Animation with a Camera in Motion

Now that you've experienced working with rotating and moving 3-D layers on an axis, positioning lights, and changing work views, it's time to explore working with cameras. Instead of just moving the 3-D layers, you can move the camera to zoom in on or fly by a scene with static layers. When you combine this effect with layers in motion, you have a more exciting animation.

We are going to build this scene at a 90° angle—where the ground will actually be a distant back wall and the camera will move toward it horizontally, as will the "falling" leaves.

1. Create a new project file in After Effects. Import a few files (Branch.psd, Leafl.psd, Leaf2.psd, and Leaf3.psd) from the 3-D_Leaves subfolder in the Chapter 3 folder on the DVD. Import them as composite files to retain the layer transparency. Import the file Grass.jpg as a footage file because it is flat and does not have a transparent layer.

2. Create a new composition, 640 x 480 NTSC—6 seconds in length. Drag the grass file from the Project window onto the Comp 1 window, and scale it to 85%.

Note: You can also open the After Effects project file (3D_Leaves.aep) and follow along with this tutorial; the finished QuickTime movie is also available on the DVD.

Right-click/Ctrl+click the image in the Comp 1 window and select 3D Layer. Set the Z-axis position to 1800 (Figure 3.12). This will place the grass layer far enough from the window view to appear just slightly larger than the frame window.

Figure 3.12

Set the grass background away from the frame view in Frame 1 as the zoom-out position.

Figure 3.12

Set the grass background away from the frame view in Frame 1 as the zoom-out position.

Note: In projects that have a lot of camera moves, lights,and several layers,it's a good idea to set the resolution in the Comp window to Half or Quarter.This will allow you to preview the frames quicker and \ /

give you faster scrubbing and RAM Previews. Switch back to Full resolution any time you need to double- <s>

check the true color and focus of the frames.

Setting Up a Camera

Let's create a camera to move:

1. Choose Layer > New > Camera. At this point, many options are available to customize your camera; but for this project, just select the 50mm Preset option and click OK (Figure 3.13).

Figure 3.13

Create a simple camera with a 50mm lens that can be moved through the scene.

Figure 3.13

Create a simple camera with a 50mm lens that can be moved through the scene.

This places the camera on the Timeline as a layer—so all of the same settings and controls for position, rotation, options, and more are controlled in time—just like any other layer.

2. Open the Left side view; you will see the triangle of the camera's field of view (Angle Of View). To make sure you keep everything aligned properly, show rulers (F/Ctrl+R) and drag down a guideline to the center of the motion path. Drag the Point Of Interest circle from the camera down to the center of the grass layer (Figure 3.14).

3. Open the Timeline settings for the camera layer, and click the Position Stopwatch at Frame 1. This sets the current position of the camera at the beginning of the animation.

4. Move the indicator to the 5-second mark, set the Z-axis on the camera to 900, and select the Easy Ease In Keyframe Assistant (Figure 3.15). This should place the camera FOV triangle in the Left side view right up next to the grass layer at the end of its motion path. The new Active Camera view should show the grass zoomed in close.

Figure 3.14 The camera works like any other layer that can be moved in the Timeline.

Figure 3.15 The motion of the camera is a simple straight line that will travel "through"the tree branches and toward the ground.

Figure 3.15 The motion of the camera is a simple straight line that will travel "through"the tree branches and toward the ground.

Preparing the Layers

We have a lot of work to do, scaling and positioning layers. The branches will be placed in 3-D space in our scene, and the leaves need to be animated to "fall" to the ground as the camera moves in.

1. Drag the branch composition file to the Comp 1 window and convert it to a

3-D layer, as we did to the grass layer. Because this layer will remain static as the camera passes by, just place it into position by setting the Z-axis to -500

(Figure 3.16). Check the Left side view to see the placement in reference to the camera—which should be so close that it shows only the edges of a few leaves.

Figure 3.16

Place the static branch layer close to the camera so it will brush by in the animation.

Figure 3.16

Place the static branch layer close to the camera so it will brush by in the animation.

2. The branch layer is a bit dark in contrast to the lush green grass, so we'll adjust the levels on the layer. Select Effect > Color Correction > Levels, and set the Input White setting to 180.0 (Figure 3.17). When we add the lights later in this project, the leaves will appear more natural in the scene.

