Task 1: ‘Stranger Things’ Intro
Our first task in After Effects was to recreate the Stranger Things introduction. This enabled us to become familiar with the workspace in AE, whilst also introducing us to basic animation as within the title sequence, the letters come from different sides of the screen, whilst the camera zooms out.
The first thing I needed to do was create a new composition (Ctrl + N). When setting up my new composition, I selected the following options:
- That the width and height were set to 1920 x 1080 so my project plays in HD
- That the frame rate was set to 24 fps (EDIT: should be 25fps as this is the standard frame rate in England)
- Increased the duration from 30 seconds to 53 seconds so my project would last the same amount of time as the sequence I am attempting to recreate
- That the background colour was set to black to replicate the black background in the title sequence
My next step was to create the text. Because I wanted the letters of my text to come onto the screen separately, this meant having each letter as its own separate layer. Because I was trying to replicate the Stranger Things title sequence, this meant I needed to replicate the font and its colour. This involved setting the font to ‘Georgia’, ensuring the base colour of my text had no fill, and that the text had a red outline. I eventually decided to go back to my text later and make the red outline thicker to make the glow effect I would later use more visible.
I then needed to add keyframes to animate my text. To do this, I set up my text in its final position and made keyframes for all the letters towards the end of the timeline. I then went to the start of my timeline and set a keyframe with each individual letter off screen at different times. I chose to set the keyframes for my letters in their final positions first as it was easier for me to simply go back in the timeline and move it off screen.
As the original sequence has a glow to the text, I wanted to replicate this in my sequence. To do this, I selected all my text layers before right clicking and selecting ‘Pre-Compose’. I then added a ‘glow’ effect and altered the settings accordingly.
With the text animated, I then wanted to make the camera slowly zoom out. To do this, I ticked 3D layer option on my layers before adding a camera to my scene by selecting ‘layer > new > camera’ which I key framed to slowly zoom out.
My final step was to export my project as a video, which I was able to do by selecting ‘Composition > Add to Media Encoder Queue’ and selecting ‘render’, ensuring the output module for my video was H.264.
Task 2: ‘Brooklyn Nine-Nine’ Intro
Our next task was to create a ‘Brooklyn Nine-Nine’ style intro, which enabled us to learn about masking in After Effects.
The first thing I needed to do was record myself doing a pose and import it into After Effects and duplicate the layer. With this done, the next thing I needed to do was decide which part of my footage I wanted to freeze on and insert a freeze frame by selecting ‘Effects > Time > Freeze Frame’. After inserting the freeze frame, I needed to look at my timeline and adjust the bars to where the pose is that I want it to freeze on.
Next, I made another duplicate, this time of the freeze frame layer, so that I could make the top layer uncoloured and the middle coloured (for the background).
With my freeze frame completed, I needed to make a mask so that I could have a colour in the background behind me, like the red background behind Andy Samberg in the screenshot from Brooklyn Nine-Nine. To make a mask, I selected the pen tool and made an outline around myself on my top layer. Having created my mask, I then adjusted the mask feather option as I deemed appropriate.
Next, with my second layer selected, I added the hue and saturation effect. As I wanted my background to be purple, I adjusted my hue and saturation to give me a purple colour.
At this point, I had my freeze frame and background colour finished. My final step was to create a text box to appear on screen like the way it says ‘Starring Andy Samberg’ in the Brooklyn Nine-Nine intro. To do this, I made a light blue box and rotated it accordingly. Next, as I wanted the box to appear on the screen at a specific point, this meant I needed to add key frames of the box coming in from the left to the right side of the screen.
Finally, I created my text and parented it to my box layer so they followed each other on screen before rendering my final outcome.
You will develop ideas, artwork and story for 25 second animation that will be based around the theme “Invasion, Sheffield”.
Whilst the theme of ‘Invasion’ is open to interpretation you must combine video with digital components. You will likely achieve this by acquiring 3D models from the internet and composite these into your footage.
