Parallax in After Effects

I’m trying to add a slight parallax effect to the stargazing concept for our pitch video. Usually if I wanted to create a parallax effect in After Effects I would animated the scale of different layers to scale with different timings. Jonny suggested looking at this video and it was a great reminder of how to use a camera in 3D space in After Effects. I had not heard of this method since foundation year and had forgotten it existed. By using this way, I can space the layers out in the z-axis and then animate the camera instead of scale. This also adds the ability to use other camera attributes such as depth of field and  aperture.


Alpha Channels, Masks and Mattes

Week 11

Alec shared this tutorial with us for using rgb channels as mattes in Nuke.


I wondered if there was a similar method to use in After Effects and found this:

Ask DT: After Effects – How to Composite Together a RGB matte, or ID Pass

This method uses keying>colour key to key out a particular colour. I found that this did not work very well for masking my grass as the edge was not very accurate even after adjusting the ‘edge thin’.

I found that this method using the ‘shift channel’ effect was more accurate. Not only can the transparency be shifted to show only luminance/white but also to red, green or blue and then the selected area/alpha can be used as a matte for another layer.


How to key out black


While searching for information about using masks in After Effects I came across this article:

After Effects Help/Alpha channels, masks and mattes

I thought that these notes in particular were interesting:

“The term alpha channel technically refers to the fourth (A) channel in an RGBA image file, regardless of whether that channel is used for communicating transparency information. However, since that fourth channel is used so often to communicate transparency information, the terms alpha and transparency have become nearly synonymous in common usage. It’s important to remember, though, that this connection is essentially arbitrary. Some formats may use other channels for transparency information, and other formats may use the fourth channel for something other than transparency information.”

…”A matte is a layer (or any of its channels) that defines the transparent areas of that layer or another layer. White defines opaque areas, and black defines transparent areas. An alpha channel is often used as a matte, but you can use a matte other than the alpha channel if you have a channel or layer that defines the desired area of transparency better than the alpha channel does, or in cases where the source image doesn’t include an alpha channel.”

“…A mask in After Effects is a path that is used as a parameter to modify layer attributes, effects, and properties. The most common use of a mask is the modification of an alpha channel of a layer, which determines the transparency of the layer at each pixel.”

Paint Effects for Stargazing Environment

Week 10

I was just beginning to research how we could create the grass in our stargazing scene when I came across this method using paint effects. In this tutorial, Hermes demonstrates how you can simply paint clumps of grass with the stroke of your pen/mouse. These grass clumps can then easily be modified and animated by using the turbulence tab under the attributes. I will research more into how flexible this system is for creating our own style, particularly for adding elements that look like brush strokes, or on the opposite end of that, very flat and graphic.

Maya 2014 tutorial: Animate grass to react to wind

In order to research more into how Paint Effects can be used I looked through chapter 10 of this book:

Mastering Autodesk Maya 2016 

Screen Shot 05-01-16 at 01.45 PM.JPG

These were some of the questions which arose before or during my reading through the chapter.

Chapter 10 Paint Effects pg 419 – 471

What do I need to figure out from these chapters?

  • How do I make my own custom shape to paint with?
  • Can I shade these whatever way I want to? How can I make a custom grass shape and shade it the same colour? And then light it?
  • Do they look good with light rendered with Maya software?
  • How can I animate these with ‘turbulence’ to match the wind in the scene?
  • What surface will I paint these on? Will the ground be visible?
  • How can I shade and light the grass so that it only fluctuates between two colours when it blows in the wind. Dark grass that catches hard light. – light link only the grass, make the ground the same colour?
  • Do you need to cache the wind/turbulence animation? Will the animation be retained in history?

These are some notes which I took while reading. There are still some areas which I haven’t covered yet e.g. Sorcha was telling me about painting along curves to create hair. At least I know that it’s possible.


Painting on 3D objects pg 425

  • You can paint in any camera or through the paint effects window.
  • You can create a bumpy/organic surface by lofting a surface between two dynamic hair curves (explained in a different chapter).
  • Paint Effects can be used with pressure sensitivity on your stylus using the pressure mapping settings e.g. mapped to scale. I didn’t fully understand how to make this work at first so I searched online and found this video which helped:

Pluralsight Creative (2013) Top Tip: Using Pressure Sensitive Features Within Maya

  • Both nurbs and polygon objects can be painted on.
  • Make 3D objects “paintable”. Objects must be UV mapped in the 0 to 1 space. You can paint on a moving surface such as water. You can generate paint effects on a nurbs curve.