3. Duplicate the branch layer and position the duplicate below the first branch layer. Open the Transform settings for Branch Layer 2, and set the Z Rotation to +180.0° and the Position to 223.0, 178.6, -120.0. Check the distance from the first layer and the camera in the Left side view.

4. We want this layer to be a little darker than the first branch layer, because the light will be shining on the lower branches more in this project. Set the Input White to 220.0 (Figure 3.18). This will also add more depth to the view from the camera as it passes by.

Figure 3.17 Adjust the levels of the branch layer to enhance the leaf colors.

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Figure 3.18 Adjust the levels of Branch Layer 2 slightly darker than the first to add depth to the camera view.

5. Duplicate Branch Layer 2, and reposition it lower in relation to the other branch layers: Z Rotation +345.0°; Position 324.6, 254.1, 290.0. This will be our "bottom" branch on the tree as the camera passes through, and it will create another layer of depth. Notice how the layers are stacked in the Left side view (Figure 3.19). Select the Levels settings and adjust the Input White level to the default 255.0.

Note: Don't worry about where the leaf layer is.As a 3-D layer, it doesn't matter where it will be placed in the Timeline hierarchy,and it will be animated in the Z-axis as well.

Figure 3.19 Reposition the third branch layer to give added depth to the tree layers.

Scrub the Timeline Indicator to preview the camera's motion path (Figure 3.20). You will notice that the camera appears to be heading straight for the ground through the tree branches. There is no other scaling or zooming in this effect—only natural camera motion.

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Figure 3.20

Preview the camera's motion path by "scrubbing"the Current Time Indicator back and forth on the Timeline.

Figure 3.20

Preview the camera's motion path by "scrubbing"the Current Time Indicator back and forth on the Timeline.

Drag the Leaf 1 composition to the Comp 1 window, convert it to a 3-D layer, and set the scale to 40%. Open the Material Options settings on the Timeline ■

and turn on the Casts Shadows option. AN

Move the Indicator to the 5-second mark on the Timeline, and set the position A

of the Z-axis to 1790.0 (Figure 3.21). This places the leaf just 10 pixels above N

the grass layer in its resting position, and it will appear more natural when the WI

lights are added and a slight shadow is cast on the grass layer beneath it. This 3

leaf will be the first one to hit the ground, so subsequent leaves will land about c

10 pixels higher on each occurrence so that they overlap slightly. E

Rotate and drag the layer off-center and to the lower left so there will be room for I

the other leaves to fall into the frame. You can use the Move and Rotation tools M

or enter these numeric settings: Z Rotation -80.0°; Position 227.9, 306.1, 1790.0. I

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Position the leaf just above the grass layer in its resting position as the first leaf to hit the ground in the animation.

Figure 3.21

Position the leaf just above the grass layer in its resting position as the first leaf to hit the ground in the animation.

Repeat this procedure with the remaining two leaf layers, converting them to 3-D layers and repositioning them at the 5-second mark (Figure 3.22). Open the Material Options settings on the Timeline and turn on the Casts Shadows option. Check Table 3.1 for the position and rotation settings of these layers, or use the Move tool to position them manually to your liking. The most important setting to watch is the Z-axis position so the layers don't intersect with one another or get hidden behind another layer.

Table 3.1 Leaf Layer Resting Position at 05;00

Transform

Leaf Layer 2

Leaf Layer 3

Position

466.5,103.4,1780.0

359.2,232.2,1770.0

Z Rotation

0.0°

+15.0°

Figure 3.22

Position the second and third leaf layers just above the first so they appear to overlap.

Figure 3.22

Position the second and third leaf layers just above the first so they appear to overlap.

Animating the Layers

Now that we've determined the resting positions of the leaf layers, let's put them into motion! I've created some simple animations of the leaves falling to the ground slightly ahead of the camera's motion path and will list all of the settings in tables for each leaf. Take note that even though we've created the resting positions for the leaf layers, they will all end their motion path at different intervals, so make sure to follow the key frames as indicated in the tables.

The Rotation Tool: The "Axis of Evil"?

