Learning to See
person, trying to get the audience to buy the shot, warts and all. Use your reference and your dirty tricks, and
close that deal.
Rolling Thine Own
When you use these techniques to start seeing the world, and then begin implementing your profound insights
in your comps, you will begin to see the importance of this last point: It is almost always better to create effects
from the basic toolkit of After Effects than to resort to an off-the-shelf, canned effect.
“Default” is a dirty word. Remember that week-long effort to re-create a photoreal lens flare? It’s worth noting
that this effort was supported fully by the guy whose name is synonymous with digital lens artifacts. But even
John Knoll knew that to appear unflinchingly huge on the big screen, his schwings were going to need some
I hope you do have Knoll Light Factory (Red Giant Software; a demo is on the book’s disc) because its docu-
mentation is an excellent treatise on the importance of good reference. John points out some of the vital design
aspects of flares that he noticed when scrutinizing the real thing.
In Figure 15.15’s real-life flare, the little septagonal reflections that slice through the center of the frame have
seven sides because the camera’s aperture has seven blades. The star-shaped core of the flare has 14 points
(not counting the purplish CCD smear), each pair perpendicular to the edge of one of these blades. This is
because the star is an artifact of light grazing off the edge of the aperture blades. This also means that if you
were to defocus an element in this shot, you should use a five-sided camera blur shape for the proper boke
effect for this lens.
Figure 15.15. I’m directly below the Earth’s sun…now!
Now, if you start throwing out terms like “boke” in dailies, even Dennis Muren will be impressed.
Most effects we use in After Effects are built up of smaller, simple filtering operations that themselves exist as
effects. There’s nothing about the built-in Glow effect, for example, that you cannot easily create on your own.
You could wrestle with Glow all day long and never match the reference you shot of an F-18 afterburner, but
with your homebrew glow not only will you have finer control, but you will also have a better understanding
of how glows work (Figure 15.16).