|Step One: Building the 3D Grid
Start in Photoshop by making a new composition 1280x486 pixels, 72 dpi. The size of the grid blocks is up to you. Too small will get garbled on screen, while too big won't really give a nice look either. Adjust to taste! Save it as GRID_Big or something similar. (This file is included in the project file above if you don't want to make your own.)
Now, open After Effects and import your GRID_Big. Make a new composition 720x486 (or 720x576 if you're working in PAL) with a length of 5 seconds. Name it 3D Grid. Add your GRID_Big and duplicate the layer 3 times. You should now have 4 copies. Turn on the 3D layer for each.
We want to have an intersecting grid so for each of the layers we'll adjust the rotation. Hit R on your keyboard to bring up the rotation values. Leave layer 1 as is. Change the x rotation on layer 2 to -90, the y rotation on layer 3 to -90, and the z rotation on layer 4 to +90.
Now it's time to add a little more energy. Make a new composition 1280x486 5 seconds in length. Name it Fractal Grid. Create a new layer, same as comp size, and add Effect>Render>Fractal Noise to it. Change the default settings to these: Fractal Type - Strings; Complexity to 6.0, Under Sub Settings, adjust Sub Influence to 186.0, and Sub Scaling to 10.0. Set a keyframe at :00 for Evolution. Go to the end of your comp and give it 1 rotation.
I did this in a ten second comp originally so you may need to cut that in half. Change the scale of your layer to 5000% Horizontal, leaving it at 100% for vertical (you need to unclick the lock layers switch to prevent your whole layer from changing to 5000% horizontal and vertical).
Next add Effect>Knoll>Unmult or something similar (XMULT or Walker Effects Premultiply - change popup to unmultiply).
You can get a free copy of XMULT at http://fandev.com/xmult.html that will do the same thing. Download either the Windows or Mac version depending on your platform.
Finally add Effect>Stylize>Glow to the mix. Change the default settings to the following:
Glow Threshold: 10.2%, Glow Intensity: 3.0, Glow Colors to A & B Colors, and change color A and Color B to taste (I used an orange for color A and a blue for color B).
Do a RAM preview and you should see a nice flowing line effect.
Now it's back to the 3D Grid Comp. Add the Fractal Grid comp to it and duplicate the layer 3 times. You should now have a total of 8 layers. Turn on the 3D layer for each. Hit R to bring up your rotation values. Leave layer 1 as is, change the x rotation on layer 2 to -90, the y rotation on layer 3 to -90 and the z rotation on layer 4 to +90 (these are the same values you used for the GRID_big layers). Select all of the layers (Command-A on the Mac, Control-A on Windows).
Add Effect>Knoll>Unmult (or XMULT or WE Premultiply). This should really help the colors pop on-screen. Now you've got a cool 3D Grid! Later on we'll animate it in our final composition.
Step Two: Building the Video Wall
Now it's back to Photoshop (or whatever your similar tool of choice may be). Create a new composition 90x60 pixels, 72 dpi with a white background. Create a new layer. Make sure the default color is black. Using the rounded rectangular tool with a radius of 10, create your shape.
Make another new composition 720x480, 72 dpi with a white background. Make sure you can see the rulers (Command-R on the Mac, Control-R on Windows). Hit V to select the move tool and pull down guides every 90 pixels horizontally and every 60 pixels vertically. It's important to be very precise here. Now go to your first comp and using the move tool grab your rounded rectangular layer and bring it into your second comp (call this one video_screen). Hit Command-T (Control-T on Windows) to bring up your free transform tool, hit the lock layers switch on the options toolbar (make sure it's showing, if not select Window>Options). Enter 95% for the horizontal scale. Make sure vertical is 95% as well. Hit return to accept the transform and move the layer inside one of the guides on the upper left.
Here's the fun part. We need to duplicate that layer 63 times and move it into a different part of the grid inside the guides. I found it very helpful (and you will to) to name each layer corresponding to it's place on the grid, i.e. the top layer is 11, 12, 13, etc .. to 18, the next layer is 21, 22, 23 and so on. Yes, I know this is very tedious, but just wait, it gets worse later on!! Trust me, it will pay off with a very cool animation when we're all done. When you're all done save your video_screen comp.
Okay, back to After Effects. Import video_screen as a comp. This is very important. The next step is to import 64 movies/pictures or a combination of both. Because of the small size of the boxes it's okay to import smaller movies. I used the movies from the Meyers book "Creating Motion Graphics" for the purpose of this tutorial. At 320x240 they were the perfect size. It's a good idea to organize your project at this point if you haven't done so yet. Create a new folder and call it _mov. Move all your movies into that folder. Create another folder called _psd. Move all of your pictures into that folder. That should help your project window from getting out of hand. I find it a good idea to always create folders when I start a new project. Others to add could be _audio, _ai, _comps. This is a great habit to get into. That and naming all of your layers instead of solid1, solid2, etc.. Makes going back to a project a lot easier in the future. But enough of that. Let's get back to our video_wall.
Remember when I said the tedious work would get worse? This is that part. We need to add those 64 movies to our video_screen comp. Position each movie. Scale each movie down to 30%. Add track mattes to each layer. This is where naming your photoshop layers will come in handy.
