Understanding the Basics of Proxies
One of the best ways of speeding your workflow in AE is to use low-resolution "proxies" to act as placeholders which act as substitutes for your original higher-resolution footage/object(s). Using proxies, you can apply your edits and changes to these low-resolution placeholders and once you are satisfied with your results, you merely replace this low-resolution proxy with your original image. All the effects, masks and properties settings which were applied to your low-resolution proxy are now transferred to your high-resolution image once you switch off your proxy. This will tremendously increase your working speed while previewing or rendering your work, especially if you are working in 3D space.
Note: It is better to use the same Aspect Ratio for a proxy as the original footage, as a proxy with a different Aspect Ratio than your original item will take longer to scale.
AE will scale your proxy file to the size of the original footage. This means that if you create a proxy from a 720x480 movie at half-resolution (360x240) or even less -- once rendered, your proxy will scale up to the size of (720x480) automatically. No need to manually scale your low-resolution files anymore!
AE 5.5 has improved the use of proxies by adding the "Create Proxy" feature which makes it easier for you to create a proxy of your footage/image for use in your composition through its partial automation. (We will use this feature later in our tutorial. For more on this, see page 45 in the 5.5 addendum manual.)
Another useful feature added to AE 5.5 are the "Post-Render Actions" that you can use in the Render Queue that enable you to set a proxy to an item -- or just simply tell AE to automatically import the rendered file into your footage window. (See: Import, Import & Replace Usage on page 45 of the 5.5 addendum manual.) This is a very useful feature if you are just pre-rendering a composition to test your motion
In this tutorial we will take advantage of using Proxies in three different ways:
- Creating a movie proxy to substitute for a large movie file.
- Creating a still proxy to substitute for a movie and use it as a thumbnail.
- Creating a still proxy to substitute for a larger still file.
The idea behind our project is to create a 3D Corridor consisting of several movie and still walls and then travel through it using a camera. We will use six movies and four still files to build the corridor walls, floor and additional objects. (Note: The files that are included with this tutorial are considerably compressed for obvious download reasons but you will still be able to notice a difference while working with their respective proxies.) If you would like to use your own files instead, either rename your files with the same names I am using and pay attention to the length of your movies so they are not too short -- or change the settings accordingly to work with your own files.
- Create a new folder on your hard drive and name it Proxies.
- Start AE and create a new composition (360 x 280) and (25sec) in time and name it Corridor.
- Make sure you are using the Advanced 3D plug-in. Check this by clicking on the 'Advanced' tab in your Composition Settings window then choose 'Advanced 3D' from the Rendering Plug-In menu.
Import all ten of the files located in the Files folder you have already downloaded with this article. (Linked for download in the green bar above.)
- In the Window menu choose: Workspace > Two Comp Views
This will open two composition windows, a new feature in AE 5.5 that is extraordinary useful while working in 3D. Why just open two and not four windows? The reason is just to save space on your monitor in case you are not using a Dual Display. You can later change from one view to another by clicking on the Camera View pop-up when you need a different view.
Creating a Movie Proxy:
- Right click on Wall_3 in your Footage window and choose: Create Proxy > Movie. Your Render Queue window should pop up.
- In your Render Settings click on the small black arrow and choose Draft Settings. That will produce the following changes: the Quality will be set to Draft and the Resolution to Half.
- By Output Module choose the format you want to use. I chose Quicktime and then Sorenson 3 in Format Options as my compressor, set to best quality.
- In the Output To just name your file Wall_3 prx to identify it as a proxy.
Note: Why would you create a movie proxy only from Wall_3.mov and not assign each piece of animated footage? The reason in this particular case is that you will just need Wall_3 to play in order to be able to match an effect to it at the adequate position and time. (See "Board") The rest of your "Walls" animated footage can be substituted with low resolution still proxies to speed your ram preview even more, as we will see later in the article.
Creating Still Proxies:
With your Render Queue window open:
- Right click on the Wall_4 movie in your Project window and choose Create Proxy > Still
- Choose Draft Settings like you did before for the Wall_3 movie and save your file as Wall_4prx
After Effects will now render a Photoshop file in 32 bits as a proxy that will have the same length as your original movie. This Still Proxy will act as a thumbnail which will help us to estimate our work and will tremendously speed up our previews. (Note: Placing the Time Marker in your TimeLine at a specific frame before creating your Proxy will enable you to choose exactly which frame should be converted to a Still Proxy.)
