Post Production

Globe animations in After Effects: The next chapter

Create new worlds with Video CoPilot’s free Orb plugin

Just two weeks ago I looked at how globe animations had evolved between 1997 and 2010 – and now Andrew Kramer and the team at Video CoPilot have written the next chapter.  Released today, Orb is a free After Effects plugin that starts with a camera-aware sphere effect and turns it up to 11.

As I noted in my earlier article, the standard CC Sphere plugin is not camera aware. There have been several solutions to emulating camera-awareness through the use of expressions and parenting, and there have also been several 3rd party sphere plugins released that do work with the After Effects camera.  However they’ve mostly faded into the past and it’s pretty hard to compete with free. Orb offers a staggering array of features and potential, and considering it’s related to Video CoPilot’s flagship “Element” product, an equally staggering price.

While teasing features of the new Orb plugin on Twitter, many users replied that the original “Blue Planet” tutorial from 2007 was their first ever Video CoPilot tutorial.

Judging from the trailer and various promotional images appearing on twitter, Orb was designed from the ground up to create globe animations, and evidently the results are breathtaking.  This is much more than a simple sphere plugin.

The After Effects Project Diary wasn’t just looking at a few different globe animations, it was looking at the different approaches behind them.  Originally, the first one I was involved with required a trip to a specialised 3D animation company.  In 1997, wrapping a map onto a sphere was about as sophisticated as it got.  In 2005, I was inspired by the design-focused approach of Filip Vandueren, who used NASA photographs to create a globe inside After Effects with both a day and a night side.  Two years later, Video CoPilot’s Andrew Kramer presented another design-led globe tutorial, this time incorporating expressions to link the globe to the After Effects camera.  Judging from the recent comments on Twitter, the original “Blue Planet” tutorial resonated with After Effects users all around the world- with several users citing it as their first Video CoPilot tutorial.

In 2010 I tried setting up a globe animation in After Effects with two distinct stages – firstly setting up a bunch of individual compositions as though they were render passes from a 3D program.  Then, in a separate stage, I composited them together.  This was a simple experiment and was more to do with the philosophy behind organising the project than the actual globe animation itself.  Like Filip’s project from 2005 and Video CoPilot’s from 2007, it used the CC Sphere plugin to wrap textures around a 3D sphere. You can read the full article here.

Orb is more than just a sphere plugin, it’s the first After Effects plugin that’s been designed from the ground up to create globe animations.  While in 1997 we were happy to get a simple map wrapped onto a sphere, twenty one years later we get a plugin that is not just camera & light aware, but also includes bump maps, colour correction, UV controls, automatic shadow illumination and much more.  With a suitable graphics card, you can scrub around in real-time at high resolution.  Overall, it’s amazing to see what can be done inside of After Effects with a free plugin.  The Video CoPilot site also includes a collection of texture maps to get you started, which will save you from having to sift through all the images on the NASA Blue Marble site.

You can download the plugin, and watch the accompanying tutorial, over at the Video CoPilot website.  They’ve even created a mini-site devoted to Orb.

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Chris was born a geek, and was lucky enough to own a Commodore 64 at a time when the number of students at his primary school who owned a computer could be counted on one…