An After Effects mock-up of a movie shot

Even imaginative cinematographers have a hard time keeping track of all the shooting options available these days. Sussing out the relationship between aperture and depth of field quickly becomes second nature, but your options become much more complicated if you start wondering about the effects of using different lenses on different cameras, each of which may have a different size of image sensor.

A fascinating post went up at Stu Maschwitz’s Prolost on Sunday night suggesting ways to previsualize the end result by creating a simple 3D scene in After Effects and then manipulating virtual cameras to check framing and bokeh effects. In other words, “What shot can I make?”

A simulated shot with the Canon 5D

Maschwitz uses a specially rigged plug-in to generate lens blur, aiming to correctly defocus each element in the scene based on its distance from the camera. As a result of his work, he can plow through a series of shooting scenarios — Canon 5D Mark II with a 50mm lens wide open, the same 5D with a 200mm lens at f/2.8, a Panasonic GH2, a Canon HV20 — and get a visual sense for what his framing and depth-of-field options are.

Right now, this is little more than a tease. He admits in the comments that the system is “not particularly user-friendly” and isn’t even making the After Effects project file available for anyone else to monkey with. But it’s a cool idea and, assuming the simulations it provides are accurate, it may one day make a handy plug-in — even just as a tool to educate someone quickly on the implications that camera choices have for the final look of the film.