Trapcode Tao

Material & Lighting:

This group is used to adjust the color and appearance of the geometry, as well as how the surfaces react to light.


Color has a swatch for setting the color of the segments, letting you choose a color by either clicking the eyedropper to manually select a color from your scene, or from a pop-up color picker that appears when the color square is clicked. Whatever color is chosen will be reflected in the surface of the geometry.

Opacity adjusts the opacity of the geometry. We recommended lower settings more for the Density mode, when the Blend mode is set to Add, but it's best to keep at 100 for the Phong and Flat Shader modes unless you are trying to achieve an overall ghosted appearance with your mesh.

Ambient defines how much ambient light the segments will reflect. Ambient light radiates in all directions and is often used to reduce contrast by lightening shadow areas. NOTE: If using a path from TAO lights, ambient light is created by using a native Ambient light in After Effects.

Diffuse is the non-directional component of shading, meaning that this determines how much the surface gives away light in all directions. This does not tie into any particular light type, but instead affects all lights in the composition. High values make the light brighter while low values make the light duller. Matte surfaces typically have a large diffuse component.

Diffuse Softness sets the softness of the diffuse light. A setting of 100 is the default and creates a soft diffusion. A lower setting (of 20, for example) gives a sharp edge where the diffuse lights abruptly changes from completely on to completely off. Lower settings can be used to simulate the sharp diffuse reflection of the moon, or for cartoon-style looks, for example. Higher values than 100 can be set but have no known physical correspondence.

Specular reflection is the mirror-like reflection of light on a surface. When turned up, the geometry appears more glossy, like plastic or metal. Turn the Specular amount to 0 and the mesh becomes matte and almost paper-like. High values make the mesh look more glossy. You may need to lower the Diffuse value to allow the highlights to come through. NOTE: Specular controls are only available in Smooth or Flat Shader modes (Rendering > Shader).


Shininess controls the size of the specular highlight. Low values increase the size of the specular highlight. High values create smaller specular highlights, which is helpful when creating very shiny materials like plastic.

Metal controls how the material transforms the color of the reflected light. If set to zero, the colors remain unaffected by the material, such as plastic materials or perfect mirrors. If set to 100 the incoming light will be completely transformed into the color of the material, which is an attribute of metallic surfaces. This setting affects both specular reflections from AE lights and IBL environment reflections.


Fresnel sets the amount that the material reflects more at sharper angles, so the more parallel the light rays are to the surface, the more it reflects. Many materials only (or mostly) reflect light in this way. This setting affects both specular reflections from AE lights and IBL environment reflections.

Diffuse Holdout, when increased, will decrease diffuse light in areas where specular and reflected light are high. This can be useful when using texture maps (found in the Textures group), such as specular maps. The image below shows different settings for Diffuse Holdout for two different environments and with a checkered specular texture. Notice how the diffuse light is decreased in the reflective areas but unaffected in the non-reflective areas when Diffuse Holdout is used.


The Light Falloff pop-up menu decides if and how After Effects lights dim, or “fall off” as distance increases from the light source. The settings behave like After Effects’ Falloff parameters. Light Falloff only supports Point lights. There are three Falloff modes:

  • None: the default setting. It uses the default for AE's lights and does not fall off.
  • Smooth: enables control over light falloff using both the Light Radius and Light Distance properties. The light is constant until the radius, and then falls to zero at the distance value.
  • Distance Squared: This is the natural equation for light falloff, using the inverse square law to calculate light falloff.

The Light Radius value sets how wide of an area the light hits from the light source. (Only for Smooth and Distance Squared modes) Use the Light Distance value to set how far the light will extend before fading out. (Only for Smooth mode) Include TAO Lights selects whether to include TAO Lights (the lights that make up the paths) or not in the lighting. Normally this should be off, but in some cases it might be desirable to turn it on. For example in Build-up mode, one might want the build-up point to be a light source. Include TAO LUMI Lights selects whether to include TAO LUMI lights or not in the lighting. TAO LUMI Lights are explained in the Paths from TAO Lights group page of the documentation. TAO LUMI lights always affect the material they intersect with, and this setting controls whether they also affect nearby surfaces.

Image Based Lighting Group

This group allows for placing the TAO scene in an environment specified by a spherical environment map. There are several built-in environments installed with Tao for convenience, but any spherical environment can be used to light the scene. The Built-in Environment pop-up menu allows you to choose from 8 HDRi maps that ship with Tao. These built-in environments work as HDR even if the project is set to 8bpc. There are 6 higher quality menus available for download to you by logging in to your Red Giant account and accessing the “Download HDRi maps” download link in the Your Products page.


Expose Environment changes exposure for the environment (both reflection and diffuse). Increasing this value by one adds one stop of exposure. When making drastic changes to exposure, make sure the source is HDR and the project is in 32bpc mode. The built-in environments are HDR even if the project is set to 8bpc so they can be drastically re-exposed without going to 32 bpc. This setting may not work as expected when working in Linear Light, as increasing this value by one will not exactly equal a stop of exposure, but it will get brighter.

Rotate Environment rotates the environment (both reflection and diffuse) on the Y axis. This corresponds to panning the camera horizontally. This property can be helpful in compositing, as the brighter parts of the environment map can be rotated into an alternate position. This setting corresponds exactly to Trapcode Horizon’s setting Orientation > Y Rotation so they can be linked with an expression if desired.

If Built-in Environment is set to None, you can choose a layer to use as a custom reflection map using the Reflection Environment Map pop-up menu. Any image can be selected, but to make a correct environment map it should be a spherical map (also called a “lat/long map” or an “equirectangular map.” Note that a “sphere map” is something else). Note that using a very large environment map uses a lot of space on the GPU.

Reflection Strength sets the intensity of the environment map reflection, for both built-in and custom environment maps.

Diffuse Environment Map allows you to select a layer to use as a diffuse environment map. This is a map that determines where diffuse light hits the object. The diffuse map can be constructed from the reflection map.

layer_diffusemap diffuse_environmentMap

Diffuse Strength adjusts the intensity of the diffuse map. Higher Diffuse Strength values add more light to the places on the geometry where brighter values are mapped.


Reload Environment Every Frame (on by default) loads each frame on to the GPU. Uncheck this box to leave the environment (both reflection and diffuse) on the GPU. If the reflection map is big, this saves a lot of render time. But it may not be desired to hold on to all that memory if other GPU effects are used. Also, if the environment is a video, this box should be checked so each frame is reloaded.