My Final Piece
For my animation, I want to create a parody on the idea of ‘Invasion’, whereby I download 3D models from ‘Invader Zim’ and animate them into a park, with the joke that they’ve ‘invaded’ Sheffield simply to play on the swings.
As I want to challenge myself with this project, I am going to try and animate one of my characters, GIR, onto a moving swing, as I believe this will enable me to become more comfortable with using Unreal and After Effects.
Below I’ve added images of individual panels from my storyboard as this made the text easier to read than inserting them all as one JPEG.
- A camera with an SD card and a charger
- A tripod to ensure my footage isn’t shaky
Health and Safety
- If other people are in the location I am filming like the park I need to be mindful of where they are
- As I’m green screening my 3D character onto the swing, this means I will need to push the swing with no one on it – I will need to ensure the camera doesn’t get hit by the swing
- Weather has been wet/ windy recently – don’t slip on grass in the park etc.
Capturing my Footage and importing it into After Effects
- When I was deciding the best time to shoot my footage, I had to look at weather forecast to decide when the best day to film would be as I wanted a dry sunny day
- Deleted my initial footage – realised the camera was set to 240 fps. The camera I was using didn’t give me the option to shoot at 25 fps so I had to shoot at the next best thing which was 60 fps.
- When I imported my footage into After Effects, it didn’t fit my composition properly. As I wanted my footage to fit the screen without stretching the image. To resolve this, I selected the clip, and went to ‘Layers > Transform > Fit to Comp Height’.
- Control shift D – shortcut for splitting clips in AE. This enabled me to cut out bits from my footage that I didn’t want to include in my final animation. For example, in my animations from Unreal, the models simply moved off the screen after their animation was done, meaning I had to cut these sections of the animation out
- I used the sharpen effect over some of my footage as well as adjusting the levels to make the colours in my footage look good
Credit for 3D Models
I downloaded all the 3D models used in my animation from Sketchfab.com
- Invader Zim and Gir on pig models by Sketchfab user ‘Deathly’
- Gir model by Sketchfab user Abraham Martinez
- Lightbulb model by Sketchfab user Isak Asing
Importing my 3D models into Unreal
- One of the models I had downloaded was designed to look cel shaded, so when I initially imported the file into Unreal, it was transparent. To solve this, I imported the file into Maya, where I moved the layer on top of the main one that was making it look cel shaded, and then decreased the transparency before dragging the black layer that made it look cel shaded back onto it. I then sent the model back to Unreal.
- Some of the models I downloaded were saved as a ‘.rar’. To convert them into an FBX file, I right clicked the file and converted it using 7 – Zip
- One of my models wouldn’t import into Unreal straight away because it had degenerate polygons. This meant I needed to import the FBX file into Maya, where I was able to select the mesh cleanup option, before sending it back into Unreal
- The Voot Cruiser model I had downloaded was a Blender file. This meant I needed to open the model in Blender and export it as an FBX file before I was able to import it into the Unreal Engine
- When importing my models into Unreal, I ensured I selected the ‘combine meshes’ and ‘import all’ options because I didn’t know which parts of the models I would need
Displaying my footage in Unreal
Having already edited my footage in the order I wanted using After Effects, when I opened Unreal one of the first things I wanted to do was add my footage into Unreal so that I would be able to accurately animate my Gir model onto the swing and make the size of my 3D models proportionate with the rest of the scene.
Below are the steps I took to get my footage to show in Unreal:
- First I created a new folder by right clicking in my Content Browser. Next, I renamed the folder to ‘Movie’. This will be where I store all the files related to my footage
- I then imported my footage into Unreal. Next, I right clicked and added a media player. I double clicked the media player I had just created and double clicked my footage to link them. I then saved before closing this window.
