A friend wanted a looping animated video for the home page of his website. It was for his business, a hobby shop, and he wanted something with a fantasy theme. His idea was a banner, with the logo of his company, flying over a middle-earth looking landscape. So, I told him I'd see what I could whip up. I had never done anything like this, and thought it would be a fun challenge.
Over the years, I've traveled to Europe and also gone on lots of hikes up in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. I always take my camera with me (see Hiking with a Camera). So I started sorting through my photos to see if I had any interesting landscape elements. I realized I actually had quite an amazing library of elements to use just from my own photos I've taken over the years. Some of them honestly might have been good enough on their own, but I wanted to try to mix a lot of different things together. Below are some samples of photos I used:
Taken on a train ride from Oslo to Bergen
The Alps in Austria
A waterfall in the fjords of Oslo.
If you don't have a library of photographs from exotic places, don't fret. That's what the internet is for. But, you really should get out there and see the world. It's quite amazing. And bring a camera!
Once I had the elements I wanted to use, I started assembling them together. Eventually I came up with a layout I liked, and tried to integrate all the various pieces as best I could. Next would be the hard part: bringing it all into After Effects and adding the animated elements.
The challenging thing about these animated elements was that they had to loop. This was especially challenging for the flag. First, I created a flag model in Maya and tattered it up a bit. Then I used nCloth to do a cloth sim to get a nice, natural waving flag look. So far so good. But, how do you make that loop? Good question. Luckily, someone else had already figured out how to do it. So I followed the technique explained in this video. It worked out great, and gave me a nice, seamlessly looping flag simulation. Once I had the final looping animation, I exported out an obj sequence. This was necessary because I would be importing this into After Effects, and rendering it using Element 3D. Unfortunately, Element 3D does not accept animation, so basically you have to take your animation from Maya, and export a model for each frame of the animation. It's kind of like a stop motion animation, where each frame is it's own little reposed model. Once it was in imported into Element, I textured it, lit it, and then layered it over the rest of the image.
Next I had to create all the other animated elements. The waterfall was created using Trapcode Particular. The mist elements were created using clips of smoke from Action Essentials 2. Of course, it would have been possible to also use Particular to create a misty, cloud like effect, or even paint up something in Photoshop and do a simple animation in After Effects. For me, grabbing the element from Action Essentials 2 was easiest.
I was able to get a decent swaying trees effect by applying a few wave warp filters to the foreground tree layers. Adjusting the frequency and amplitude, and changing the wave type game me something usable.
To make the water feel like it was flowing, I layered several layers with a CC Rainfall effect. I was able to create that shimmering specular hilite effect you see on distant water.
The wake effect around the shore, as well as the fire from the dragon were both created using the very robust, quite powerful, and also very FREE Saber plugin. To create the wake effect, I traced a rotoshape around the shoreline, then played with the settings until I got something that felt kind of like ocean foam.
A couple wave warp filter created a nice swaying in the wind effect.
Different variations of settings on several layers using the rainfall filter created a convincing moving water effect.
Saber was used to create the wake effect around the shoreline.
To loop all the other animated elements, I basically followed the same steps used to create the looping flag animation. I rendered out a version longer than the length of the loop (which was going to be 10 seconds). I imported that rendered animation back into after effects, duplicated it, offset both so they overlap, making the middle of the frame range the start frame for one clip, and the end frame for the second clip, and transitioning between the two.
Setting up the layers for a looping animation.
The dragon was a free model I found on Turbo Squid. It was rigged, but not animated. So, I had to do that myself. I by no means fancy myself an animator. It's the one thing I think I'm the worst at when it comes to cg. But, luckily I just needed to do a couple wing flaps. That I could manage. So, as with the flag, I did all the animating in Maya and then exported an obj sequence to use in After Effects.
Thanks for the free model, Cvbtruong!
The final clip was 10 seconds, and having the dragon fly in every time felt a bit too much. So, I rendered 1 clip with the dragon, and 1 clip without the dragon. Then I edited them together in a 3 loop series: 1st clip-no dragon. 2nd clip-dragon. 3rd clip-no dragon. So, now the dragon would swoop in every 3rd loop. That felt a bit better.
Then I applied a few color grade and flare passes to finish it off. And...there you have it. So, here's the final looping sequence:
A simple but fun looping animated matte painting with a waving flag. Below is a simple breakdown of the main pieces being layered together: