Once beloved by 1980s pop videos, the echo effect is making a comeback. Whereas in the days of synths and bad hairstyles the effect was pretty dreadful, the renaissance we’re seeing now is more tempered and deliberate. Thankfully it’s also really easy to imitate in After Effects.


In this tutorial we’re going to create a animated echo effect, not using the built-in Echo filter, but taking advantage of transparency mattes from keyed footage. The exclusive clip we've used here -- courtesy of Ribbit Films -- is included on the CD accompanying the November issue of Digital Arts, but you can also complete this using one of the free clips on Ribbit's website.

As well as the standard effect we’ll learn how to use the techniques to add sparkle to your compositions with particle effects and colour blending modes. Ideal for your own retro pop video, you could also use this in product promos or portfolio pieces, so let’s get started.


Step 1
Set up a new After Effects project and import the DancerSD clip from the cover disc (or a clip downloaded from Ribbit Films site. If you’d prefer to use your own clip, make sure you can establish an alpha channel by shooting against a greenscreen and using the keying tools within After Effects. The end result should be a strong silhouette in alpha. How much detail you retain in the clip is personal choice.


Step 2
Create a new composition in the size you want your final piece to be. We’ve opted for 720p here, at 30 frames per second because the clip we’re using is 30fps and we wanted to take advantage of the high-quality clip from Ribbit Films. Use whichever settings suit your project. For this tutorial we’ve set the comp to be 30 seconds long.


Step 3
Drag the dancer clip into the comp. Scrub through the timeline to check out the moves. If your clip is longer than the comp, as it is in this case, you can reposition the clip by clicking and dragging to the left in the layer panel. Find a portion of the clip that works for you.