- Next, I inserted a plane into my scene and scaled/rotated it accordingly. This will be placed behind my 3D models
- I then dragged the footage onto my plane
- Next, I opened the level blueprint and created a new variable. I named this variable ‘MediaPlayer’ and then changed the variable type from ‘boolean’ to an ‘object reference’ before setting the default value to Media Player.
- Next, I added an EventBeginPlay action to my blueprint before adding an OpenSource to connect my Media Player and EventBeginPlay to, whilst selecting the media source. Compile and save before closing the window
- Finally, to play my footage, I selected the arrow next to ‘play’ and selected ‘simulate’. This way I was able to control my camera as the footage played.
Animating in Unreal
Having imported my 3D models and footage into Unreal, my next step was to animate my models. To do this, I needed to open the Sequencer, which I did by selecting ‘Cinematics > add level sequence’.
With this done, I needed to set each of my 3D models as an actor in the sequencer. To do this, I selected ‘track > add actor to sequencer’ and then selected the model I wanted to animate.
Unlike in After Effects, I couldn’t see each frame of my footage as I keyframed my models, meaning I had to do a bit of trial and error to find where to place my keyframes. The most difficult section to animate in Unreal was placing my Gir model onto the swings.
To animate my model onto the swings, I needed to key frame both the location and rotation of my model accordingly. To help me animate more accurately, once I had roughly placed the key frames, I would then open the curve editor to adjust the curves further.
Making a Green Screen
Once I had finished animating my models, I moved the plane with my footage to the side and inserted a new plane, which would act as my green screen. Once I had inserted my plane and scaled it behind my models, I needed to add a material to it in order to make it green. I did this by right clicking and selecting ‘material’.
Next, I double clicked my material. This opened my material editor. With this window open, I clicked whilst holding 3 to create a colour node. I then double clicked this and selected a green colour. Finally, I linked this colour to my material before saving and closing the window.
I then dragged my green material onto the plane, making a green screen.
Adding a Camera and Rendering my Footage
With my models animated and my green screen created, one of my final steps in Unreal was to add a camera to record my animation. I did this by selecting the camera icon in my sequencer. I then adjusted the position of my camera until it was in the position I wanted.
In order to render my animation ready to import into After Effects, I selected the clapperboard icon next to the camera icon used preciously. When selecting my render settings, I considered my After Effects composition, and ensured the frame rate and resolution matched that of my After Effects composition.
Using After Effects
Removing my Green Screen
Having imported my animation from Unreal into my composition I needed to remove my green screen. To do this, with my green screen layer selected, I went to effects > keying > Keylight (1.2).
After applying Keylight to my layer, I selected the pipette next to the ‘Screen Colour’ option and clicked my green screen. This edited the green screen out. However, as my character models were green, this made them transparent after editing out the green. To resolve this, I initially tried rendered versions of my animation in Unreal using a blue, grey and red screen, but green continued to work the best in Keylight.
To make my models opaque, I selected the Screen Matte option and decreased the ‘clip white’.
Creating my shadows
Next, I needed to add shadows to my animation to make my models look like they are in my footage. To make my shadows, I duplicated the layer with the model I wanted to make a shadow for and went to effects > colour correction > brightness & contrast. This allowed me to decrease both the brightness and contrast of my duplicated layer to -100.
After this, I decreased the opacity of my shadow layer by selecting the drop down option on my layer, selecting the ‘transform’ drop down and adjusting the opacity option.
To make my shadows look less sharp and hence more like a shadow, I went to effects > blur & sharpen > Gaussian blur and adjusted this as necessary before placing my duplicate layer behind my original layer.
Having adjusted my duplicate layer to look like a shadow, I then needed to position my shadow whilst considering the position of the sun and my character. In order to be able to move my layer on all axis I needed to tick the 3D option next to my layer, enabling me to rotate my shadow to look like it’s on the floor.
Finally, I changed the blending mode to ‘classic colour burn’ to make it look like the real shadows that were visible in my footage
Animating my Shadows
For the sections of my animation where the Gir model is on the swing, I had to manually animate my shadows to be in the correct position by key framing each frame of my footage.
