Trapcode Tao


The Shader group plays an important role in the appearance of the geometry and it responds to After Effects lights and cameras.

Each Shader option has an optimal combination with certain Material settings and Blend modes, and we suggest those combinations below. Other settings can be used, of course, if a certain look is desired.

  • Density: works as thin material, like a veil would. It looks more dense when looking at an angle then when looking straight on. It also decreases in density when stretched out by fractal displacement, and correspondingly looks more dense where the fractal pinches the material together. This shader should normally be used with the Blend pop-up menu set to Add or Super Add, and DepthBuf set to Off.

  NOTE: When Shader is set to Density, Diffuse Softness, Specular, and Shininess in the Material & Lighting group are disabled, and Density Affect and Normal Affect in the Rendering group are enabled.

  • Smooth: polygons are rendered as a smooth surface. It should normally be used with the Blend pop-up menu set to Off and DepthBuf set to On.


  • Flat: uses constant normals across polygon faces. This is the default setting, and can be used to achieve a “low-poly” look.


The Draw mode decides how to draw the geometry. Draw options create very different looks for the mesh.

There are seven Draw modes:

  • Fill: the default setting. The polygons that make up the mesh render as filled in on all sides.
  • Wirefame: turns the polygons of the mesh into a wireframe skeleton of the plane. In this mode you can use Line Size to increase the width of the lines in the wireframe. Higher numbers will create thicker lines. When changing to Wireframe mode, you may want to change to a reduced Segment > Segments setting if there are too many wireframe lines in your scene.
  • Points: renders vertices as a point cloud. Use Point Size to increase the size of the points.
  • Front Fill, Back Wire: creates a filled texture on its front side, and a wireframe texture on its back side.
  • Front Fill, Back Cull: creates a filled texture on its front side, and culls the backfaces. Backface culling makes the inside face of polygons invisible when pointed towards the camera.
  • Front Wire, Back Cull: turns front-facing polygons into wireframe mesh, and culls the backfaces.
  • Front Points, Back Cull: turns the vertices of front-facing polygons into points, and culls the backfaces.

draw_fill_wireline draw_points_frontbackdraw_front_cull

The Blend pop-up menu determines how overlapping polygons are blended together. There are four Blend modes:  

  • Off: turns blending off. Generally the Blend mode should be set to Off when Shader is set to either Flat or Smooth to produce the best results. Note that Ambient Occlusion can be seen best when Blend is set to Off.
  • Normal: performs regular composite operation. This is of limited use in Tao but provided as a creative option.
  • Add: adds polygons to each other so intensity increases as polygons overlap. This mode has the tendency to create white highlights in the lighting scheme where two intense lights overlap each other. Useful with the Density shader.
  • Super Add: useful when there are very bright lights in the scene that cause colors to become gray-ish. When activating the Super Add mode, Tao uses HDR calculations to reveal the real colors in the gray areas, even in 8bpc and 16bpc modes. However, activating the Super Add mode sacrifices the alpha channel, rendering everything on a black background.

blend_off_normal blend_add_superadd

The DepthBuf pop-up menu sets the depth buffer to On or Off. By default it is set to On, which means that pixels at a nearer distance get drawn over pixels at a further distance. This usually creates better results when using Ambient Occlusion. Setting this to Off can alleviate issues with overlapping geometry, and typically creates better results when Shader is set to Density. depthbuff_on_off   shader_densitybuff_png

Density Affect sets how much the fractal displacement affects the density of the material. It is only active when Shader is set to Density. densityaffect

Normal Affect changes the way materials are viewed when seen at an angle. At higher values, the more the material is facing the camera, the more transparent it becomes. This can be used to mimic the way a thin material would behave. Adjusting the Amplitude in combination with this control to create an interesting 'x-ray' look. It is only active when Shader is set to Density. normalaffect

The Second Pass pop-up menu allows you to add a wireframe overlay to your geometry. The wireframe becomes enabled by changing the pop-up menu from Off (default) to Wireframe. This also enables two other parameters (SP Line Size and SP Color) which allow you to customize the look of the wireframe overlay. Use SP Line Size to change the size of the wireframe lines when the Second Pass wireframe is turned on. Use SP Color to change the color of the Second Pass wireframe. Click the color swatch to open the color picker to select a color, or click the eyedropper to sample a color from your scene. original_secondpass

Ambient Occlusion Ambient occlusion (AO) provides non-directional shadowing of inset polygons that are obscured by the mesh around it, which is useful to add depth. AO is most obvious in the creases of the geometry. All modes except Off take the same amount of time to render. When set to Off, there will be no AO on the mesh, which reduces VRAM usage and increases render speed. ambientocclusion

The Ambient Occlusion pop-up menu has five modes:

  • Off: no ambient occlusion. This reduces VRAM usage and increases render speed.
  • On: produces smooth (i.e. non-noisy) AO, but can contain artifacts. When turned on, AO analyzes how embedded a polygon is in relation to the other polygons around it.
  • Dither 1: produces AO with dithering.
  • Dither 2: produces AO with an alternate dithering algorithm. This is the most accurate mode of the three Dither settings.
  • Dither 3: produces AO with an alternate dithering algorithm.

NOTE: If you plan to enable Depth of Field you'll need to have Ambient Occlusion On.

AO Intensity controls the strength of AO. Turn up the AO Intensity to add strength to the Ambient Occlusion and darken the shaded areas. Keeping the AO Intensity low can prevent banding issues while still adding a dimension of depth, so it should be kept at the smallest acceptable value to reduce artifacts and noise.

Changing AO Radius will affect the size of the AO effect. The higher the value the larger the shadow, which tends to spread out and diffuse the shadow. The AO Radius is the one exception under these controls and works best when set at a higher number.

AO Lift can reduce self-occlusion and other artifacts by “lifting” the AO off of the surface. The AO Lift control can also be used to brighten the shadows. Lowering AO Lift all the way down to 0 may create self occlusion, so this control should be kept at 0.2 or higher to avoid this.

AO Scale scales the AO calculation. A higher value reduces the AO effect. AO Scale acts as an inversion of AO Intensity, but is generally not necessary to adjust beyond its default setting. aoscale