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Shading Effects

Shading Effects
A CreativeCOW.net Adobe After Effects Tutorial


Shading Effects

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

©Creativecow.net. All rights are reserved.

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In this tutorial, Mylenium will show you how to replicate that stylish MacOS X buttons look. At first sight it will look like an antiquated technique of a time when today's layer effects in Photoshop were also created that way, but after a while you will clearly see the advantages of it. Think of it more as a source of inspiration on how to overcome limitations of for instance the Alpha Bevel effect rather than a tutorial in its classical sense.

Download the files for this tutorial here.



Step 1: Something to animate

All our animation is going to be based upon one composition in which the shapes are defined. This will save us lots of trouble later on. Since we are going to use multiple slightly modified instances of this comp, everything will stay in sync automatically. This is called nesting and is one technique you should familiarize yourself with. It is important to keep this in mind if you need to change certain things. If you need for instance motion blur, you have to turn it on in this composition. Activating it in other compositions will not yield any useful results. As usual I used a standard PAL composition with square pixels.



As you can see, our comp called Shapes does not look very exciting. It's a simple b/w composition containing the word AQUA. Fancy, huh? However, it's not as simple as that. There are a few simple rules to follow, especially since we are going to use this comp as a Matte.


For our purpose we only need grey scale imagery. Leave out all color and use only black and white as well as grey scales. This will allow you to control opacity. Black would be entirely transparent, white totally opaque.

We are going to rely on luminosity for certain effects, but a clean alpha channel can be of great use also. So don't use effects that screw your alpha.

For an Aqua look it is important to have everything with rounded corners. Also our technique does not work too well with sharp corners due to the simple fact that we are going to use blurs and other similar effects. Those will kill fine details and edges that consist of too few pixels. For my text I used e.g. VAG Rounded.

For the same reason mentioned before, it may be necessary to make your compositions larger than you need them in the final product. Keep that in mind and use sizes that will give clean results after scaling down.




Step 2: Building the shading effects

We want total control over how our result will look. Therefore we are going to build a composition for every shading effect. This allows us to change one of them later on without affecting the others. We will need specular highlights, refractive highlights, as well as the diffuse shading. Let's take the specular highlights as an example.

Create a composition that matches the parameters of your Shapes composition and name it properly. Into this composition drag two copies of Shapes and center them. Name them as shown in the picture.



Bring up the modes column of the timeline and set the TrkMat option of the lower layer to Inverted Alpha. Everything should disappear.



Don't worry, we are going to correct this immediately. Move the layers a few pixels around using the arrow keys until you see a narrow margin appear. Your positions could look something like that.



You can now modify the bottom layer using some effects to manipulate the sharpness and color of the highlight. A good tool for this is the Matte choker effect . Even though intended for other purposes, it allows you to easily erode edges without affecting the position of the layer thus making the highlights thinner/ sharper and giving you a soft edge as well. I also chose to make my highlights a bit yellowish as if the were created by sunlight. For this I used the Tint effect. The effects controls look like that:



If you followed the above steps, your composition should look like the one in the picture:



Go ahead and create the other shading effects in the same manner. I suggest you study the project file I provide and then play around a little until you are satisfied with the results.


Step 3: Bringing everything together

Create yet another composition and drag all the prepared comps into it. Also use two more Shape compositions for the shadows and caustics. Blur and tint those two layers as you desire and move them in their proper positions. Stack everything till it looks like this.



You see that I used even more Mattes on my shading effects. This is necessary if you decide to blur your layers even more and makes sure everything only appears where it is supposed to happen. You may find that you don't need this for your purposes. On top of the other layers I added an image layer for the reflection (again, you may not need this) and an adjustment layer (Hue/ Saturation) so I can easily shift the color without going to the subcomposition.


Step 4: Looking through the glass

In this optional step you can make the illusion of glass even more perfect. If you are looking through glass (or any other transparent medium for that matter), you will notice distortions and blurring. These are refractions and certain absorption effects that cannot be re-created physically correct in a compositing program. However, as with most things, there is an easy way to fake the look. Once more it is time to use our Shapes layer as a Matte for other layers. In our case we need a blurred layer and a sharp one. The Mattes must be used in such a fashion that where there is blurring there is no sharp pixels and vice versa. In addition to this we use our Shapes as a displacement map. This will give the illusion of refraction. See the picture for how to stack layers.




The Displacement Map effect will push your pixels around based upon the pixel values of another layer so they will appear out of place in context to the rest of the layer. Instead of just offsetting the position of the pixels into one direction, the effect works in every direction. Depending on things such as contrast and brightness you can use this effect to imitate a variety of phenomena ranging from hard glassy refractions to soft heat waves. Please take into account that this effect may cause strange results at the edges of compositions (it runs out of usable pixels) so it may be necessary to use a slightly larger composition than the final output size.


Step 5: Expanding the technique

Once you know how to manage the subcomps and their setting you can easily change the look by adding even more effects. Even a simple color shift can make the difference. In my example I simply added an outline and used a pinkish hue - this pushes everything more towards a childlike bubble gum look which could be used for a kids show opener.



More ideas and techniques for creating other layer/ text styles can be found on my personal website for free download. They are all wired through expressions so they are easily re-usable. How to create them from scratch may be explained some time in another tutorial. So stay tuned and regularly visit the COW.


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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