Creating a Displacement

The After Effects Displacement Map Effect plug-in uses varying levels of gray in the map image. Lighter areas of the image will move the image up and to the right, while the darker areas will move portions of the image down and to the left. How much it gets moved is controlled not only by the effect settings in After Effects but also by how much contrast is in the displacement map source image.

To create the displacement map for this project, we'll start with a new image file in Photoshop that is 720 x 720 pixels, Grayscale. Apply the Clouds filter to the image (Filter > Render > Clouds). This will create the contrasting light-to-dark areas in a random pattern.

We will need to tile this image horizontally for use as a moving displacement map. To make a seamless tile, apply the Offset filter (Filter > Other > Offset), and set the Horizontal offset to +350 pixels with the Wrap Around option selected. There will be a sharp vertical division line down the center of the image that needs to be edited out. Using the Clone Stamp tool with a large soft-edged brush, select areas of the image that will most likely cover up the hard edge line and blend them in with the rest of the image (Figure 2.10).

Figure 2.10

After applying the Offset filter to the cloud image, use the Clone Stamp tool to eliminate the hard vertical line down the center.

Figure 2.10

After applying the Offset filter to the cloud image, use the Clone Stamp tool to eliminate the hard vertical line down the center.

The more contrast a map image has, the more severe the motion will be. Because you don't want violent movement in the water image you're using, apply a 10-pixel Gaussian Blur to soften the image and take away any sharp contrast.

Note: An alternative method of normalizing an image used for a displacement map would be to adjust the midtone marker in Levels; this also gives you a real-time preview of the amount of contrast in \ ^ /

the image. However,this method will not smooth out the edges of transition from the contrasting shapes, <3>

as a Gaussian Blur will.

The water image you're applying the displacement map to is a perspective view, so you can control the amount of motion toward the back of the scene (or top of the image window) by adding a Solid Color Fill layer with a soft gradient mask (Figure 2.11). When selecting the color of the Fill layer, choose 50% gray (128 RGB), because this will read 0% as a displacement map color, while white is +100% and black is -100%. To further force the illusion of depth, resize the height of the image to 480 pixels, for a final dimension of 720 x 480 pixels.

Figure 2.11 Softening the cloud effect and adding a neutral gradation from the farthest perspective point will create a sense of depth in the motion of the final composite.
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