How to make a Traditional Chinese Painting Effect
How to make a Traditional Chinese Painting Effect
Adobe After Effects Tutorial

Creating A Traditional Chinese Painting Effect by Joe Chao

Joe Chao (Cao Jun) Joe Chao,
Jiangsu, China
©2005 Joe Chao and

Article Focus:
In this tutorial for Adobe After Effects, Joe Chao (The English pronunciation that Cao Jun gives to his Western friends) gracefully gives to CreativeCow readers his easy-to-follow lessons on reproducing an ancient art technique, thousands of years old, and producing for today interesting and versatile special effects.

All of the nations in the world have their own traditional arts. In China there is a kind of traditional art called “traditional Chinese painting” in English. It has a history of thousands of years. In ancient time many Chinese painters created many great works of this kind of art. Now days, many digital artists try hard to imitate such effects. Many ways have been found to create such visual effects in different software applications such as MAYA, 3DSMAX, and AFTER EFFECTS.

Now, I want to introduce a simple way for you to reproduce this time-honored art form using your software. It can let your videos have such an interesting look. I have even amended this skill so that it can be used to make some manual-painting style videos.

Before I begin, I think it would be better to show an example of this beautiful and ancient Chinese art:
Sample of traditional Chinese Art
From this example we can see that Traditional Chinese painting is a kind of abstract painting style. It usually does not have many colors. In fact, many Chinese painters only paint their works in black and white.

Well, let's begin the tutorial:


Step 1:

First of all, create a new project and import your video. By the way, not all the video clips are suitable for this effect. Usually, the videos with too many details are not suitable, because the outlines could be too complex. That will make the effect a little strange.

Here is the picture I used:
Bengjin photo
Create a new composition and add this picture to your time line. Duplicate it after having resized it.

Step 2:

Apply these effects to the upper layer:

  • effect> Find Edges (It can find the edges to imitate the verge strokes, but it seems that there are too many strokes)
  • effect> Levels (now we can deduce the adjustment of the picture and get rid of the superfluous strokes)
  • effect> Hue/Saturation (we need only strokes in black and white)
  • effect> Gaussian Blur (this filter can imitate the ink's blur edges)

Here is the screen shoot of the settings:

Step 2 settings screen shot
(Please click here for a larger screen shot)

And the result should be like this:
Screen shot of step 2

Step 3:

Apply these effects to the nether layer:

  • effect> Median (It can imitate the painter strokes, but it seems that there are too many strokes)
  • effect> Levels (adjust the layer's look, and remember to kill the superfluous details)
  • effect> Hue/Saturation (in this effect we must reduce the Saturation, We can even reduce it to zero in this effect)
  • Switch the transparence mood of the upper layer to “overlay”

Here is the screen shoot of the settings:
Step 3 settings screen shot
(Please click here for a larger screen shot)

Screen shot of time line:

Step 3 timeline
(Please click here for a larger screen shot)

Step 4:

Now our composition is quite good looking, but it is not enough yet.
Chinese painters like to paint on a kind of rice paper, so we will also imitate that.

Import a photo shoot of a piece of rice paper:
Rice paper

Import it to our project and drag it to the time line. Place it at the bottom. Change the transparence mood of the middle layer to “multiply”. Now the video probably looks a little too dark or too light. Adjust until you are satisfied with it.

Here is the screen shoot:

Step 4

Step 5:

Now the whole project is almost finished. We can also trim it to a wide screen size, and add some signets and Chinese texts which can make the effects look more authentic.

The screen shot:

Step 5

However, you can reserve the color, and you could also get a nice look for your video:

Step 5 colour

After all, this tutorial can only partially imitate this kind of traditional art. So this effect can only be called a Traditional-Chinese-painting effect.

Notes: Because different footage has different color ranges, the settings in the last step can be very different between different footages. But the main idea is the same.

That's all, and wish to be helpful.

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