As handy as the Rotation tool is,you must take care in its use, because it is often unwieldy and can spin your camera or object around in ungodly directions—right in the middle of your motion path! Make a slight movement too far in one direction and you've inadvertently added a complete revolution or overcorrected in the opposite direction.This happens the most with lights and cameras—where you may not discover the error until you do a RAM Preview of your animation.I have opted for the numeric input right on the Timeline,or you can use the drag method on the axis number on the Timeline.This gives you precise control and instant feedback in the Comp view windows—and, I hope, not spinning in all directions!

Table 3.2 Leaf Layer 1 Keys

Transform

00;16

01;26

03;13

Position

-104.7,561.8,100.0

-1.5,280.0,877.0

227.9,306.1,1790.0

Z Rotation

-19.0°

-80.0°

Keyframe Assistant

Easy Ease In

The animation settings for Leaf Layer 2 (Figure 3.24/Table 3.3) and Layer 3 (Figure 3.25/Table 3.4) follow consecutively.

The first step to applying these settings for the animation paths is to start with the last frame of each layer's motion path (the leaf's resting position on the Timeline) and click the layer's Position and Rotation Stopwatches. Also, look for the appropriate Keyframe Assistants for Ease In settings. A blank cell in a table denotes no key frame marker for that setting.

We'll start with Leaf Layer 1 settings (Figure 3.23/Table 3.2). Notice the finished motion path that is created. Scrub the Timeline zndicator to preview the motion the leaf makes to the ground.

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Figure 3.23

The motion path for Leaf Layer 1

Figure 3.23

The motion path for Leaf Layer 1

Table 3.2 Leaf Layer 1 Keys

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Table 3.3 Leaf Layer 2 Keys

Figure 3.24

The motion path for Leaf Layer 2

Table 3.3 Leaf Layer 2 Keys

Transform

00;25

01;16

02;11

03;00

03;23

04;03

Position

779.5,

543.0,

436.3,

466.5,

-158.3,

10.8,

23.8,

103.4,

266.3

200.0

1102.9

1780.0

X Rotation

-11.0°

+12.0°

+0.0°

Y Rotation

+18.0°

-9.0°

+0.0°

Z Rotation

+26.0°

+0.0°

Keyframe Assistant

Easy Ease In

Figure 3.25

The motion path for Leaf Layer 3

Table 3.4 Leaf Layer 3 Keys

Figure 3.25

The motion path for Leaf Layer 3

Table 3.4 Leaf Layer 3 Keys

Transform

00;00

02;00

03;03

04;08

04;23

05;00

Position

593.2,

544.8,

369.0,

359.2,

342.3,

298.7,

294.2,

232.2,

100.0

0.0

1306.1

1770.0

X Rotation

-16.0°

-16.0°

+4.0°

+0.0°

Y Rotation

-10.0°

+17.3°

-6.8°

-2.0°

+0.0°

Z Rotation

-18.0°

-18.0°

+10.0°

+15.0°

Keyframe Assistant

Easy Ease In

Now that the animations have been created, use a RAM Preview or scrub the Indicator in the Timeline to verify that all of the settings are correct.

Adding Lights

We'll add lights to the scene, which will add depth and dimension to the animation.

1. First add a spotlight (Layer > New > Light) and choose Spot Light, 100% Intensity, and a warm yellow light color.

2. Open the Left side view and drag the light up and to the right of the camera's position at Frame 1. Drag the Point Of Interest circle to the center of the grass layer, at the same point as the camera's Point Of Interest (Figure 3.26).

Figure 3.26 The spotlight adds shadows and dimension to the scene.

Move the Indicator to the 5-second mark, and open the Light 1 layer Options settings in the Timeline. Click the Shadow Stopwatches, and set the options as follows:

• At 05;00, Shadow Darkness 70% and Shadow Diffusion 10.0 pixels

After applying the settings, scrub the Indicator to see how the shadows increase as the leaves near the ground.

You'll most likely notice that the scene has a lot of contrast between the shadows and the lit areas, which has actually made the animation look a bit muddy. Select Layer > New > Light, and choose Ambient Light at 35% Intensity and a yellow-orange color (Figure 3.27). Adding a warm ambient light to the scene will soften the shadows and brighten the colors of the leaves—especially in the foreground at the beginning of the animation.

Figure 3.27 Adding a warm ambient light will brighten the animation and soften the shadows.
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