Well it’s nice to finally have the time to write out some new Blog posts and not have to worry about University deadlines. That said I did really enjoy working on my final second year project so I thought I’d write a tutorial that extends what I’ve looked at in my previous tutorial and takes it into new software.
Below you can see the final outcome, as you can see it’s simply a camera panning across a rotating planet model but you can take what you learn here much further and create something like my final animation.
This tutorial will use Photoshop, Premiere Pro and After Effects. Photoshop for the image editing, Premiere Pro for animation sequences, audio and exporting and After Effects to create the animated scene. Quite a lot to get through so let’s get going. I’ll write another tutorial soon to take it further, adding new elements and doing some DVD authoring using Adobe’s Encore software.
The Photos and Photoshop
Now I’m not expecting you to have a planet model on a rotating base just hanging around so just for you I’m going to include a 180 photo set for one of my planets that I used for my final animation so you can follow along. You can download these files here, it also includes the Star background I used. Don’t go using them commercially, as if you would.
If you’re interested the planet is a styrofoam ball with dry brushed paper mache on it, the planet is called Iron. This is then mounted on a skewer, slotted into my rotating base, a bit of steel piping with ball bearings, and then placed in front of a bit of blue card, lit with two desk lamps and rotated 2 degrees at a time.
I then took all these photos into Photoshop, cropped them, colour corrected and removed the base out of them. That’s all I used Photoshop so if you’re using my ones then you won’t really need Photoshop.
The Animation Sequence and Premiere Pro
Sure you could just use After Effects to make the animation but I found it easier to have Premiere Pro do it for me. I won’t go into much detail because I’m hoping you will have read how to do it all in my previous tutorial.
Create a new project, give it a new name and click OK. In sequences choose the DV-PAL Widescreen 48kHz preset, you can make it bigger if you like but the included assets are set up for that size. Click OK to continue.
Now find the folder called ‘Planet Photos’ in the resources pack and drag it into the Premiere Pro project files. Once it’s finished importing them drag the folder to the beginning of the timeline. Save it and then close the project, that’s all you need to do in Premiere Pro.
- Premiere Pro make sequence animation easy
- New project, DV-PAL Widescreen 48kHz
- Drag in planet photos, drag to timeline
- Save and close
Importing Assets into After Effects
Now the reason you just made a Premiere Pro project is so you can use Adobe’s Dynamic Link to import it into After Effects and use it in the animation. You can do the Premiere Pro bit in After Effects but the only way I know is tedious, and Premiere Pro does it instantly.
After Effects open with an untitled project so go to Composition > New Composition and under the Basic tab choose PAL D1/DV Widescreen Square Pixel and set the Duration (at the bottom) to 0:00:20:00, that’s 20 seconds. Timecodes can be represented as h:mm:ss:ff where f is frames. Give the composition a name if you want. Save your project so you’re not working on an untitled project.
Now to bring in your assets, go to File > Import > Adobe Premiere Pro Project… and find the planet project we just made by default it will be in the Adobe folder in your Documents under Premiere Pro. When it brings up the Premiere Pro Importer choose Sequence 01 and deselect Import Audio.
This will then bring in all the photos and a sequence file in a folder in the Project palette. Drag in the Star.jpg file from the Resources Pack as well.
- Composition > New Composition, PAL D1/DV Widescreen Square Pixel
- Timecodes — h:mm:ss:ff where f is frames
- File > Import > Adobe Premiere Pro Project… brings in all Premiere Pro assets and sequences
Making an After Effects Camera
The last to do before we begin is create the camera that we’ll use to pan across our scene. Go to Layer > New > Null Object… and Layer > New > Camera… when it brings up the Camera options dialog just click OK and it will come up with a warning about there being no 3D layers, that’s alright, click OK on that too.
Now we have to link the Camera to the Null Object so we can use the Null Object to key frame the movement of the Camera, this can be done by left click and dragging the spiral like thing (called a pick whip) on the Camera 1 layer and dragging it to the Null 1 layer and letting go.
Now we need to turn on the 3D setting for the Null 1 layer, just click in the box below the cube icon. By turning on the 3D settings for the layer we will be able to move it around in three dimensions which we will use to add some depth, although I don’t use it in this tutorial this can be used to add depth of field.
- Layer > New > Null Object…
- Layer > New > Camera… keep the settings the same
- Pick whip link them together, set 3D settings
Make the Scene with After Effects
Now it’s time to set up the scene, drag in the Star.jpg file, turn on the 3D setting as this is going to be the background we want to put it as far away as possible, this way as the camera pans it will move more slowly as you’d expect because of the Parallax effect. To do this you can drag the blue handle on the movement tool or select the layer, press P to bring up the position and give it a large Z value. I’ve got it set to 1100.
Find the Premiere Pro sequence, probably Sequence 01, and drag that in as well. Now in the timeline you will notice we want a 20 second animation but the planet rotation is only a bit longer than 7 seconds. No worries, just copy and paste the layer a couple of times and to keep them all together we need to Pre-Compose them, select them as all and use Ctrl+Shift+C (Cmd+Shift+C) to do this. Give the Pre-Comp a name if you like and double click it to open it up.
