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Pseudo-3D Extrusion

Pseudo-3D Extrusion
A CreativeCOW.net Adobe After Effects Tutorial


Pseudo-3D Extrusion

Mylenium
Mylenium
http://www.mylenium.de
Germany

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Article Focus:
Since few After Effects users can do classical cel animation and a lot of them do not have a chance to use a 3D package's cartoon shading, here's a technique that will allow you to create such effects with ease inside After Effects. While it's quick and easy to setup and animate, it consumes a lot of time once it's time to render for final output. It also requires some major steps in Illustrator or Photoshop.

Download your project files here. Both files for versions 6.5 and 5.5 are in the zipped folder.



Step 1: Preparing the geometric shapes

Going though this step with the most possible care is the key to success with this technique. Everything (once more) is circled around the principle that we need to construct all our shading.


So what does this mean? Since we are going to make extrusions, our main focus are the sides of these extrusions. In a real world environment they would catch the light, reflect a part of it and send that reflected light into your eyes. This is what we perceive as color. Depending on your position relative to the object, the object's curvature, the intensity and amount of light and a lot of other factors, certain areas of an object seem to have different coloring , creating a variety of glossy hotspots and darker areas. This shading is part of how we are able to see objects as being three-dimensional.


So the first thing you always need to do is to study your environment and think of how your extrusions look in the real world and how they are affected by light. Good examples are any plumbing and tubing, electric cables and noodles. Once you figured that out, your largest problem is already solved.

The next thing to do then is preparing your files. In order to do so, start your favourite program and think up some shapes. I prefer to use vector based tools for this step, since it's much easier there to handle curves, contours and fills. Play around a little and take a look at my examples (Illustrator 10). I suggest to follow some simple rules, though.



Be precise! While minor errors such as open contours and jaggy edges may not be noticeable in a still frame, they can ruin an animation. This also helps to avoid potential problems with alpha channels which we will need later on.

Keep it real! Avoid situations, where your light is coming from too many different directions. If you want to maintain the illusion of 3D, you need consistent areas of light and shadow. Still, using the craziest effects may be just what you are looking for.

Stay flat! All elements that make up a shape should be put on one layer. This will possibly avoid pre-composing in After Effects and facilitate animation. Personally I also prefer to have every shape in its separate file. This makes it easier (for me) to replace an element in case I need to.

Keep a lid on things! Unless you want everything to look like hollow tubes, you will always need a front layer to make your extrusions look solid.

Be on edge! All countours that shall appear along the extrusion must be explicitly built. There is no way to add them later in a clean and controllable way. So if you for instance have a star and want its spikes to make a contour, put a little dot or filled circle there.




Step 2: Setting up the project

In After Effects create a new project and import your files. Turn on continuous rasterization and set your layer to best quality.



Create three compositions with identical settings. Name them Pseudo Extrude, Pseudo Extrude pre and Pseudo Extrude Echo respectively.

Now it's time to arrange your elements. If you have solid extrusions, the graphics for the front layers go into Pseudo Extrude directly. In this case the side layers go into Pseudo Extrude pre. If you want hollow tubes, use the side graphics also in the main composition.

In the next step we need to link the elements from Pseudo Extrude pre to their respective equivalents in Pseudo Extrude. For this we are using After Effects' simple pick-whip expression system. First arrange your workspace in a way that both timelines are open. If your compositions are tabbed, drag out one composition so you have two timelines. Now open the transformation parameters of the layers that need to go together. Alt+click on the stopwatch of the parameter in the Pseudo Extrude pre composition. Do this for all parameters you need. The linked layer will now do exactly the same as the layer in the main composition.




Step 3: Animation time

Go in to your main composition Pseudo Extrude and animate your layers as you desire. Try to find some cool movements that convey the illusion of 3D. Try to follow the guidelines.

In order to create the illusion of depth, scale your objects down at the beginning of your animation and scale them up while they are moving. It will look like the are moving from back towards the front.

Avoid overlapping and intersections! Unless you want this effect, it may easily destroy your 3D illusion. All your layers should follow more or less the same direction.

Bank your layers along their paths! Adding even the tiniest rotation to create the illusion of your layers being pulled by centrifugal forces will greatly improve believability.

Use smooth movements! This will eliminate possible rendering errors and further enhance the look.




Step 4: Fun in Echo-Land

Basically all the important steps are done as of now. Let's make some sense of our setup and use nesting to achieve what we want. From the Project window drag Pseudo Extrude pre into Pseudo Extrude Echo. Then take Pseudo Extrude Echo and drag it into the main composition Pseudo Extrude. Make sure it lands below all other layers.

Now go into Pseudo Extrude Echo and apply the Echo effect to the one and only layer there. Change its settings like that:



The Echo Time actually should read -0.003. After Effects just does not display more than 2 digits. You may need to enter this value manually.

Switch over to the main comp. You will notice not that much difference, especially if you are at frame 0. So go to another time and set the Number of Echoes to 200. Switch back to Pseudo Extrude. You should notice some heavy rendering activity and after a while a little "tail" should appear on your objects.


Et voilà! That's exactly what we've been waiting for. All you need to do now, is play around with the Echo settings until things look as you desire. For my example I needed to crank up the Number of Echoes as high as 2000 for the trails to be visible for the rest of the time. If you use the Decay parameter, your trail will fade the further away it is from the object that created it.


Echo is a rather powerful effect if you know how to handle it and can live with the long rendering times. It works by looking back (or forward) in time and rendering multiple pictures of your objects. So if you have a Number of Echoes of 20 it will effectively render 20 frames. That's why this effect can become very memory hungry and rather slow. Think of this effect as an extreme form of motion blur.


Step 5: Finishing Touches

Once you are satisfied with your look, you may further refine it. If you look closely you will see that we have contours along the extrusion but we have no outline that goes around the entire object. This is the time to use another plugin. I recommend BCC Cartooner - it's free and does the job quite well. You may download it after registration at BorisFX. Apply it to the Pseudo Extrude Echo layer in the main composition and use settings such as these:



The last frame from my little animation took about 8 minutes to render on a 1.7 GHz Pentium 4. Click here to download a Quicktime preview animation of the finished project.

Feel free to ask questions regarding this tutorial in the After Effects forum at Creativecow.net


Please visit our forums at Creativecow.net if you found this page from a direct link.



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