STEP 1: Create a Rough Comet Path
Start by doing the normal After Effects stuff. Make a new composition with your footage in place and create a new comp-sized solid above your footage. Now, apply the 3D Stroke effect to your solid layer and pick a warm orange color for the stroke. Using the pen tool, create a path for your stroke to follow. We want the smoothest path possible, so break out the convert anchor pen tool and adjust your points until your curves are nice and smooth. The convert anchor tool is helpful for getting rid of kinks in your path. Click the point in a troubled area twice, but do not double-click. Click, pause, click and it will readjust your handles to an average (smoother) position. This works about 90 percent of the time. If it doesn’t work for a certain curve, just undo it and manually adjust the point.
STEP 2: Refine tge Stroke Shape
Set the length of the comet by adjusting the Start and End properties and set the desired width with the Thickness property. Under Taper, adjust your setting to Enable, and enter a value of 100 for Taper Start and 50 for Taper End. To get the depth you need for your comet to fly from the background to the foreground, you’ll need to adjust the XY Position, X and Y Rotation. For this comet, adjust the Y rotation 62 degrees to get the depth, and the X rotation at -24 degrees to get a nicer angle of curve so it’s not so flat.
STEP 3: Animate the Stroke
Use the Offset property to slide your comet along your path. Key the comet position at the top of the path at the beginning of the clip and add another key at the end of this clip with the comet out of frame. You may find that you need to animate the Thickness and Taper settings as well so your perspective is correct with the footage. Play it and make sure the pace of the comet is at a speed that works with the underlying video. If it doesn’t feel right you have to adjust your Offset and/or edit your path until you’re happy with the timing.
STEP 4: Prepare Comets For Design Stage
Duplicate your solid with your comet so you can create another 3D Stroke layer with similar properties to give the tail of your comet a little variation. Drop the thickness to 1 and then click on the Repeater properties. Check Enable on, and drop Instances to 1. The repeated lines are spread a bit too far apart, so change the X, Y, and Z Displacement properties to six each. That will bring the lines together and will give variety to the tail. Now put each of these comets in their own comps so you can reuse each layer for the comet effects. Duplicate your primary comet layer three times and arrange them below the secondary comet layer.
STEP 5: Layer Comet Effects
This is where you can make your comet stand out with your own effects. To start you in the right direction, here are the settings and effects applied to this comet. The first layer is the secondary stroke comp we just created with an Add blending mode at 30 percent Opacity. Below that will be our main comet layer with Tinderbox Heat Haze and Blur effects. The next layer is to give our video an orange glow as the comet passes. For this, adjust the Levels and add a Color Ramp with more Blur. The last copy of the comp should be blurred and used as a mask to apply some Heat Haze to your video.
STEP 6: Give Your Comet Some Flavor
I used some footage of bubbles to give the head of the comet some life. I also applied some particles I made with Particular to the head of the comet. I made one layer of sparks and another just a white ball to add a little glow to the comet’s head. One thing to keep in mind while you’re adding the particles to the head is to always key the particles’ XY Position to the head of the comet. By doing this your particles will have more bounce to them and they’ll linger a tiny bit around where your comet has been. If you parent them to something, your sparks will be very static. You can also easily copy the Particular XY Position keys and paste them to your other particle layers and even the bubbles’ Position property.
STEP 7: Create Masks and Finish
The last thing you want to do is create masks for any part of the comet that’s going to be flying behind someone or something in your footage. Have fun!
After Effects, Trapcode 3D Stroke and Particular, Tinderbox Heat Haze, other third-party plug-ins, and a large stock footage library
John Stanch is a designer at UVPHACTORY (UVPH) in New York, NY. He graduated from Savannah College of Art and Design with highest honors in Broadcast Design in 2004. While at UVPH, John has worked on numerous projects for clients such as AT&T, VH1, Sci-Fi Channel, Starz and Swatch.
UVPH is a design and production company offering a complete range of creative services including conceptualization, live-action direction and production, editorial, 2D/3D animation, sound composition/design and final compositing for broadcast, commercial, film, music video and Web clients.
John Says Keep In Mind…
By now almost everyone in the design community knows how to use 3D Stroke. They’ve also probably used it on many occasions. It’s not that difficult to use its most basic features, but it is difficult to use them well. Often when 3D Stroke is used in a piece people can look at it and immediately tell it was used. Here, we look at some basic 3D Stroke features and go over a few tips to save 3D Stroke headaches. I also try to show you how to set your Stroke apart from the others. Another popular Trapcode plug-in, Particular, is also very helpful with our comets and we’ll look at the best way to use them here, too. In this example, we’re using a comet created for our Starz Channel ID package update we created a few months ago as a guide. For the Starz IDs we created a few different styles of comets, creating some unique elements for each individual Starz movie channel. They all have their own feel, while remaining consistent with those of the other Starz channels.
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