Add your first movie or picture to the video_screen comp. If your original movie was 320x240 adjust the scale to 30%. If it was a different size you'll have to approximate that value. What I tried to do was make it just a little bit bigger than one of the photoshop layers size. Once you've done that move it below one of the layers (let's start in the bottom right and work up). That would be the layer named 88. Hit F4 if you need to change your switches/modes to see track mattes. Change the movie layers track matte to alpha matte 88. That layer will now disappear leaving your movie layer in place and taking on that shape. Cool! Now you only have to do that 63 more times. Not so cool.
When you're all done (and this will take some time) make sure to turn off the white background layer, assuming you didn't delete that in Photoshop. This is what it should look like when you're all done. Nice!
Step Three: Putting it all together
We're almost done, so hang in there! Create a new composition (720x486 or 720x576 if PAL) 5 seconds long. Name this Video_wall_FINAL. First, lets create a cool background. Create a new solid (Command-Y on the Mac, Control-Y on Windows) comp size. Add Effect>Render> Ramp. Change the default colors to taste. I used a mustard color for my start color and a deep red for my end color. Change the Ramp Shape to Radial Ramp. Boost the Ramp Scatter to 23 (this will help with any color banding you might get when you render it out to tape). Move the end of ramp to the bottom right hand corner (718, 484 are the values I used) and the start of ramp to the upper right corner and down a bit (196, 146 are the values I used).
Next, add your 3D Grid Comp. Turn it into a 3D layer and make sure its collapse layers switch is on. Add a new camera (Layer>New>Camera) and select 35mm. Add a null object (Layer> New>Null Object). Hit Shift-F4 to bring up Parenting in the timeline.
Under Camera1 change its parent to Null 1. Change your camera settings to these: Point of Interest: 0, 0, -388. Position: 0, 0, -1018. Now we're going to animate our Null Object. Set keyframes at :00 for Position (360, 243, 244), X Rotation (5º), Y Rotation (-27º). Move forward to 3:00 or so, and change these values: Position (360, 243, 0), X Rotation (0º), Y Rotation (0º). Select these last keyframes and hit F9 to ease in. You should have a nice animation with your 3D Grid over the background we've created. I would encourage you to try different camera moves. The end values are somewhat important (these will give you a straight-on shot of your video screen) but the starting values can be almost anything. Try moving the null object in different positions/rotations to see what you can come up with. The important thing is to experiment.
Next we need to add our Video_screen comp to our Video_wall_FINAL comp. Add Effects> Transition>Card Wipe to this layer. Change the default settings as follows: Transition Completion and Transition Width: Both 100%; Rows (8), Columns (8), Camera System (Comp Camera), and Position Jitter>Z Jitter Amount (25). Set a keyframe for the Z Jitter Amount.
Move forward to 3:00 or so (or wherever you ended your camera move) and set change this value to 0. Ease that keyframe (F9). Do a RAM Preview. Awesome! You could end it right here and have a very cool animation. But we're not going to stop yet. It's time to up the coolness factor even more!
Let's say instead of ending with the multiple pictures on our video screen we want to transition to one big picture. No problem. Add a movie to our comp (it should be full-size) and make it a 3D layer. Make it's in point at about 2:00 or so. Anything that's 1 second before the end of our camera move. Add Effect>Transition>Block Dissolve. Change the default settings as follow: Transition Completion (100%), Block Width (80), Block Height (60). Make sure soft edges (best quality) is unchecked. Set a keyframe for Transition Completion.
Move forward 1 second and change that value to 0%. Next, duplicate your video_screen layer and move it on top of your new video layer. Go to 2:00 (or wherever you started the video layer) and hit option-[ (alt-[ on Windows) to change the in point (but not the starting point) to match your video layer. Now it's time to use that layer as a track matte. Hit F4 if you don't see the track matte selection on your timeline (F4 toggles back and forth between views, very handy shortcut to learn). On your video layer change the track matte to Alpha Matte "video_screen". Do a RAM Preview and you should see a nice transition from your multiple video wall to a single shot on the wall. Very nice! But, let's spice it up even more.
Add a new white layer, comp size (Command-Y on the Mac, Control-Y on Windows). Position it one frame before your video layer (and underneath it on the timeline). Add Effect>Transition> Block Dissolve. Change the default values to match the video layer: Transition Completion (100%), Block Width (80), Block Height (60). Again, make sure soft edges (best quality) is unchecked. Set a keyframe for transition completion. Move 1 second forward and change that value to 0%. What we're doing is setting up a white flash on each frame before the video layer changes. Next duplicate the video_screen layer again. Move it above your white solid. Go to the same in point and hit option-[ (alt-[ on Windows). Change the track matte on the white flash layer to Alpha Matte "video_screen".
That's it! Do a RAM Preview and check out your awesome work. Very cool!.
Experiment with different camera moves, different colors, different video screen shapes/sizes. You could take a logo into Photoshop and build a video wall similar in size to that and do a nice transition from various images to the logo. The possibilities are only limited by your imagination. Have fun, and feel free to e-mail me with any comments/suggestions. I hope you enjoyed this (long) tutorial.
Feel free to discuss this technique in the After Effects forum at Creativecow.net.