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Pullback from Earth to Outer Space

A CreativeCOW.net After Effects / Maya Tutorial

Zoom from Earth to Outer Space



Pullback from Earth to Outer Space

Professional motion graphics artist, Greg Neumayer, shares his experience creating the zoom out from earth to outer space effect using Maya and After Effects. Greg walks you through how he solved the transition problems associated with this large scale effect where realism can be very difficult to achieve.
Greg Neumayer Greg Neumayer
Antifreeze Design,
http://www.antifreezemotiongraphics.com

©2008 CreativeCOW.net. All rights reserved.


Dirt Plate ExplanationA little over a year ago I had a gig doing a 10 sec. shot that started from an overhead crane of a person, then pulled back until the POV was in space and you could see the earth, sun, and the moon. The difficulty was making the transition from a 2D AE sequence to a 3D Maya model. I began just eyeballing the shape of the US and soft transitioning between the two applications.

The project went well, with the transition between Maya and AE being probably the most laborious adjust-tweak-view-adjust-tweak-view part of the process.

For the AE part, setting up all my layers on top of each other as a basically 2D sandwich then pulling the camera away from the center seemed to work best. Smallest layers were most dense, and largest layers were lower res. I just had to make sure that by the time larger layers came into view I was far enough away to maintain resolution.



It's hard to put it all in a tutorial, since there are a few different ways to approach the project, depending on your needs and budget. Ultimately, it's complex enough to warrant a custom solution for every job, although the general idea of "pullback from the earth" isn't uncommon.

AE has some "sphere" tools, but these are just fakes, and will probably not meet the needs of anyone wanting to get close to the object.

Any pro 3D app will be able to help you out, and if you can get everything you need accomplished within one app, I'd recommend it. My most difficult portion was trying to blend the seam between Maya and AE.

Dirt Plate CompositeIf you don't require some heavy compositing, all Maya is the way to go. I had 3 or 4 texture maps layered on a sphere in Maya.

Prep all your maps ahead of time in Photoshop to make sure they'll look good together. Even if you get good sources, they come from different satellites and can vary or look like patchwork. I bought my textures from Digital Globe, Google's source provider. (I believe you can use Google's images for free, but you have to provide constant on-screen credit). They made it very easy, because I could put in a lat/long coordinate and specify how high up I wanted to be. I bought (about $100/ea) 3 different heights of the exact same location. This was a boon for compositing, because as long as I kept the maps dead-center, the location was correct. The full earth images came from public domain earth maps, which shouldn't be too hard for you to find. Then, I tweaked, corrected, softened edges, etc. of the DigiGlobe maps in Photoshop to make sure they looked like a real surface. Once they were done, I imported each into Maya, being careful to numerically adjust and scale them EXACTLY on a portion of a sphere.

Earth Node SetupNext I used a Layered Shader, with soft edges on each of the maps. The lowest layer, of course, being the full globe. So, as the camera pulls out, it sees more and more of the surface, which has the layers of maps in decreasing resolution. Obviously, you can't texture a sphere with a 1-meter resolution image-map (but it would be cool!). So, you'll have to decide well in advance where you're pulling out from, so that you can build the textures appropriately.

If you can get away with all that in 3D, great! If you need even more compositing, you could try it like I did, starting with AE, and transitioning to 3D. On mine, the pull-back from the film footage was fun and easy. I started with the live shot from the client's shot of the actor, then pulled back with an AE camera. Anywhere I had holes needed to be filled in. The camera shot ends only about 12 feet above the actors head, but my closest satellite shot is about 1 sq mile, so I had to build myself a photoshop dirt field to fill in that gap. On mine, you'll notice the edges of the field and the house are a little low res right at first. That's the edge of my psd dirt patch and the first satellite photo. I suppose you could try mapping all these elements onto your sphere in 3D as well, but you may run into your scale of numbers being so extreme you lose control of placement. (i.e. nudging close textures .0000001 and moving big ones 100000000).

The geese are just faked from a photo in AE, the airplane is a photo of a model that I dirtied up a bit, and the clouds are stock (that's the transition point from AE to Maya).

Get everything working with placeholder images first. One handy thing I did was take my digiGlobe preview images and scale them in a psd to the actual size my hi-res images would be (3000x3000). This way, I could make sure the move would work before buying the images.

Have fun. It can be a fun gig, but not necessarily an easy one. I put lots of hours in on this one.

The shot ultimately appeared as the final shot in a cool program by Coldwater Media called "The CALL of the entrepreneur".

Comments

Re: Pullback from Earth to Outer Space
by Gene Bodio
Just spent a week doing one from space to ground. We do 3 or 4 of these a year and it's never pretty. Wish there was a plugin solution.

Btw: it'd be great if these tutorials were viewable on iOS devices. IPad, iPhone, etc..
Re: Pullback from Earth to Outer Space
by Luke DeSmith
You could have saved yourself a lot of trouble doing the whole thing in after effects. That said it's a really nice project and great tutorial!
Pullback from Earth to Outer Space
by Garrett Gibbons
Great tutorial!

For anyone looking for an explanation about the stitching part of the process, Andrew Kramer has a helpful tutorial here:

http://www.videocopilot.net/tutorials/earth_zoom/
Pullback from Earth to Outer Space
by jskehanpro
Great explanation and perfect timing. We have one of these coming up in November and we've been thinking how to do it. Thanks!
Pullback from Earth to Outer Space
by Glenn Takakjian
Nicely done.

I'm not sure what the final project was used for but...You know what would be cool... three sound effects... as the Geese fly by (subtle honking)... as the Plane zooms past and some Sci Fi beeping as the Satellite appears.

A nice stereo pan for each one would really kick it up a notch (to coin a culinary phrase)

Very informative tutorial

Thanks


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