After Effects Apprentice Free Video: Adding 3D Lighting to a Scene

Enhancing a simple scene through the addition of 3D lighting.

As we mentioned earlier, we’re sharing the free movies from our latest video course that demonstrates creating an opening title from scratch. We were pleased with our initial results, but felt it was looking a touch flat. This movie demonstrates how we used a single 3D light to enhance the scene and focus the viewer’s attention.

In addition to the mechanics of adding a 3D light to an After Effects composition and parenting it to the camera so that it always illuminates what the camera is looking at, the movie below covers a trio of lighting techniques to enhance our scene:

  • Adding a vignette (darkened corners) through the use of light cone angle and feather. In addition to adding a slight moodiness to the final frame, this helps direct the viewer’s attention toward the center of the frame, where the show’s title eventually appears.
  • Using the Light Falloff feature introduced in AE CS5.5 to reduce the illumination of the background layers, further ensuring the viewer’s attention remains focused on our hero layers in the foreground. You can think of falloff as a sort of vignette in the Z (depth) dimension.
  • Having the 3D light cast our shadows between layers, rather than relying on the fakery of a 2D drop shadow effect. 
By the way, we are a huge fan of the idea of using 3D lighting in After Effects to enhance the appearance of a scene – even to relight already-shot 2D footage. If you are new to using lights in After Effects, the introductory movie below is from a short course we created on lighting back in 2007; we plan to create a more extensive course on lighting tricks later this year.

Chris and Trish Meyer

Chris and Trish Meyer

Chris & Trish Meyer founded Crish Design (formerly known as CyberMotion) in the very earliest days of the desktop motion graphics industry. Their design and animation work has appeared on shows and promos for CBS, NBC, ABC, Fox, HBO, PBS, and TLC; in opening titles for several movies including Cold Mountain and The Talented Mr. Ripley; at trade shows and press events for corporate clients ranging from Apple to Xerox; and in special venues encompassing IMAX, CircleVision, the NBC AstroVision sign in Times Square, and the four-block-long Fremont Street Experience in Las Vegas. They were among the original users of CoSA (now Adobe) After Effects, and have written the numerous books including “Creating Motion Graphics with After Effects” and “After Effects Apprentice” both published by Focal Press. Both Chris and Trish have backgrounds as musicians, and are currently fascinated with exploring fine art and mixed media in addition to their normal commercial design work. They have recently relocated from Los Angeles to the mountains near Albuquerque and Santa Fe, New Mexico.