Fox Classics Spot: A Lesson In 3D Layers, Roto and Expressions
From The Creative COW Magazine - Adobe After Effects Tutorial

Creative COW Magazine presents Fox Classics Spot: A Lesson In 3D Layers, Roto & Expressions

John DickinsonJohn Dickinson
Sydney New South Wales, Australia

©2006 John Dickinson and All rights reserved.

Article Focus:
In this After Effects tutorial from The Creative COW Magazine, John Dickinson walks you through his creation of a completed design and animation of a spot for Fox Classics in Australia. John shares the settings, effects and filters he used in this real world After Effects video production walk-through.

Recently, I completed the design and animation of a 60 second image spot for Fox Classics here in Australia. Fox Classics wanted to use iconic images of movie stars with the tagline "No matter how you look at them, they are forever classic." The goal was to capture the viewers attention and inspire them to take a fresh look at the classic films shown on the Fox Classics channel.

With this goal in mind, I decided on a black and white poster art style to give them a look that was timeless, yet contemporary. In keeping with the tag-line, I decided to use a 3D environment and have each actor rotoscoped out of the background and in front of a cube with a clean background plate on the front face. This really played up the depth and with the camera tracking and rotating - along with some of the cubes also rotating slightly - viewers get a different perspective of the vision both physically and figuratively.

In the spot, the virtual camera is animated in a single camera move which sweeps from cube to cube, from actor to actor, in an uninterrupted journey through a virtual gallery of classic moments.

I did a series of tests with various effects to create the poster art style; eventually settling on a combination of Levels, Gaussian Blur and Tinderbox 3's EdgeDetect and Silk effects. Each shot had to be fine-tuned and occasionally - as was the case with Paul Newman's striped shirt - duplicated and masked to reintroduce detail.

Paul Newman shots

In the images of Paul Newman above, you can see some of the steps that were taken to reach the final look, from untreated vision to final composite.

On the second page of this article, we'll explore some of the settings that I used to achieve the look you see here. Each shot was interpreted as 5 frames per second and then rotoscoped using the Pen tool and Rotobezier function.

The strobing style created by lowering the frame rate was a design decision but had the added bonus of saving me hours of rotoscoping work as I only had to set mask keyframes for every 5th frame.

Robert RedfordExcept for a few treated stock images, the front face of each cube is the actual scene from the film, cloned to remove the actor. This was done by taking multiple frames and using Photoshop's clone tool to rebuild a clean plate.

The large image of Robert Redford to your left is an example from the film "The Sting" showing the colorized shots and the final composite. The cube was made from 3D solids with the Ramp effect applied to the faces to simulate lighting rather than attempting to light the scene. The shadow below the cubes seen is a solid rotated, blurred and parented to one of the faces. Faking the lighting in this way made the whole 3D setup much easier and kept the lighting consistent throughout the spot.

After Effects Filters Once a cube and its corresponding shadow were set-up, it was precomposed then placed in a new comp with the rotoscoped vision sitting just in front in 3D space.

Building the other cubes was a simple case of duplicating and renaming the comps and switching out the background image and rotoscoped vision.

These prepared cubes were then placed into the main composition with the camera, and their Collapse Transformations switches activated - making their 3D attributes "visible" to the camera. Setting things up this way meant that the main comp had very few layers.

Below, you can see the main composition's Timeline panel showing the total number of layers.

John shares some of the effects and settings (above) that were used, as well as the timeline and layers settings (below).
AE Timeline 1

The animation took three days including a day for tests, a day for the basic move and a day for fine tuning.

The camera was actually pretty easy to control thanks to some tips I received from the talented Mark Coleran ( I parented the camera to a 3D null object then set up expression effects linked to the null's X and Z-position and Yrotation, that way I could use sliders to track the camera left and right and dolly it in and out. This also kept things organized and made all of the keyframes easily accessible on a single layer.

AE Timeline 2
The Master Controller layer showing the small number of keyframes necessary to build the animation.

I used a small thumbnail of the original edited base in the corner of the comp as a reference to make sure each cube hit its mark at the right time.

Some clips were short so they had to be freeze-framed at the beginning as they were moving into place. The Burt Lancaster clip was actually only a two second clip but After Effects' new timewarp effect enabled me to easily double its length.

AE Composition
Main composition showing thumbnail of the original edit in upper right.

To finish, I used CC Time Blend to add the echo effect and activated Depth of field for the camera to create separation between the foreground and background cubes.

John Dickinson is a talented motion graphics artist and is a forum leader for the Creative Cow After Effects and Zaxwerks forums. He can be contacted at john [at] motionworks [dot] com [dot] au.
All images courtesy of Foxtel Management Pty. Ltd. © Copyright 2006 - Used here by kind permission of Foxtel Management Pty, Ltd. Australia

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