- Create Still Proxies for the rest of your footage using the method described above. Once you have all your items in your Render Queue, just hit the Render button.
Important Note: Please note the black square icons to the left of your movies and stills in your footage window. These icons show that a proxy is enabled for each respective item. If you click on any of these, you would disable your proxy for that respective layer.
Let us now start building our Corridor by importing all the files to the TimeLine.
- Check the 3D layer switch for all layers. (orange arrow below identifies the switch)
- Change the view of your left composition window to Top View (we will use this window to make most of our changes and use the Active Camera view as a monitor to control our changes.)
You will notice that your layer almost disappeared while toggling to Top View, that is because it is now in 3D space, you are looking at it from a bird's eye perspective and it is thin like a sheet of paper and you are looking down onto its edge. For now, think of the Active Camera View as a camera set on the floor and directed straight towards your layer -- there won't be a lot to see until we replace it with a dynamic Camera Layer.
- Click once upon the Wall_1 layer in your TimeLine to highlight the layer and then hit the R key on your keyboard to open the Rotation properties.
- Change the Y Rotation to (-90.0) Notice that you now have a similar view in both of your composition windows. You remember the sheet of paper? You are now looking at its profile, and not its edge any longer, in the Active Camera view.
- Hit the P key to see your X/Y/Z Position properties and drag the Z Axis (blue arrow) to the left until your X axis Position changes to (+96.0)
- Drag the X-Axis arrow (the red one) until the Z Axis Position changes to (-119.3) To see more of the blue sphere in the movie you need to drag the Y-Axis Arrow (the green one) to change the Y-Axis Position to (156.0)
Note: You could change your parameters numerically in your TimeLine instead of dragging the (X/Y/Z) arrows on your comp window. (I prefer to drag as it saves a lot of time trying to find the correct setting numerically. Because of this, it's a nice trick to know about and so I offer it for your exploration.)
- Select the Wall_2 layer on your timeline by clicking on it once to highlight it.
- Hit the P key on your keyboard to bring up the Position attributes and change your Y- Rotation settings to (+90).
- Dragging the blue arrow (Z-Axis) to the right, place Wall_2 on the right side of your composition window.
- The X-Axis should read (+294.0)
- Select the Floor layer on your timeline by clicking on it once to highlight it.
- Hit the R key on your keyboard to select the Rotation settings and change the X Rotation to (-90).
- Toggle your Top view window settings to Front.
- Hit the P key on your keyboard and drag the ZAxis arrow down (the blue one) to change the Y-Axis Position to (+241.0)
- Toggle now the same window to Custom View 3 to have a better understanding of what you will be doing.
- Hit the R key to access the Rotation settings and change the Z-Rotation to (+90)
- Dragging the red arrow change your Z-Axis position to about (361.4)
- Drag the green arrow to change your X Axis position to about (-275.1) -- I made the floor footage big enough for you in case you later want to add some walls to build a different corridor.
- Switch off the visibility of the floor layer.
- Use the X and Z-Axis arrows to position your layer at the end of your corridor so that it forms an angle of 45 degrees with Wall_2:
- X-Axis position= (114.0)
- Z-Axis position= (180.0)
- Switch the visibility of your Floor layer back on.
You may need now to zoom out your Top View window to 25% to better be able to see all your layers.
- Click once upon the Wall_4 layer in your TimeLine to highlight the layer and then hit the R key on your keyboard to open the Rotation properties.
- Change the Y Rotation to (-180.0)
- Hit P to access the Position settings and use the same method as you did for Wall_3 (above, last example) to make your layer form a 45 degree angle with Wall_1
- X-Axis position = (-86.0)
- Z-Axis position = (58.7)
Connect this layer with Wall_4 as following:
- Click once upon the Wall_5 layer in your TimeLine to highlight the layer and then hit the R key on your keyboard to open the Rotation properties.
- Y-Axis Rotation = (-90.0)
- Click on the P key on your keyboard to open the Position properties. Set them as follows:
- X-Axis Position = (-268.0)
- Z-Axis Position = (236.9)
Now that you understand the principle of what is going on in this lesson, simply carry on positioning your layers as follows:
- X-Axis Position = (-91.5)
- Z-Axis Position = (421.9)
- X-Axis Position = (88.4)
- Z-Axis Position = (245.0)
- Y-Rotation = (+90.0)
- X-Axis Position = (-58.0)
- Z-Axis Position = (166.0)
- Y-Rotation = (+90.0)
You may need to slightly readjust some of the parameters to suit your own tastes but this can be easily done once you start moving your camera through space.