Now it’s just a matter of dragging them along so they follow on one after the other, you can use the Zoom Slider at the bottom of the timeline to make this easier, make sure there aren’t any gaps.
When you go back to your original composition you will see that it is now long enough to be rotating for the entire 20 seconds. Time to Chroma Key it now to remove the blue background. With the Planet Pre-Comp selected go to Effect > Keying > Keylight (1.2) and this will open the Effect Controls palette in the place of the Project palette on the left.
Above is the final results, first you use the eye dropper next to Screen Colour to grab the blue background then Screen Gain and Balance to fine tine it all to remove the background completely. Screen Colour is the main one as that removes any remaining blue and Screen Balance fine tunes the edge of the planet model.
Turn on the 3D setting for the Planet Pre-Comp and send it back a little bit so it’s not just following the camera. Just in case you’re copying me exactly I put mine to 350 on the Z axis.
If we were to export it now we would have a rotating planet, which is all well and good, but not as interesting as it could be, so let’s crack on with some key framing.
- Ctrl+Shift+C — Pre-Compose
- Effect > Keying > Keylight (1.2)
- Set colour with eye dropper, Screen Gain and Balance fine tune it
Key Framing with After Effects
Animating in After Effects is done by setting a series of keyframes between which After Effects automatically tweens, meaning if you give it a starting position and an end position it will evenly move between the two points. The pace at which it moves it determined by how far apart the key frames are on the timeline, the smaller the separation, the faster it moves.
As I’ve kept this tutorial pretty simple all we need to do is set the starting position and the end position of the camera to create a panning motion. We move the Camera layer by moving the Null layer as they are tied together so select the Null layer and press P to bring up the position. To key frame a layer you’ve got to click the little stop watch to the left of the layer property.
Make sure you’re at the start of the timeline when you do this, then you’ll want to move the camera to its starting position, this can be done three ways. With the layer selected click and drag the red arrow in the composition, click and drag on the numerical value or type a value in. I set my camera’s starting position to 971, 288, 0.
Now drag the timeline slider to the end and set your camera’s end position, After Effects will automatically create a new keyframe if you change a keyframed property when not already over an existing keyframe. As you move the camera you will see it leaves behind a trail, this is the path that the tweening will follow.
To jump between keyframes you can use the arrows to the left of the layer name, the central diamond can be used to create a keyframe without changing a property first.
I set my final camera position to be –112, 288, 0.
- Use the Stopwatch to set the layer property to be keyframed
- After Effects automatically tweens between keyframes
- Changing a keyframed property automatically creates a keyframe
- Use the arrows to move between keyframes
RAM Preview in After Effects
When you have numerous assets on screen at once After Effects can struggle to play it back smoothly (press Space to start playing), it tells you in the top right what the frame rate is. To create a temporary preview you can use the RAM Preview, this loads the scene in your Work area slider into your RAM.
Depending on how much RAM you have you should probably only RAM preview a few seconds at a time with intensive scenes. To do this drag the Work Area slider to contain the area you want to preview and click the RAM preview button, this can be found on the right hand side.
After Effects will then load it into your memory, the green bar below the Work Area slider shows which frames have been rendered and play it back at the set frame rate, in this case 25 fps.
If everything look right then it’s time to load it into Premiere Pro and export it.
Exporting with Premiere Pro
Okay so with Premiere Pro open create a New Project, give it a name and click Ok and then choose the same preset as before, in this case that’s DV-PAL Widescreen 48kHz. If you don’t want to create a new project and use the existing one you can right click in the Project palette select New Item > Sequence… and choose the correct preset there.
Now to set up the Adobe Dynamic Link, go to File > Adobe Dynamic Link > Import After Effects Composition… and navigate to the After Effects Project file, usually in your Documents in the Adobe folder. Choose the main composition and not the one you made for the planet.
Use the icon to drag the file it imports into your Project palette into the timeline. Using Premiere Pro you could now add sound effects and music if you wanted but I’m going to leave mine the way it is, I already covered Sound in Premiere Pro in my last tutorial.
Now it’s time to export it go to File > Export > Media… and it will bring up the Export Settings window.
As we’ve been using Adobe presets the entire time it’s really easy to export this video but for some reason the file that came out played a bit odd so I used some custom settings to make it right. Using he H.264 format and the PAL DV Widescreen High Quality preset as a base I changed the following.
- Frame Width: 720px
- Frame Height: 576px
- Frame Rate: 25
- Level: 4.2 (this changes quite a few settings hence why I had to change them back)
- Target Bitrate: 2
- Maximum Bitrate: 4
- Set Key Frame Distance: 25
Click Ok, Start the Queue in Adobe Media Encoder and you’re done.
So I intend to make another tutorial where I take another look at this and go deeper into After Effects using such things as layer blending options, keyframing curved paths and more animated objects.