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Jim Krause | Classes | P354 Program Graphics & Animation

Week 10


  • 3D (Cont.)
  • Lights (Part 1)
  • Review Week 9 homework


  • Working in 3D Design Animation Space (Adobe help)
  • Remember to keep focused on visual design and be able to apply the principles of CRAP
  • Projects should take advantage of the AE environment (NOT be video editing projects)
  • You should be focused on making strong additions to your portfolios
  • The World According to Jeff Goldblum (animated intro with 3D layers & lighting)

Review: P354 Week 9

Cameras in AE only interact with 3D layers. They see regular layers- but they simply don’t have any 3D characteristics.

It’s fine to have stationary cameras and move 3D layers. It’s also fine to have stationary 3D layers and to move the camera. But if you move both camera and layers, things can get really complicated. This is best left up to those with a great deal of practice working in 3D space.

3D Modes & Lights

After Effects can work in two 3D modes:

  • Classic 3D mode
  • Cinema 4D mode

To access these modes go to Composition Settings (Command-K) and click the 3D Renderer tab.

Classic 3D provides the quickest 3D effects. Cinema 4D mode allows for extuded text and shape layers but tasks the CPU and slows down responsveness. You also lose acess to belending modes. Toggling betwen the modes also changes how cameras and shadows operate.

3D Lights (Meyer Chapter 15)

Lighting can be used to create effects that are impossible to get through any other means. Through lighting we can establish a mood and present our elements in a unique way. Those who learn to manipulate and control lighting will be able to bring their work up to an even higher level.

The downside is that lighting takes time and patience. Shadows and reflections can greatly increase preview and render times.

Be sure to have your comps set to at least half resolution and be selective about setting your work area.

How lighting works in AE

Without any lights, AE will light a 2D or 3D layer at its full visible value. This is AE’s “default light.”

When you add a light, the default light is overridden, and only the light(s) will illuminate the comp’s 3D layers you place. 2D layers will remain unaffected.

It’s possible to add 4 different types of lights in AE:

  • Spotlight – This is the most dramatic light in AE. You can modify the cone angle (think spot or flood) and the cone feather (the falloff near the edges).
  • Point light – This is like a bare bulb in space. While you can’t adjust the cone angle, you can adjust the feather. SInce the rays are parallel to each other, this type of light only casts sharp shadows.
  • Parallel light – This is like a point light, but all of the rays point the same direction.
  • Ambient light is the only type of light that doesn’t cast shadows. It works well as a fill light.

With each of these 4 types of lights you can change and keyframe the color and intensity. It’s not possible to change from one type of light to another- though you can fade one up and one down instead. All lights can have intensity (T) set to above 100%.

And just like in most film and video, most scenes call for more than one light. (Key plus fill for example.)


As you’ve discovered, only 3D layers can react to lights. There are a number of ways you can adjust how a layer interacts with lights.

Select a 3D-enabled layer and press AA to reveal the Material Options. Note the following parameters:

Casts Shadows – can be set on or off (no key framing)
Light Transmission refers to the ability to block light.  Can be key framed from 0 – 100.
Accepts Shadows & Accepts Lights can be on or off (no key framing)
Ambient refers to how sensitive a layer is to ambient light.
Diffuse and Specular affect the falloff and hotspot of a light.
Shininess refers to how small or focused the hotspot is
Metal refers to if the hotspot reflects the light.

Cookies (Cucoloris)

(Cucoloris image search) Cookies (in lighting) are patterns or cutouts placed between the light source and an illuminated object or wall. The purpose is to create interesting and sometimes suggestive patterns of light (jail house, Venetian blinds, branches, etc.) In After Effects you can use many different kinds of footage to create shadows. The main thing you want is something with an interesting cutout or alpha channel. Here is a Photoshop file with some examples you can play with.

Week 10 Lighting Exercise - Part 1

This is the first of a two-part lighting exercise. In this first section, you'll build a stage and add at least one spotlight that casts subtle accent lighting and shadows onto the stage through a cucoloris.

  • Start by looking up the word cucoloris. While it's not visible by the camera or the audience, it's placed off screen between the light and the stage or backdrop.
  • Start off with a 10-15 second HD comp (either 1920x1080 or 1280x720)
  • Create a couple of large solids to use as a "wall" and a "floor" and position them in 3D space accordingly.
  • Create or import another 3D layer into the comp to use as the cucoloris. You can apply "Generate/Grid" to a solid if you need squares or import in an interesting pattern.
  • Add at least 1 spotlight
  • Position and size the cucoloris layer so that it casts a tasteful/interesting shadow on the other. You might need to adjust the shadow darkness and diffusion so the shadow is not too sharply defined.
  • Animate the layer casting the shadow, the light or the camera move to create a pleasing effect.
  • When you are finished, output a square pixel Apple ProRes 422, MP4, or H.264 version called "Part1"
  • Turn it in to the appropriate Canvas assignment.
  • Save your project as it will be used for the 2nd part of the exercise on Thursday.

Thursday -------------------------------

Parenting, Point of Interests, and Precomposing 3D Layers

Parenting in After Effects

Parenting is an easy way to have one layer control another. To use it, first you must reveal the "Parent & Link" column in the timeline. (Right-click in the TImeline's Column heading to choose what categories you see.) Under the Parent & Link column, you'll see a Pick Whip tool for any given parameter.

For example, we can using the Pick Whip tool to connect a light or camera's POI (point of interest) to the position of another layer. To do so:

  • Reveal the POI parameter of the light or camera
  • Reveal the Position value of a 3D object (E.g. Another layer or a Null object)
  • Drag the pick whip control from the light or camera to the position parameter of the null object.
  • Voila! You can now control the POI of the light or camera by moving the null object

Note: You can also achieve the same thing by using Expressions, which also let you connect the parameter of one layer to that of another using the Pick Whip tool. To turn on the Expression comand for a parameter: Press: Shift Option = or Alt/Option click the Stopwatch.

Precomposing 3D Layers

It's easy to precompose 3D layers. Just select the layers you want to precompose (E.g., floor and wall) and select Precompose from the Layer window.

You'll then need to check the 3D box to make them into a 3D layer.

Lastly, check the Collapse Transformations button for the precomped layer.

Week 10 Lighting Exercise - Part 2 - Name/Logo Identifier Animation

In this exercise, you'll parent the point of interest of a light or a camera to another 3D layer and get comfortable precomposing 3D layers.

  • Open up the "stage" and cookie comp you made Tuesday in Part 1.
  • Add a logo, name or identifying mark and convert it to a 3D layer. (You might want to add some extrusion to give it depth.)
  • Add a spotlight and attach its POI to either a null object or the identifying/logo/name layer, which should appear on stage.
  • Animate the identifying/logo/name layer in an interesting or dynamic way.
  • Try precomposing the elements so you can manipulate the entire stage as a whole.
  • If you can do this, try adding a camera move to swoop in and/or out on your scene.
  • Save it as "Part2" (square pixel, Apple ProRes 422, mp4, or H.264) and turn it in to the appropriate Canvas assignment.


  • Read Chapter 17 of the CMG book (Parenting) & Chapter 29 (Motion Stablization)
  • Bring in some video to motion stabilize (you can shoot something on your phone)
  • Sample Branding Spots:
  • Make a 15 - 30-second 16x9 animated company/corporate/group image branding spot for 1080i HDTV (or 4K if you're feeling bold). It can be for a real or fictitous organization. It must have:
    • A title/logo treatment (do this first)
    • Nice design (remember CRAP!)
    • at least 2 message elements (E.g. Tekgenix logo, name and "building a better tomorrow" slogan)
    • audio (sound effects,  music or both)
    • At least 1 camera
    • 2 (or more) 3D layers
    • At least 2 lights interacting with at least 1 of your layers
    • An animated cookie
    • Turn in a full-size, sqare pixel Apple ProRes 422, MP4, or H.264 version.
    • Be sure to note what you did with your 3D camera, lights and layer in the accompanying critique form.
  • For next week: We'll be learning how to motion stabilize and track. Feel free to bring in some of your own video footage.

Good lighting tutorials:

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