Life & Style tutorial: Creative type effects

The included plug-ins with After Effects might seem a little limited, but some creative thinking can lead to some awesome type effects.

This masterclass will explore a technique that makes some awesome-looking effects that can be used to improve the look of your type in Adobe After Effects.

Using standard After Effects plug-ins in new ways might not seem very exciting at first glance, but there is much that can be done with these plug-ins. It’s possible to breathe life into boring type, without the aid or expense of third-party plug-ins.

Feel free to try these on your own with these settings or even your own variations, and I am sure you’ll have fun with them – a project file with ten preset effects is included on the cover CD.

01. Create a new composition in After Effects, and create some type using the Horizontal Type tool. Here I’ve used the font Alba with a blue Bevel Alpha effect.

02. Create a white solid that is the same size as the composition by clicking the Make Comp Size button, and arrange it below the type in the stacking order. To this solid, apply Effect > Channel > Set Matte and in the effects settings, set the type layer as the ‘Matte’ layer.

03. This makes the solid use the type as its Matte (or, its transparency). Even though much of the type layer contains transparency, in After Effects, the image that the type tool creates is always the size of the composition, not just the size of the type itself.

Therefore the solid will match this layer quite nicely and nothing should need to be done to get the Matte to match in size. Apply to this solid, Effect > Noise & Grain > Fractal Noise. Set the Contrast to 350 and the Brightness to -50. You’ll need to solo this layer to see the Fractal Noise.

04. Option/Alt + Click the stopwatch next to Evolution and type “time * 200”. This creates a simple expression that will make evolution continuously cycle without setting a single keyframe.

05. Next, to this Solid, apply Effect > Blur > Fast Blur. Then set the Blurriness to 100 and the Blur Dimensions to Vertical. Now, the significance of the Set Matte becomes apparent. Set Matte allows for effects to be applied to a layer that mimics the appearance of another layer.

Even so, additional effects can be applied, like this blur. At this point, it is prudent to note that the type can be changed, and the effects will follow along. Punch some colour into the type by applying Effect > Color Correction > Colorama.

At first, it will look a little wild, but this is easily changed. Go to the Modify section in the Colorama settings and uncheck ‘Modify Alpha’. In the Output Cycle section, select ‘Fire’.

06. Colorama is an unsung hero in After Effects. It allows the values of the different parts of image (Luminance, Alpha, Hue, and so on) to be remapped to a user-defined colour spectrum, found in the Output Cycle section.

By default, Colorama uses the Intensity (or Luminance) values. Being that there was a great deal of luminance variation added with Fractal Noise, Colorama adds a great deal of colour.

The colour map can easily be changed, and as you can see, there are a couple very useful presets that can be used. Play the animation and you’ll see that the effects are nicely cycling and glimmering.

07. Let’s create some variations. Under the ‘Fast Blur’ settings, set the dimensions to both Horizontal and Vertical, instead of Vertical, and decrease the Blurriness to 50. This creates a nice, soft floating glow.

08. Add an adjustment layer to the top of the composition (Layer > New Adjustment Layer). Add Effect > Fast Blur to the layer and set the Opacity to Blending Mode to ‘Overlay’. This gives a nice diffuse glow to the text.

09. Add the effect Noise&Grain > Noise to the Solid and set the noise to 50 per cent.

10. Using the original settings, duplicate the Solid and set the duplicate to have a Horizontal blur so that you’ll have a combination of vertical and horizontal streaks.

11. Add another Adjustment Layer and add Effect Noise & Grain > Noise and Effect > Stylize Glow. Set the Noise to 35 per cent.

12. Next month I’ll cover some great ways to animate the text on and off using the powerful text animators in AE, and introduce some great new features of After Effects CS3.


Here’s a quick tip about turning on OpenGL inside After Effects. Go to Preferences > Preview. After you enable it, set texture memory to something like 256MB and Quality to More Accurate. Towards the bottom of your comp window you should click on the fast previews button and make sure OpenGL is on or set to interactive. There are occasions when you don’t want to have this selected, but generally, it’s better to have it on than not.

Who: Harry J Frank stumbled into motion graphics as a starving musician. He lives in Detroit south of 8 Mile, earning a living as a designer, teacher and rock star.
Software: Adobe After Effects
Time to complete: One hour
On the CD: All files for this tutorial can be found on the cover CD.

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