To achieve a slow in slow out effect with the movement for my Gir shadow, I right clicked on my key frames and set the spatial interpolation to ‘Bezier’.
Masking the Swing
Having added shadows into my animation, the next thing I needed to do to make my models look like they are actually in the scene was mask the sections where my Gir model is on the swing from a side view.
From the above screenshot, you can see how my Gir model appeared in front of the chains of the swing, when in reality Gir should have been placed behind the chains. Creating a mask enabled me to make the chains appear in front of Gir.
To make a mask, I first duplicated my footage of the swing from the side. I then placed my duplicate layer on top of the layer with my Gir model, and the original footage layer below my Gir layer.
Next, with my duplicated footage layer selected, I selected the pen tool and created a mask around the chain that I wanted to appear in front of Gir.
After I had made my mask, I adjusted the mask feather accordingly. As the swing moves, this meant I also had to key frame my mask to move with the swing by adjusting the mask path and the mask expansion settings for each frame.
With my mask animated, it then looked like Gir was on the swing behind the chains.
With my masking and shadows completed, I wanted to add an explosion and a puff of smoke to my video. This involved a similar process to adding my 3D models into my composition, as I needed to use keylight again to remove the green screen from the smoke/ explosions I had imported.
As the video of smoke I used was black and I wanted a white puff of smoke to contrast with the black smoke of the explosion in the background, I added a brightness & contrast effect to the smoke layer and adjusted it until I got a white cloud.
Finally, I wanted to add audio to my video. In order to make my music fade out at the end of the animation, I needed to key frame my audio. I did this by key framing the audio levels from +0.00dB to -48.00dB in the final second.
Adding a glow to my light bulb
In order to make my light bulb have a glow around it, I first created a mask around it using the rectangle tool. After masking my light bulb, I couldn’t see anything else in my scene so I needed to duplicate my layer and then invert the mask so I could see everything else in my frame.
With my light bulb layer selected, I then right clicked, went to ‘layer styles’, selected an outer glow and adjusted the settings as necessary.
Centering my Text
As I have text appear in my animation, I wanted the text to appear in the centre of the screen. To do this, I first opened the Align panel by going to Window > Align.
Next, I pressed ‘y’ to select the anchor point tool. I then selected the anchor point of my text and held control so the anchor point snapped to the middle of my text. Finally, I went over to my align panel where I selected both the ‘horizontal center alignment’ option and the ‘vertical center alignment’, which moved my text to the center of my screen.
Zoom in effect
At the start of my animation, I made it look as though the footage of the spaceship was being filmed on a camera which zoomed in and out.
To achieve this effect, first I selected all my layers, right clicked and selected ‘Pre-Compose’. Next, I increased the scale of my composition and positioned it to focus on the Voot Cruiser model before also adding a gaussian blur.
As I wanted to zoom in at a specific part and only blur my footage as the ‘camera’ is zooming in (making it look like the camera is losing focus as it zooms in), this meant adding key frames.
As I added each key frame, I also pressed F9 on my keyboard to add easing, which would achieve the slow in slow out effect according to the principles of animation. This allowed it to look like the zoom moved in slower initially and sped up in the middle before slowing down again as it zoomed out
For my smoke effect, I created the smoke for the Voot Cruiser engine in After Effects. I did this by going to layers > new > solid. To create particles to achieve a smoke effect, I then went to my effects panel and added ‘CC Particle Systems II’ to my solid, then adjusted the settings until I made the desired effect.
Having decreased the birth rate of the particles in my original solid layer, I duplicated my solid layer, increased the random seed from 0 to 640 and made it slightly darker because it would act as a shadow layer.
Next, I made a mask by using the pen tool with nothing selected so that After Effects would automatically create a shape layer. I added a mask with nothing selected because I had added a gaussian blur to the smoke and if I had added the mask to the smoke layer the mask would have been blurred too.