Understanding strokes

  • A stroke node and a transform node is created when you paint. The brush node is also connected to the strokes and retains a construction history.
  • Each stroke has its own brush node but you can edit brushes at the same time with brush sharing.
  • You may need to make changes in the node editor e.g. to change the type of curve controlling the stroke.
  • A different curve node is created depending on the type of surface which is painted on.

Designing Brushes

  • Paint effects is a development of L-systems; mathematical algorithms used to simulate living organisms.
  • Some brushes add shapes to the scene. Others work by affecting the appearance of geometry behind the brush. E.g. ‘erase’ paints black holes in the alpha channel.
  • Mesh strokes don’t render in Mental Ray. However, strokes can be converted to polygons.

Rendering Paint Effects

  • Light linking does not work with paint effects.

This article from Autodesk was helpful to load the Paint Effects shelf and add custom brushes to the shelf: Prepare to use Paint Effects.

Stargazing: Possible Palettes

Week 09

For the stargazing concept, once I had laid down a simple composition of values I needed to think about colour. Usually I would use these values as a base and maybe use colour adjustment and colour or overlay layers to start laying down colour onto the canvas. This time I just used the values as a guide and painted in a normal layer. I found that this method gave me more control over the paint hue and saturation.

Colour is still something which I struggle with and need lots of practice. I gathered a few images with darkening skies but vibrant colours for inspiration and generated palettes from these using Adobe Kuler.

Images sources are on my Pinterest board here: Iglu: Stargazing Outdoors 

I was also looking for inspiration for palettes to redo the ‘office stress’ concept that I was working on and came across Doubts by Pascal Campion. I like the simplicity of the split areas: warm hard light surrounded by blue shadows with low contrast values. High contrast is reserved for the focal point.


Style Inspiration

Week 09 (April 4th 2016)

In order to create a unique style for 10 Songs we looked at a lot of different animated shorts and illustrations over the past nine weeks. Le Gouffre (2014) in particular had stood out to us for it’s painted textures but we still felt that we could push the style further. We seemed to be reverting closer and closer to realism and safety (in a struggle to understand what Iglu wanted from us maybe?) so we sat down again and looked through the different art styles that stood out to us. Jonny gave us the go ahead to try whatever we wanted, just make something beautiful he said!:)

Looking at the art we liked, I tried to break down the creation process of the artist: graphic flat colours as shapes, blended strokes, line, no line and level of abstraction.

The biggest element of Campion’s work that we could learn from is the ability to simplify. Campion uses quite a high level of abstraction to symbolise form but you can understand the story in his work straight away from composition of light and values. Sorcha also learned from his blog that he has done a lot of work for engagement advertisements which is very relevant to our own story/subject matter.

Pascal Campion Images from

Jeremy Mann Images from

Jeremy Mann is a painter who Kerry showed me last year. I really love the idea of walking through one of these paintings! Similar to Pascal Campion, I like how impressionistic Mann’s style is.

Jean Giraud/Moebius images from:

On the other side of this, we like the importance of line in Moebius’ work. In some areas the line seems to give texture to the surface of the form. We discussed the possibility of how well these styles could mix e.g. if the characters had line and the backgrounds did not or vice-versa. We especially considered the possibility of keeping the characters flat and graphic with lne and the backgrounds loose and impressionistic so that the characters would stand out.


Josan’s The Future is Now (2016) Kickstarter at:

Josan’s work is another example of the line detail which we like in Moebius’ work. Josan also has some simple parallax of planes and movement of objects which help to bring his concepts to life.


The Approximate Present (2014) by Filippo  Baraccani

When we were discussing Mann’s work, Sorcha remembered The Approximate Present (2014), an animated short by Filippo Baraccani which Kerry also happened to show us last year. We were disucssing how we could bring Mann’s and Campion’s abstract and impressionistic forms into 3D animated space. The Approximate Present (2014) has an example of this which we liked where the cars are represented as rectangles coming towards the camera on a road. We figured that even in 3D space we can arrange simple shapes/planes of colour in ways to represent forms such as city lights. We could experiment with the texture and arrangement of these shapes the way that Jeremy Mann does also.


As a team, I wonder how we could have experimented more with these styles a lot sooner into the project. We spent a lot of time researching but being able to jump on one particular style and make a unified team vision was very challenging. I think that personally I sometimes spend too much time thinking and not enough time expressing. I need to be more proactive in helping the team visualise. I spent a lot of time blocking out layouts in Maya for painting over and for animatics and didn’t put enough time into developing the style for these. In saying that, I think that I could at least approach this method a little faster now that I’ve tried it before.