Recently, the team at MK12, an awesome design and filmmaking collective, created a beautiful piece for Semi-Permanent’s 2014’s Sydney conference. Some of my favorite motion graphics work has been done by MK12, so it’s no surprise how awesome this piece looks and feels.
Most amazingly, this work was not done with CGI particles – it was all practical. The awesome folks at The Art of the Title did a really great breakdown of the work, and provided an invaluable Behind the Scenes video that shows how chalk and high speed filming was used to create the effects seen in the video. You should absolutely watch it, as it’s a great reminder that CGI is not the end-all for great visuals.
Don’t get me wrong – I love VFX, but have to admit, there’s something about the uncontrolled and chaotic nature of practical effects that CGI has yet to truly replace.
That said we caught a tweet that mentioned that an animator names Claude Autret was inspired to attempt recreating some of the effects in After Effects. We were curious to see the results, so we followed the link.
While the results are quite different from MK12’s practical work, Claude does a great job of creating a beautiful organic CGI effect. Always inspired when I see our customers pushing our software to it’s limits to create something awesome, I reached out to Claude and asked him to tell us a little bit about himself and how he achieved the effect.
I’m a 26 years old french graphic designer living in Rennes, and have been a freelancer mainly in motion design for about two years now. I discovered motion design a bit by accident when I was working in an agency, and since then I’ve been learning as much as possible, until I finally felt I was able to work in that field. I love to experiment with plugins that extend the possibilities of After Effects like Trapcode ones.
A few weeks ago, I found some interesting effects while playing with Trapcode Form, but had no practical use for them at the time. Then I saw MK12’s titles for Semi-Permanent on Art of the Title, and thought those ultra slow-motion explosions of chalk were the perfect way to test the realism and the control I could achieve on this kind of effects.
So I’m basically using a letter (or a letter converted to a shape, to use only the outside stroke) as a layer map for Form, with really small particles, and then animate the displacement and dispersion so it explodes towards the camera. I used 3 lights around the form, and shadowlets only, as global shading was too strong for this project.
One of the tricks that makes it look good is using a high aperture on the camera, so everything closer than the letter gets blurry and creates that powder effect.
You can control the variations with the complexity, octave multiplier and so on. Adding just a little bit of flow also brings some life to it.
I then duplicated the layer map and made it 3D, tweaked the visibility of Form so the particles appear “through” the letter, and used Form as an alpha inverted map, so it doesn’t overlay over the letter. I had used a pretty large ( 960x960px ) composition for the explosions, so I could scale it down and have even smaller details and particles. Each exploding letter was finally rendered as a .mov with rgb+alpha. I’ve seen a lot of people asking about render time, well it took about half an hour for each letter on my not-so-powerful laptop, so it’s reasonable for almost 20 millions particles !
Then it’s just a basic 3D comp with lots of tweaks and color corrections, and a small camera move.
There’s also a part where particles are seen from the side, but that is way easier so I’ll just leave the small video breakdown here:
Thanks to MK12 for the inspiration, Trapcode for the awesome plugin, and Aharon for asking me to write this.
Claude, you are very welcome. I really enjoyed your breakdown, and I know many other users will too.
FREE PROJECT FILES:
Best of all – Claude has provided us with an After Effects project file which you can get HERE on Red Giant People, our free website for sharing presets and templates.