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Creating a Glassy Look using Adobe After Effects

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Creating a Glassy Look using Adobe After Effects
CreativeCOW Adobe After Effects Tutorial


Creating a Glassy Look using After Effects
Colin James Colin James
email: Colin
Philadelphia, PA, USA

©2003 Colin James and CreativeCOW.net. All rights reserved.


Article Focus:
In this tutorial, Colin James demonstrates creating something with glass planes that refract & blur footage behind them ~ much like the opening to the show, CSI:Miami.


Project file: .zip Project file: .sit View Final Movie

This tutorial is for beginners, so while its possible to use expressions to share data among the different comps to save time cutting and pasting layers, we'll just do it the easy way for simplicity. Ready?

Step 1: Setting up the basic compositions!


click on graphic to view larger image

Make a new comp and call it "Render-Comp". This is the comp that we'll use to set everything up for final render. Make another comp and call it Footage Edit. The Footage Edit comp is where I put my footage so I can easily change later without changing all the instances of it.

Let's import your video or use the lonely autumn leaf jpeg I included, and drag it into your Footage Edit comp.

Drag the Footage Edit comp into your Render-Comp composition.

Now lets make a new comp with a black background and call it Glass Setup 1.

Step 2: Animating our glass!


click on graphic to view larger image

In your Glass Setup 1 composition make a new white solid any size you like. In this comp, where ever there is a solid, when we are finished will be a glass effect. So if you move this solid across the screen, it will move glass across the screen. If you spin the solid on the y axis it will end up looking like a flat plane of glass spinning.

Make your solid a 3D layer (even if you don't want to spin it on a 3D axis or anything you still need to make a 3D layer...). Now animate your solid however you want for as long as you want (even opacity can be animated and the effect will still work).

Once you are happy with how your planes of glass are going to animate on screen, drag our Glass Setup 1 comp into top layer of the Render-Comp. Now go to the Layer menu and add a new Adjustment Layer. Call this adjustment layer ADJUST-1. Put the ADJUST-1 layer BELOW the Glass Setup 1 layer. Set the Track Matte for the ADJUST-1 layer to Alpha. See, what this is doing is telling after effects to only apply the effects that at we will put on the ADJUST-1 layer, where the solids on the Glass Setup 1 layer are.

Now select the ADJUST-1 layer and add the Gaussian blur effect. Blur it as much as you'd like but I generally use 6 pixels. ( site note: if you are using just vertically oriented strips of glass like in my sample project, try just blurring on the Vertical. It actually somewhat adds to the realism when moving ). Now that we have our blur, we have to add one more effect. under Effect->Distort->Transform effect. This will let us transform our video however we want, but just where the Glass Setup 1 layer tells us it can.

For the sake of this example, set the Scale to 120, and then move the position +10 on the x and y axis. (NOTE: With the transform effect, you can even use skew which adds an extra touch to the glass refraction illusion we're trying to sell. Keep in mind though, the more that you move, rotate, or skew the more you will need to increase the scale so that you don't see the edges of your video footage. One way around having to scale up is have a large Footage Edit comp to begin with so you have extra padding on the edges )

3. Adding specular/highlights to the glass so it looks better!


click on graphic to view larger image

Ok, this is where there are ways to do this part easier but for the sake of simplicity in this tutorial, this is how we're gonna do it:

OK once you are completely done animating all of your solids we're going to make a new comp called Glass Setup-MATERIALS. In this comp we are going to paste ALL of our solids (even if we have multiple Glass Setup comps ( I'll explain why this might be useful later ). So, go to your Glass Setup 1 comp, and select all the solids at once, and copy them using control-c ( cmd-c on a mac). Now go into our empty Glass Setup-MATERIALS comp and paste them all in there.

Now, go to Layer->New-Add Light . Make the light a point light with an intensity of anywhere from 80-100 ( I used 100 ). Move this light around in Z space so its a little in front of the solids layers, so it shines on the solids nicely. Now adjust the materials of the solids so that its not too white, but has a nice gradient effect over each of the solids ( this is totally up to you how you want it to look...).

Lets go back to the Render-Comp comp and add the Glass Setup-MATERIALS comp on top of the Glass Setup 1 layer. Now set the transfer mode of the Glass Setup-MATERIALS layer to ADD ( again, this is up to you but ADD or SCREEN tend to look best ).

Here is where you can you can repeats steps 2 and 3, as many times as you like just changing the names of the comps so that you have multiple adjustment layers affecting different comps with animated solids.... This way you can have one piece of glass pass under another and whatever effects you have on the glass will effect each other. So if you have a 1 piece of glass that scales the footage 120%, and another that scales it 110% and moves it to the left, when the pass over one another we will see the video footage scaled 130% and moved to the left, where they overlap... cool huh?


4. Adding a beveled edge to our glass.


click on graphic to view larger image

Here is where were' going to give our glass panes a nice edge so they stand out a bit more.

First things first, make a comp and call it Bevel-B.

Now go to your Glass Setup - MATERIALS comp that has all of our moving solids in it, and copy all of the solid layers (which should be everything EXCEPT the lights)... go back to our new Bevel-B comp and paste in all the solid layers. They should paste so that the timing for all of them is preserved etc.

Now, go to the Project Window and duplicate the Bevel-B comp and call the duplicated comp Bevel-A-NoTransparency. Open the Bevel-A-NoTransparency comp, select all of the layers and hit the "T" key to show all of our transparency values. If you have any of our glass solids fading in and out, or just not 100 % opaque, you are going to need to make them always 100% opaque. So delete all of the Opacity keyframes you may have, and set them all to 100 % opacity, all of the time.

Now make a new Comp and call it Bevel-Combined Layer. Open this new comp and add our Bevel-B comp and then on top the Bevel-A-NoTransparency comp. Set the Bevel-B layer's TrakMatte to Alpha Inverted. This tells the After Effects to only show stuff in the Bevel-B comp where the Bevel-A-NoTransparency comp IS NOT.

Now all you have to do is adjust the position of the Bevel-A-Transparency MASK so its offset by however large you want the bevel to be. So if you want a 2 pixel bevel on your glass move the Bevel-A-NoTransparency layer to the left 2 pixels and up 2 pixels.

In this comp you should now just see thin lines where your bevel will be. Now lets go back to our Render-Comp composition and add the Bevel-Combined Layer comp to the topmost layer (or at least above the Glass Setup-MATERIALS comp. Set the transfer Mode for the Bevel Combined Layer comp to Overlay (again here you can use whatever you think looks best).

That's it! :)


You should be all done! You can now go back and tweak your adjustment layers, add glows or blooms to blow out the highlights on the glass. In my project I had a nice lens flare run down along the edge of a few of the panes as the moved around.

NOTE: If you need to add any more panes of glass or tweak any movements of the solids, MAKE SURE that you remember to paste the new or changed solids back into the Glass Setup-MATERIALS comp, the Bevel-B comp and the Bevel-A-NoTransparency comp (but be sure to remove and opacity keys and make it 100% opaque!) If you know your project will require endless tweaking of the glass movement, here is where I would suggest using expressions to share positional, and rotational data between the comp where you animate your solids and the other comps (Glass Setup-MATERIALS, Bevel-B, Bevel-A etc).

Be sure to play around with the sample project included, if you are confused by anything.

You can use this technique to do some really really cool things... ( picture tons of these glass solids flying at you in 3D! - just animate the solids like in the earlier steps, and then follow the tutorial again, no prob!)

Take care!
-Colin James
Please discuss this technique in the After Effects forum at Creativecow.net


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