Imitation isn't just the sincerest form of flattery. When it comes to After Effects, building on shared techniques is a great way to push the envelope. Consider Andrew Kramer's recent tutorial on simulating raytraced reflections posted on the COW. (Raytracing is an advanced form of rendering which relies on very complex math to replicate how light behaves in the real world.) Andrew's technique for simulating raytracing is really cool and it works for all sorts of things. Except for 3D.
I know this because I immediately thought of Zaxwerks Invigorator and ProAnimator when I watched it. When it comes to creating 3D logos and text in After Effects, there's nothing better. I've been hosting the Zaxwerks forum for years because these apps are so much fun. But they don't currently do raytraced reflections. Andrew's tutorial does a very good job of faking it with flat text in After Effects 3D space, so I tried it with Invigorator. It didn't quite work, but I was able to use parts of the technique to create a workflow that does.
You can check out Andrew's tutorial here. However, if you're familiar with After Effects and Invigorator, you should be able to complete this tutorial without it.
Begin by creating a 2D comp-sized solid with a color ramp representing the sky, and a very large 3D solid representing the groundplane. Tilt the ground plane 90 degrees to the rear so it's the "floor" of the scene. Add a point light and an ambient light and adjust to taste. Modify the attributes of the ground plane to make it more shiny and to add a semi-transparent grid if you like.
Now here's where we deviate from the Andrew's technique.
Create a comp-sized 2D solid and apply the Invigorator effect to it. Create your text on the fly or build your logo from an Illustrator file. Apply materials to your objects to taste. Position the objects to sit on the groundplane represented in the setup window. Click the "use comp camera option." Tempting as it may be, do not make the Invigorator solid a 3D layer. Be sure this layer sits above the 3D ground plane layer in the timeline.
At this point, Andrew's tutorial would have you duplicating the Invigorator solid, changing the layer's vertical scale to -100 and positioning the content of the upside down layer to line up and touch the bottom of the original Invigorator solid. It looks fairly good here, but notice the reflection is angled toward the camera. (I've gone ahead to the next steps of adding a feathered wipe and some transparency to the reflection layer to show the whole effect.)
The illusion really falls apart here as the camera orbits around the text.
Instead, here's what we can do to simulate raytraced reflections with Invigorator objects. In the original Invigorator layer, go to the set-up window. Change the view to front. Now, select all elements and use the positioning tools to line them up, just touching the groundplane grid. Be sure the "use comp camera " check box remains selected when you leave the effect control panel.
Now, select the Invigorator solid in your After Effects timeline and duplicate it. Open the effect control panel and go to the set-up window. Change the view to "front.'" Select all objects and use the tumble and roll tools to turn the objects upside down, with the back faces visible. Use the track tool to position the bottom of the elements on the ground plane grid. Hold down the shift key while you're doing this to constrain the movement to the up and down or Y direction. Again, be sure the "use comp camera" button is selected.
You should now have what looks two mirrored copies of the Invigorator objects. You may need to nudge the position of one group of objects a bit and change the order of the layers so the upside down objects are beneath the correctly oriented objects. This will prevent any overlap from the reflection layer onto the normal layer.
Take a look at the After Effects timeline for the project to get an idea of how I've arranged the layers.
Now go ahead and take some more advice from Andrew's tutorial. Apply a broadly feathered linear wipe to the upside down layer to make it appear the visibility of the reflectivity is falling off. I also added a slight fast blur and some overall transparency to tweak the effect a bit more.
At this point, go ahead and animate the After Effects camera using the orbit tool to see how the Invigorator objects and their reflections change over time. You will probably need to animate the orientation of the feathered linear wipe on the reflection, depending on the camera move. What's so very cool about this is that Invigorator maintains its correct 3D depth from any angle and the reflections follow right along. The relationship between the 3D objects and the After Effects ground plane remains in tact as well.
The reflections looks great, but you can make them even realistsic by choosing reflection maps for your 3D objects that contain colors from the scene. The chrome material I chose for the bevels on my objects includes a reflection map with blue in it. That blue helps sell the idea that the blue sky and blue grid are reflecting onto the object, just as they would in a raytraced environment.
Here's a link to the final movie with a dramatic camera move and static text.
I'll admit creating these great reflections gets more complicated if you're going to animate the Invigorator objects. The simplest method is to be sure the set assignments are the same in both Invigorator layers and to animate each layer separately. It's important to do this after the objects in the reflection layer have been tumbled and rotated.
Normally, the X and Z keyframes for each set are the same in both layers, but the Y keyframe numbers, representing up and down movement are opposite. For example, if you move set 1 up 100 in the normal Invigorator layer move set 1 of the reflection layer down 100. (Enter -100 in that reflection layer keyframe.)
You'll also find that the Z rotation keyframes work the same way. If you rotate a set +100 for the normal layer, you'll want to rotate the set -100 in the reflection layer.
In the frame below, the first few letters are flying into place. Their reflections follow right along.
There are some limits to this technique. If the objects in the normal Invigorator layer and the reflection layer cross Invigorator's groundplane, you'll run into problems. But with a little patience and attention to detail, the reflections come alive for animated 3D objects, just as they do for objects that don't move.
Here's a link to a movie with animated camera and text.
True raytracing may one day be part of Invigorator and ProAnimator. It'll be great when that happens. Until then, this technique makes reflections possible. Doing it while keeping Invigorator's 3D world in harmony with AE's 3D space makes it even more powerful.
I'll wrap this up by saying, "Thanks Andrew" for providing the foundation for this technique for Zaxwerks 3D Invigorator and ProAnimator. My hunch is that lots of Zaxwerks users will find what we've both done very useful.
Feel free to stop by the Zaxwerks forum and ask a question or comment about this tutorial.