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

Enhancing a simple scene through the addition of 3D lighting.
Chris and Trish Meyer
By Chris and Trish Meyer 02.25.13

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.