Chromatic aberration: creation and fixes with After Effects

A few years ago there was a spate of interest in chromatic aberration — fixing footage containing the color fringing, but mostly creating it for motion graphics and VFX realism. At some point, questions on creating this effect must have reached a critical mass, and tools and tutorials popped up to help.

And now, Quba Michalski has a new tutorial & preset (and donate button) in Chromatic Aberration Rig:

In this tutorial I will discuss the optics of chromatic aberration and common ways of reproducing it in vfx. I will also introduce the brand new Chromatic Aberration Rig in form of an After Effects script that automates the creation of this effect into a simple 2-click procedure.


Here’s some back story… within a few days of each other in 2009, Carl Larsen explained how to remove chromatic aberration using After Effects, while Lloyd Alvarez showed how to keep ’em separated. In Learn how to Create Chromatic Aberration, Lloyd isolates RGB channels on Add mode layers with AE’s built-in Shift Channels effect plug-in, which can then be repositioned, rotated, and maybe distorted.

Here’s Carl Larsen (with more on fixes at the bottom of this page), and the preview from Lloyd:

And a few days earlier, Maltaannon had blogged about his work on a CustomEffect wrapper for a Pixel Bender experiment he did that would help in Separating RGB channels — and Forging Fire posted an AEP (After Effects CS3 Split RGB Channels or so you wouldn’t have to wait. It uses the Shift Channels filter, of course. Somewhat later, Maltaannon posted ChromAberration, a tutorial on using Magic Bullet Looks for the effect.


Alpha channels, track mattes, and channel effects like Set Matte, Calculations, and Shift Channels are explained in depth in the two main AE resources: Creating Motion Graphics for After Effects by Chris and Trish Meyer and the newly released Adobe After Effects CC Visual Effects and Compositing Studio Techniques by Mark Christiansen. See also Insight into Effects, where Chris and Trish directly target the pros & cons of the Set Channels and Shift Channels effects (they recommend getting comfy with the Channel Combiner effect).


At the time, it seemed that Video Copilot Twitch would help make quick work this too. And blurbs on plug-ins like Sapphire WarpChroma, Magic Bullet Looks, Panopticon Lens, and others say they create this effect.

Later in 2009, Satya Meka created a free AE-Pixel Bender filter for this. And when After Effects dropped PB support, Satya released a native AE plug-in, Separate RGB by Rowbyte Software, which has further developed to version 3.


Omino Glass, A Pixel Bender Filter by David Van Brink is a PB free filter that features (preview below). Note that Pixel Bender support in AE was dropped starting with CS6, but the Pixel Bender Kernel Accelerator might help get many PB filters working again. By the way, Satya Meka noted the kernel of the matter in Omino Glass: Refraction & Chromatic Aberration Pixel Bender Kernel:

Chromatic aberration happens when different colors are refracted by different amounts… the filter. It simulates the aberration using a distortion/bump map and takes into account the surrounding pixels too. It gives a lot more flexibility to the user to create realistic effects. …By the way, you can get this effect in After Effects using CC Glass and overlaying multiple tinted copies, with slightly different settings for Height, and adding them back together. But that’s a lot of layers and settings to juggle; my pixel bender filter does it all in one at 32bpc instead of 8.”


Apparently unique to the gamer-mod crowd on YouTube: use chromatic aberration effects as a glitchy transition. Ok, Creative Dojo did it on text (see below), but the gamers were first it seems.


In Red Giant QuickTip #1 – Chromatic Aberration, Aharon Rabinowitz discussed “the Chromatic Aberration tool in Magic Bullet Looks, and showed how to quickly create a dreamy distorted look.”  In March 2015, Corridor Digitial said “Magic Bullet Looks comes into play in pretty much every project. It’s the fastest and best-looking way to do a lot of cool lens effects. I honestly can’t remember the last time I didn’t use Red Giant’s chromatic aberration tools.”


Sean Mullen posted RGB Split Effect in After Effects, which shows “how to create the well-known RGB split effect in After Effects without the use of any third party plugins.” It’s Shift Channels/Add mode like the others, but adding a wiggle expression slider to the mix. RedStallionMedia also had an effective example in their tutorial.


After Effects Presets: Damaged VHS + RGB Split, by Mikey Borup, is an overview of 2 After Effects presets: CRT Distress and Split, which help create VHS/Chromatic Aberration.


Fine Tuning: Adding Chromatic Aberration, by Cyril Kotecky, provides a nice summary:

“Chromatic Aberration is a type of distortion caused when a camera’s lens fails to focus on all colors along the outer boundaries of an object, causing noticeable fringes of color. Due to this real-world manifestation, it’s necessary to recreate this effect in Cg to add an extra level of realism to your shots. In this tutorial, Cyril Kotecky will show you how the effect can be added in post using After Effects to simulate the imperfect optics of a real world camera lens. He’ll also show you how this can be taken to the extreme to create very stylized looks.”


Chromatic Aberration in After Effects & Nuke by School of Motion took a slightly broader, but still easy approach to creating chromatic aberration in AE, and didn’t quite convince that Nuke was needed for this effect.


AE: Glitch Transitions & Chromatic Aberration Using Dojo Glitch Script by VinhSon Nguyen explains the free Dojo Glitch script from CreativeDojo. This script automatically creates RGB channel separation for glitches and chromatic aberration, with control glitch amount, artifacts, flicker, and more.



There are more tutorials, and more inexpensive templates and tools. For example, Evan Abrams has a template for sale; see How To Use: Chromatic Aberration Template. Other plug-ins available include ft-Lens Distortion (minimal features, CS4-CC) and EFX Chromatic Aberration by EFX Tools (nice demo and now CS4-CC).


New Color Fringe Correction Controls explained the Defringe/Chromatic Aberrations controls (under Lens Corrections) introduced in Lightroom 4.1 (and later versions of Adobe Camera RAW). These controls are also available in recent versions of ACR in Photoshop and After Effects. Below, Julianne Kost explains usage in Adobe Camera Raw 7.0 in Photoshop CS; wrote down the steps succinctly.


If you prefer to avoid Adobe tools and want to remove chromatic aberration, see Macro video – Correcting chromatic aberration, white balance, and soundtrack, which shows how to use open-source tools.

Please note that this roundup is for quick review and comparison. There is almost always vital information from the originating authors at the links provided — and often free presets, plug-ins, or stock footage too.


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Rich Young is a long-time After Effects user from the San Francisco Bay Area. His After Effects and Premiere Pro round-ups provide viewers with an easy-to-digest summary of developments. He also supplies info and links for tutorials that allow users to do things in After Effects they thought were possible but weren’t sure.

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