue arrow and push the layer towards the top of the screen, and even out of the view. In reality we are moving the layer some distance behind the logo. You will see it move in the Right view, and you may need to resize it.
7. Adding lights From the Layer menu select New > New Light. Check Cast Shadows and click OK. This spotlight will appear on the screen and the logo will be illuminated. In the Top view click on the red arrow and move the light to the right. As you do so you will see it move in the right view.
8. Point of interest The cross hair icon at the end of the line extending from the light is the Point of Interest. Click on it and move it back to the centre so the light shines on the logo. Create a second light, move it to the left and move its Point of Interest back to the centre.
9. Casting shadows In the timeline, open the properties for the Logo. Now that it is a 3D object it has extra Material Options. Open these options and turn Casts Shadows on by clicking on the word (a second click will let it cast only its shadow). Shadows from both lights appear on the solid layer.
10. Shadow intensity Lights also have Options. Open up the properties of Light 1 and open up the Light Options. Reduce the Shadow Darkness to about 55% and increase the Shadow Diffusion to 4 pixels, to blur the edges of the shadow. Repeat this for Light 2.
11. Animate the logo The logo is now at its finishing position. It’s going to tumble in to this point, so move the Playback head forward to 10 seconds. Open the logo properties, and then the Transform properties. Switch on keyframing for Position, Scale, X,Y and Z Rotation. Move the playback head back to the start of the timeline.
12. Position the logo In the Top view, using the blue arrow, move the logo back towards the solid layer. In the Right view use the red and green arrows to position the logo in the top right of the frame. Then reduce the scale of the logo to 10%. For X,Y and Z rotation, set each one to be 2x +20.0°.
13. On the motion path Click in the right view then select the logo in the timeline. The motion path appears as a straight line between the keyframes. Put the playback head at 4 seconds, drag the red arrow towards the centre and drag the green arrow down. This breaks the motion path into a curve – making it more interesting.
14. Bézier curves If you click on the motion path Bézier handles will appear at the keyframes allowing you further control. Finally, select all of the keyframes at the 10 second point by shift-clicking them and from the animation menu select Keyframe Assistant > Easy Ease In to decelerate the logo as it approaches the screen.