Now you need to move some layers in your Timeline and set their Starting Points as follows:
- Wall_5 should start at (0;00;03;18)
- Wall_4 at (0;00;04;10)
- Wall_7 at (0;00;14;00)
- Board at (0;00;03;24)
Scrub back to the beginning of your timeline once you are done.
Let us now create a camera layer by selecting Layer>New>Camera. The following window should pop up:
We will use the Preset setting to choose a wide-angle (15 mm) lens, the rest of the settings are very easy to understand and are covered in-depth in the AE Users Manual. We will also modify our settings later in this tutorial.
Notice that your Camera Layer became your Active Camera and that your Corridor looks much wider now because of the 15 mm Lens Preset we chose.
Start by highlighting your Camera Layer if it is not already selected and set a first keyframe to all your Transform properties -- you may even want to change some we did not use to make your own experiments and to see how these settings affect your image. I would also suggest using Auto Bezier interpolation (in "Keyframe Interpolation") frames and add Easy Ease (in "Keyframe Assistants") to your frames to get a smooth motion.
Now create your camera path changing just the indicated parameters settings as in the following movie: (Use the arrows on your keyboard to navigate from frame to frame)
We now need to animate our Grid layer by setting five X-Axis keyframes at different times for the Anchor Point.
- (0;00;04;24) = Initial KF (170.0)
- (0;00;07;02) = (299.7)
- (0;00;08;02) = (300.0)
- (0;00;15;20) = (170.0)
- (0;00;20;16) = (32.4)
There are many ways to fake a 3D environment; one of them is to simulate the detachment of an object from one scene to another. We will do that using our Board layer.
Scrub your Timeline to (0;00;03;24)
- Scale your Board layer down to about (4%)
- Using the X/Y/Z-Axis arrows change the Position parameters to the following values:
- X-Axis = (89.1)
- Y-Axis = (163.9)
- Z-Axis = (160.8)
- Change now the Opacity to (0 %)
- Scale again the layer this time down to (0.0 %)
- KF all the Transform properties.
Move to (0;00;04.10) and change the following:
- X-Axis = (109.2)
- Y-Axis = (167.9)
- Z-Axis = (162.4)
- Y-Rotation = (-41.0)
- Z-Rotation = (+40.0)
- Opacity = (100%)
Move now to (0;00;06;04) and change the following:
- X-Axis = (47.1)
- Y-Axis = (236.8)
- Z-Axis = (46.0)
- X-Rotation = (+ 4.0)
- Y-Rotation = (-98.0)
- Z-Rotation = (-20.0)
- Scale = (21%)
Depth of field
To give your camera a realistic look, you could switch on the Depth of Field option for the Camera Layer and play with the Aperture/Focus Distance and Blur Level to gain the impression of a real lens. All those features are accessible in the Option menu of your camera layer in your TimeLine.
Note: You should switch the Depth of Field option back to "Off" after a satisfactory setting until you are ready to make your final render as this feature tends to slow down your preview speed.
I will not get into details for the lighting but I would suggest you to create at least 2 Light Layers. One as an Ambient, the other one as a Spot Light parented with the camera layer (see AEP) You should also enable the Casts Shadows feature of your 3D layers located in the Materials Options in your TimeLine.
I added a dark blue Solid Layer (BG) and applied the 4-Color Gradient filter as follows:
POST RENDER ACTION
Now it's time to preview your work in order to check your motion.
- Highlight your comp then select: Composition > Add To Render Queue
- Select Draft Setting in your Render Settings
- Choose Quicktime or Video for Windows as Format and then the compressor you want in the Output Module.
- Expand the Output Module heading to choose Import as a Post Render Action.
- Name your movie Test and hit Render.
Once rendered, the movie will automatically appear in your footage window. To view it in a QT or Media Player window just double-click on it. To view it in an AE window with Time Code
hold Alt (Windows) Option (Mac) then double-click. This last window may be more helpful to determine exactly at which frame you may have a motion problem
Once you are satisfied with your motion you can delete the test movie if you want.
- Now disable all your proxies by clicking on the small squares in your Footage window.
- Add your composition to the Render Queue and render it out.
I hope that you have enjoyed recreating this effect and following this tutorial as much as I have enjoyed writing it for you. If you care to discuss it, please direct your questions to the Cow's After Effects forum so that others may benefit from the answers as well.
The best always,