I then changed the TrakMat option to ‘alpha’ to make my smoke masked to the Voot Cruiser engine, making sure my smoke layer was directly above the layer I wanted to see.
Having parented my mask layer to my smoke layer, my initial plan was to parent the smoke layer to my Voot Cruiser model. However, as I had animated the ship in Unreal this meant that there weren’t any key frames for my smoke layer to move to, so I had to manually key frame my smoke layer.
After I had parented all my smoke layers to ‘Gray Solid 1’ so that the smoke layers move at the same time I tried adding key frames to the parent layer. However, as I added key frames, this seemed to stop the particles from animating, so it looked like a JPEG was following the ship around. To resolve this, I created a Null object by right clicking in my layers panel and selecting New > Null Object. Then I made the Null object layer the parent to my ‘Gray Solid 1’ layer, and added my key frames to the null layer.
In addition to key framing the Null layer, I also key framed the mask layer so that the mask moved positions to look like it’s coming out of the engine. I changed the curve of the mask by selecting the drop down options on my pen tool and selecting the ‘convert vertex tool’. Next, I deleted the top mask layer and duplicated my current mask layer with my key frames so both smoke layers look the same.
I am happy with the final result of my footage. Next time however, I think it would be worth finding a different camera to use, as the camera I used didn’t give the option for me to shoot at 25fps and didn’t enable me to change the focus to a shallow/ deep depth of field, which may have made the base footage more interesting to look at. However, I believe my animation is interesting to look at as it is because of effects like the zoom in effect art the beginning.
I am happy with how the final animation of my models turned out and believe I have become more comfortable with using Unreal having completed this project. Ideally, I would have liked to sync my animations with the Gir model on the swing even more, but I believe I have animated my model on the swing well.
When applying keylight to my green screen, it made me consider that it may have been better to pick models that I knew had colours that would work well with my green screen. The models I used look fine in the final piece, but they have lost some of their original colour in the process.
I could also improve how I organise my layers in After Effects as it took me a while to actually name my layers. Additionally, learning certain keyboard shortcuts to display certain transform options instead of using the drop down option to display all of the transform options will make me more efficient and keep my workspace in After Effects tidier.
While I believe I have placed the shadows in my scene accurately for the most part, I believe I would benefit by researching the physics behind light/ shadows so that I can have a greater understanding of where my shadows need to be placed next time. It was helpful using the real shadows in my footage like those cast by the swing to decide where to place my Gir shadow.
When the spaceship crashes toward the start of my animation, I realised that the shadows of the buildings in the background were facing forwards, meaning my Zim shadows needs to be changed from facing behind him to in front of him. Due to timing constraints, I decided that it was better to leave the shadows I had which were facing the wrong direction instead of changing the direction of Zim’s shadow as this would involve key framing each frame (like I did for Gir’s shadow on the swing) and considering the deadline was close when I realised this, I thought attempting to animate Zim’s shadow would look rushed.
If I had more time, I would have also liked to have added a shadow for my spaceship and the explosion on the grass too.
Regarding the animation Gir’s shadow on the swing, I believe I have done well. However, as I moved each individual frame of the shadow to where it needed to be, this causes the shadow to be slightly jittery, which isn’t very noticeable in the final animation, but I would ideally like to improve upon this by further altering the position of the shadow on each individual frame.
Green Screen Effects
When adding my green screen explosions to my ship when it crashed, I realised it may have been worth animating the ship further in Unreal. My vision was that the ship would crash into the roof and be stuck in the roof but in the final version as I hadn’t made the roof look like it had been destroyed, it looked like the spaceship was just floating in the air. In retrospect, to improve this, I would adjust the rotation and position of the ship in Unreal, whilst also looking into finding another effect that would make it look like pieces of the roof are flying off when the ship crashes into it.
Overall however, I am extremely happy with how my project has turned out and believe I have learned a lot about both Unreal and After Effects in the process of making my project.