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Learning Basic AE Tips while Creating a Genie and Lamp: Part 1

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Learning Basic AE Tips while Creating a Genie and Lamp
Adobe After Effects Tutorial


Learning Basic AE Tips while Creating a Genie and Lamp

Joe Chao (Cao Jun) Joe Chao,
Jiangsu, China
©2006 Joe Chao and CreativeCow.net. All rights reserved.

Article Focus:
In this tutorial, CreativeCOW Contributing Editor Joe Chao demonstrates a few useful tips for AE beginners by creating a genie in a lamp. Joe will take what seems like a complex project and will break it down into 'bite-sized, easy to manage' concepts.




Chapter 1: Some basic tips for AE

After Effects is a powerful and convenient program for compositing, but some friends of mine often complain that they feel at loose ends while facing a project. When beginning a project, a familiar question might be "Why didn't I think of it? Or how do I start?" In some cases, lack of experience might explain it partially, but I think some basic concepts and tips can make things simple and help AE newbies out.

To explain these tips, I have prepared an example. In this project, we will make up a small scene for a mythical story that goes like this: From a lamp comes the genie and he grants you 3 wishes.

The final effect from this tutorial will look like this:


BTW, to finish this tutorial with AE6.5, CC filters might be needed.


Let's begin


First of all, imagine the whole scene, forget the details, and make an outline of the entire project.

Find some photos of the wall, ground and the lamp, convert them into 3D layers and make up the whole scene step by step.

Thus, we get the first tip:

Rule 1: Don't be frightened by a complex project. We can make it up step by step, and the first thing we should do is to make a rough outline before getting started.


Here are the photos I found:

The wall:

The ground:

The lamp:



Secondly, import the pictures into your project. Convert them into 3D layers, placing them into the right positions. Then, we get a new problem. Here it is:



We can find many shortcomings in this scene -- the size, the light, the color and so on. Don't worry, remember the first rule and we will correct the problems one by one.

The first problem is that there is no shading in the scene. It's a very simple problem; anyone who has some experience with AE can settle it in a few seconds. Create a spot light and place it like this:



Well, now our project looks much better. You can also add more lights into the scene and make it more detailed.

After that, drag our actor, the lamp, into our scene, placing it in the proper position.



Now the lamp looks like it is floating in the air. What's wrong? This is because it doesn't cast any shadows. Go to the lamp layer, set the property of "casts shadows" to "ON". Now it looks quite better.



Until now, I have spent quite some time on explaining these simple steps which I think almost all the guys here know about very well. But I don't think it's a waste of time, because among these simple steps we can find the second tip:

Rule 2: Ask yourself: "What do I want to do & what is necessary for achieving the result?"


When you have no idea of what to do next, ask yourself this question, and try to answer them. In fact, I think everyone knows this, and uses this without even thinking about it. To use it more freely, I think we have to study the program very carefully and do many projects to gain enough experience. Having not read the handbook carefully sometimes causes a lot of trouble for some freshmen.

The following steps are quite similar:

  • observe our work
  • find out the shortages
  • adjust it
  • observe it again
  • repeat until you're pleased with the result

It might have be noticed that the size of the tiles on the ground is too big. Adjusting the picture in Photoshop can work, but here we need some tricks to make it in AE because sometimes it is more effective to stay in After Effects. Some friends might have been confused if they don't know some filters well. Don't worry, sometimes it doesn't matter.

The third trick can help you out:

Rule 3: If you can't answer the questions in rule 2, ask After Effects! Explore a little to find out what effect different filters have on your scene.

Explore the filter folders or just search: "tile":



Get it? Apply CC tiler to the ground layer:



Now, look at our work:



Much better, but still not quite right. Do you find something wrong with the color? In my opinion, the wall and ground shouldn't be so pale. Let's make them warmer. Take a look at the "adjust" folder:



Which one is the right one? In AE there is often more than one way to settle the same problem. So just pick up a filter you trust. I would like to try channel mixer:



We get this result on the wall:



It looks too saturated. Now you have two choices: to adjust the filter channel mixer or to find another solution. I chose the latter because I think that the filter channel mixer has completed its job and I knew that another option, "Hue/Saturation", is more skillful in dealing with saturation. Apply this filter to our wall and adjust the ground in the same way. After that, your work will look like this:



We are approaching the final effect step by step, aren't we? And now we get a new tip:

Rule 4: Don't push your AE to achieve the effect in one step with one filter, even if it sometimes can. As long as you can achieve some progress towards your goal, do not be discouraged if you do not immediately reach your intended goal.


I think "One operation for one step" will break a big problem into an array of smaller problems; it can make your workflow clearer and your project file more readable.

Well let's go on.

Although the whole scene has been acceptable, we want to make it better. The wall and the ground are quite flat. That's not good. But how can we develop it? Don't forget, AE is not a 3D program. It is impossible to model a textured wall. So is there nothing we can do about this problem? No, since some 3D programs can imitate texture effects with a bump map, AE might be able to do the same thing. Have any ideas? Try the tricks we have known.

Rule 2:"Ask yourself: What I want to do & how can I achieve it?" Let us see if AE's 3D layer has such an option. Go to the settings of the 3D layers. Have you found anything like a bump map? No? Well, don't give up. Let's try rule 3. Try searching "bump" in After Effects. We still get nothing!

Some friends might begin to feel at loose ends now. Here you need the fifth trick:

Rule 5: When you feel lost, relax, and try to imagine indirect means for creating the effect you want, even using the skills of other programs.


You might have some experience with the Emboss filter in Photoshop. So try it in After Effects, although this filter is different from a bump map. Apply filter/stylize/ emboss to the wall layer:


Wow, it has the textured look we are seeking, but also some bad side effects. It lost all the beautiful colors. Undo it? Definitely not! Remember rule four, and don't be discouraged.

Getting back the right color and preserving those colors is a piece of cake for After Effects.

Duplicate the wall layer, apply emboss to the upper one, switch the layer's mode to "overlay", and adjust its opacity. Do the same thing to the ground. Now our project looks like this:


When you come to this step, our little tutorial is at an end. Try making as many more details for the scene as pleases your imagination. For example, we can import textures and decorate our wall.

The texture:



The final effect:



Let's wait for the arrival of the genie and prepare our three wishes.

Please note: The swirling light effects shown in the final movie will be demonstrated in further episodes of this series. It is not shown in this chapter.





Feel free to ask questions in the After Effects forum at CreativeCOW.net.



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