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Sunday, June 5, 2011

••◊ Wall of Lights - After Effects Project Tutorial

In addition to managing the San Diego Filmmakers Vimeo account, I also got roped into doing the motion graphics for their pre-meeting advertising video.  My first attempt was pretty simple and pathetic, simply because it was the first After Effects project I had done - not saying the new one is pro quality yet, but I'm improving.  As research I went out on the old Interwebs and found a couple pieces of inspiration include a wall of lights and the motion graphics from the Oscars.  For my effort I had to scale it back a bit a lot to something I could do in a weekend, so I went for the wall of lights concept.  After all, After Effects is a dark human abyss of creativity that sucks you in until you (or your spouse, in my colleague's case) realize you haven't showered for two days straight.  A picture of the result is below.  It looks kinda like the stage at a live show.  Rock!

The non-obvious part of this video was making the wall of lights randomly blink on and off, in addition to just making a wall of lights without having to generate and manage 100 or more objects in After Effects.  What can I say?  I'm an engineer.  I want things to be optimized and simplified.  Messy isn't my thing.

The first thing I started with is a simple composition containing nothing more than a circle.  To do this I added a shape layer (Layer-New-Shape Layer), then add a white circle (Effect-Generate-Circle) to the shape layer.  Simple soft yellow Glow (Effect-Stylize-Glow) and slight Lens Blur (Effect-Blur & Sharpen-Lens Blur) effects on the circle made it look a little more like a glowing bulb than a circle.

My next step was to tile this circle in a grid using the tiler effect (Effect-Distort-CC Tiler).  In my case I made this a 10x10 grid.  Pretty simple so far.

The problem is that you can't animate the brightness of each circle using this effect.  Through experimentation I found an alternative that could only exist in the strange universe of After Effects.  First I created a new gray layer (Layer-New-Solid) and added a CC Ball Action effect to it (Effect-Simulation-CC Ball Action).  To make the move in Brownian motion I added a "wiggle" expression to the "Scatter" parameter of the CC Ball Action effect.

To turn this into something I could use to control brightness of the circles I added a Mosaic Effect (Effect-Stylize-Mosaic) to align the random mosaic with the array of circles.  To further control the overall brightness I also added a Brightness & Contrast effect to the ball layer (Effect-Color Correction-Brightness & Contrast).

Now when I turned back on the circle shape Layer and adjusted the Brightness and Contrast of the ball layer the circles faded in and out randomly.  I also added a power mask to darken the area around the logo for read ability, but that's just an aesthetic choice.  The result looks something like the following (without the power mask shown)...

Back in the main composition I imported the background blinky lights composition and added a Red Giant Quick Looks setting that was free, an orange-brown Tint (Effect-Color Correction Tint), more Glow (Effect-Stylize-Glow), and 10 light rays (Effect-Generate-CC Light Rays) to simulate stage lights.

The blinking of the lights is random which is both good and bad for composing the motion graphics, but overall I think the effect has been pulled off.  The final result can be seen on the SDF Vimeo page.

1 comment:

Filbur said...

Fantastic! I was thinking at the SDF meeting that theaters should play more stuff like this before their movies, something with a peaceful/sexy Hollywood of the past feeling, instead of that loud obnoxious flying through junk food infested futuristic cities crap. Great work, and great post.

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