Okay boys and girls, it's time to get twisted. Warped. Bent and rippled. We're not talking about mind-altering substances here people. We're talking about the newest, most intuitive and powerful tools for making After Effects layers anything but flat. Zaxwerks bundles two tools in a package called 3D Warps. The first, 3D Layer Warp, allows you to create some spectacular warps with any AE layer. These aren't your mother's page peels. The second, 3D Grid Warp, enables you to create animatable grids on the surface of the warped layer. The end results can be incredibly fluid and complex but as usual, the gang at Zaxwerks spent a great deal of time making the controls easy to understand and use. Zaxwerks released the package at NAB 2007 in Las Vegas. Let's take a closer look at the first half of this dynamic duo and explore what's possible. (Please note you can click on each image for a larger view.)
It's a bird... it's a plane... no, it's 3D Layer Warp!
When I first got my hands on this plug-in, I wanted to create something that would immediately test a variety of the software's features as well as my own creativity. I decided to turn an After Effects layer into a floppy piece of notebook paper that would transform itself into a paper airplane soaring through a virtual sky. Let's start with the fun part. It's time to get warped!
3D Layer Warp includes all of the tools you need to transform the paper into a plane. We'll build the basic shape first, then move on to making it look like paper later on. Begin by adding a comp-sized solid to your After Effects project. Apply the Zaxwerks 3D Layer Warp effect to it. Now, take a look at the effects control panel. Enable "show grid guide" to help you see exactly how changing the warp controls affects the layer. Now, let's work with the Warp 1 controls.
You'll find all kinds of keyframable Warp Style options for folding, bending, spherizing, twisting, rippling or otherwise manipulating the shape of the layer. Beyond that, you can control the amount of the warp, limit the portion of the layer to which it's applied and manipulate a variety of variables. I chose to bend the plane from the center along the Y axis to create the fuselage of my paper plane. I also reoriented the layer so it would be in "flying position."
I increased the amount of bend a bit more to create the tube in the image below. For the flaps on the wings, I turned to Warp 2 and 3 and bent the layer from the left and right sides along the Y axis. Being able to apply multiple animatable warps to the same layer is where the real magic happens!
Now that we have the basic shape, we can create the paper texture. You could use a scanned image but I chose to apply some noise and a simple grid to another After Effects layer which I put into a precomp. With that built, go to the color controls part of the 3D Layer Warp plug-in to choose the paper texture. You have some options for applying it.
Next, we can use a mask on the paper texture precomp to trim the leading edge of the wings to the shape we want. (I ended up animating the mask and prerendering a movie of the paper texture with an alpha channel thinking it may speed up rendering time.) You can also uncheck the "Show Grid Guide" option just above the Color Controls.
With the construction complete, it's time to animate some parameters and bring the layer to life. We'll work backwards in the timeline from the completed plane to the floppy paper drifting through the air. We'll work forward in the timeline to let the plane bank and respond to the virtual wind gusts. Being able to use comp lights and the comp camera for projects like this will give you lots of control and flexibility.
Here are links to my Zaxwerks 3D Warp plane movie and some other really fun test projects.
Learn to Fly
An example of Zaxwerks 3D Layer Warp in action with a little Artbeats footage thrown in for realism.
3D Warp Tornado
Animated warp and color shift to generate a tornado-like shape. Looping file.
Filmstrip Follows Warp
To get complicated movement easily, I put the filmstrip into a very wide comp and animated the filmstrip's position over time. I applied the precomp to the warp and made it semi transparent so you can see how it works.
Fourth of July Filmstrip
This one uses an Illustrator-based filmstrip with semi-transparent still photos, though movies could easily be mapped to each frame as well. Lots of very smooth motion. Timing the movements to music might be fun.
3D Warp Page Roll off Screen
Animate warp amount and x location to make the page roll off screen.
My hope is that this very brief project description and my test movies will get you thinking about what's possible with Zaxwerks 3D Layer Warp. It'll be incredibly useful for creating 3D background elements, transitions and just about anything you can imagine. Once you learn the basics, experimenting is a ton of fun. I've used other layer warping tools but based on first impressions, Zaxwerks 3D Layer Warp is in a class by itself. You might say the sky's the limit!
Next time, we'll explore Zaxwerks 3D Grid Warp.
Jon Okerstrom is a leader of the Zaxwerks forum at CreativeCow.net. He's a TV news guy who also enjoys freelance motion graphics work.
Learn more about Zaxwerks 3D Warps here.
Feel free to stop by the Zaxwerks forum and ask a question or comment about this tutorial.