//After Effects: Strange things happening on Bonfire night

5th of November. Guy Fawkes. While everyone is out watching fireworks in the blistering cold, I’m hacking away at my short film. Layers upon layers, slowly building something that is vaguely acceptable in my eyes.

During one of my render batches, I decided to work on another moving picture. Last weekend, I binge-watched Season 2 of Stranger Things in a couple of days with my younger brother – and always had an idea of making an upside down themed moving picture since the first season. I had given myself an hour to do this, so had to keep things as simple as possible – but ended up overcomplicating some aspects.

When I see a composition I want in my head, I try to break it down to its simplest form for the moving picture. In this case, I knew I wanted to implement the shadow monster somehow – and initially wanted to build it using C4D simulating smoke. If I had more time I probably would have done this but decided otherwise.

The shadow monster is actually just a masked black solid on the shape of the shadow monster. A 2D image with heavy feathering, and a multiply pass to blend it in with the scene. This, however, had no texture to it, and just felt like a blurry figure in the distance with not much life. I needed to give it movement somehow, and emulate the presence of smoke/texture. For this, I used the fractal noise effect with a rotation/evolution animation, tracked matted using the shape of the shadow monster – thus giving it a little bit of smoky movement.

In order to get a good camera track, I always warp stabilize my footage beforehand. If I know I’m building everything in AE, I just use the inbuilt camera tracker with the detailed analysis mode checked. From here on you can place anything you want in the scene in 3D space and it will stick. I used element 3D to create three different particles, then I animated the position, angle and scatter values. Pretty easy once it is all broken down. Complexity is built through layers of simplicity.


Short film progress has been slow, but I’m currently at the asset building stage. I’ve consumed tonnes of books on grids in order to help me build UI interfaces. Animating them will be a pain – but I know it will be worth it. More updates to come soon!



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