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Sand Dune Effects with Digital Anarchy's Psunami

COW Library : Adobe After Effects Tutorials : Jim Tierney : Sand Dune Effects with Digital Anarchy's Psunami
Sand Dune Effects with Digital Anarchy's Psunami



A CreativeCOW.net After Effects Tutorial



Jim Tierney
Digital Anarchy, Palo Alto, California, USA

Article Focus:
There's no question that Digital Anarchy's Psunami plug-in for Adobe After Effects is a great tool for making photo realistic water simulation, but Psunami also has some powerful 3D Displacement Mapping Controls. In this tutorial, Jim Tierney demonstrates a 'non-water' use for Digital Anarchy's newly acquired Psunami plug-in. Follow along and learn how to create your own 'Dune' world. You'll need Psunami for this tutorial, so if you don't have it, download the demo.

Arrakis - Waterless 3D

For this tutorial we're temporarily changing the name of Psunami to Arrakis. For those of you that are well-read, you'll understand the reference. The rest of you heathens are required to go to your local bookstore, buy a book called Dune, read it, and then you can return to this tutorial. Such is the price one must pay for not already having read one of the best sci-fi books ever.

But I digress.

The reason for changing the name is that in this tutorial we're going to turn off the water simulation and just use Psunami's built in 3D displacement mapping and texture controls to create a swirling sand pit in the middle of the desert. This will give you a glimpse into the power of the 3D displacement controls. You can have up to 3 other layers affect Psunami, either as a displacement map, texture, or both.

Not exactly what you would expect from a filter designed to do photorealistic water simulation, but Psunami is capable of doing quite a bit more than you would think at first glance.

Go grab the project file here (22K). You can either just follow along looking at the pre-made project or create your own from scratch.

So let's take a look at what our final result will look like. Notice the sand dunes that don't move, and then the swirling sand that sinks into the pit.



Click on the image to show the movie (1.5mb).



3D Displacement Mapping


3D displacement is basically the same as 2D displacement, except you're pushing polygons around instead of pixels. You set a displacement amount, and then use a grayscale image matched up to an original image to determine which pixels in the original image will be pushed around and by how much.

White pushes the pixels the maximum distance in the positive direction (up or to the right), and Black pushes the pixels the maximum distance in the negative direction (down or to the left). Shades of gray push the pixels some percentage of the maximum amount. The closer to neutral/middle gray the less the pixels in the original image are affected. Neutral gray causes no displacement at all.

The same holds true in 3D. White pushes the polygons up the maximum amount, black pushes them down the maximum amount and shades of gray push them some percentage of the maximum.

Notice in the image below how the flag is shifted up quite a bit where the lighter values are, her leg is shifted down where the dark values, but her face, which is around the neutral gray values, is mostly unaffected.



Likewise, in the 3D Psunami image below, notice how polygons that correspond to the darker shades dip below the surface, while those that correspond to the lighter shades lift up above the surface.


The reason for babbling on about this is that both the sand dunes and the swirling sand will be created using 3D displacement maps. So you're going to become very familiar with them in the coming sections.





Making Grayscale Displacement Maps

The first thing we need to do is create the grayscale image that will create the dunes. This is reasonably simple. I've actually already created it for you, but I'll take you through the steps that were used to make it.

Open up the 'Dune Dismap' comp. Notice that this is a pretty large comp, it's 1024x768. This is to give us a little extra resolution, since we're going to be using it as a displacement map.

At this point, you can create your own comp, and follow the steps, or just examine the Dune Dismap comp. Whatever floats your boat.

Create a new solid that's the same size as the comp (1024x768).

Apply Fractal Noise (Effects>Render>Fractal Noise). The default settings of the noise works fine, so there's no need to make any changes to it.

However, we do want to blur the noise a bit. We can accomplish this by applying a gaussian blur to it. Set the blur to 25. This will smooth the noise out and give us smoother sand dunes. If we left it as is the extra detail in the noise would create a very rough surface. This might work if we wanted a rocky terrain, but for sand dunes, it helps to smooth things out a bit.



AE's blurs cause the edges to creep in. This can be remedied a couple ways. We could either shrink the comp (or make the layer larger) so the edges of the layer don't show OR we could put a solid color behind it.

In this case we're going to put a solid behind it. We're going to tile this displacement map, so we don't want the seams to show where sand dunes might abruptly stop or start. By putting a solid color behind it, putting that color around the edges, we create a nice even seam.

This might actually look a bit weird if the camera was going to be moving around, but it's going to be stationary, so we can get away with it. If the camera was going to move, we'd have to be more careful about the edges, but we'll be fine here.

So good, so far... here's what we've got to this point:



Now we're going to create the area that the sandpit is going to be in.

Create a New Solid that's 400x400 and has a neutral gray color (A value of 128 in each of the RGB channels). This should plop our new solid right in the middle of the screen. That's a fabulous place for it, so we'll leave it there.

Now create a perfectly round mask that's about the size of the solid. Grab the Circular Mask Tool, click and drag from the upper left corner to the lower right corner while holding the shift key. Nice round circle, nice round mask.

This is what we end up with:










Jim Tierney is the creator of Digital Anarchy and has worked on some of the most widely known and respected After Effects plug-in packages out there. Starting at MetaCreations, with Final Effects, and moving on to Atomic Power and their Evolution and Psunami packages . He also worked for Cycore for awhile, but was primarily involved with their 3D software and only remotely involved with Cult Effects. You can visit Jim's website by clicking on his logo to the right.

Please feel free to come to the Adobe After Effects Cow to discuss this technique or others. Or drop into Jim's own Digital Anarchy Forum here at the COW. Jim Tierney is a frequent visitor and contributor.

If you've found this tutorial from a direct link outside our site, please drop by CreativeCOW for a visit. We hope you'll make it your new home.



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