Creating Time Lapse Photography With After Effects CC



Time Lapse Photography is the process in which you take a series of photographs over an extended period of time centered around a dynamic subject and then combine the photographs together into one video that shows this transformation. That is a very technical way of saying it is a video made up of a series of pictures that shows things like flowers blooming, or the sun setting, or even building a structure. Each of those examples take hours, days, sometimes months to complete the process. It is not realistic to think that video would be the optimal way to capture this evolution. Instead, the idea is that taking a series of pictures with the camera unmoving and locked down on tripod can do a much better job capturing your subject and saving the creator ample hours of video scrubbing and space on their hard drive.

Here is both my example along with a couple other photographic time lapses to help inspire you and get your brain juices flowing on what you might aim to capture after going through this quick tutorial:

Now I am going to show you how you can create your very own photo time lapse in 3 simple steps:

  • Capturing the Photos
  • Importing the Photos and Exporting the Video
  • Additional Tips to Use as Needed

Capturing the Photos

Before going out, before finding your subject, and before you even snap a single picture, you need to make sure you have the right equipment to get the job done. In most cases the best means to capture your time lapse is first and foremost with a DSLR camera. DSLRs will allow you the most control over your image settings and maintain the highest quality possible. My recommendation is to go with a Canon or Nikon (I am using a Canon Rebel T2i for this tutorial).



Secondly, your camera needs to be locked down at all times during the photographing process to a tripod. By investing in a good solid tripod you are ensuring the overall outcome of the photographs reducing the possibilities of shake, movement, and blur. Moving the camera even a few millimeters can ruin your entire composition. A good time lapse has a consistent object that does not move (ground, buildings, vase) contrasted by one that does (people, sun, flower).



Finally, touching your own camera to take each shot runs the risk of moving the camera, and so to eliminate this threat the best piece of equipment to invest in is a intervalometer. An intervalometer is a time set shutter remote that plugs into the side of your camera. All you have to do is set the remote to whatever time interval you want the photos captured and how many you want and it handles the rest from there.



Once you have all the equipment you need go and find the subject you want to capture. Again the best outcome will be with a contrast between dynamic and static objects that evolve over a period of time. Mount your DSLR to your tripod, lock it into position, and set the camera to manual. Take a test shot first to make sure the exposure and framing is where you would like it to be and then plug in and program your intervalometer. Let your camera run through its process collecting the photos and once it is finished you are ready for the next step.

Importing the Photos and Exporting the Video

Take the memory card form your DSLR and plug it into your computer. You are going to want to create a new folder on the desktop to store these photos. Drag the photos from your memory card into your new folder.

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Now there are multiple programs out there to combine these photos into your time lapse sequence, however, I find the best to be Adobe After Effects CC. The reason for this is because of how simple yet flexible the program is in regards to your files, file type, and output. To create your time lapse all you need to do is click and drag the folder containing your pictures and drop it in the projects panel in After Effects. After Effects will then interpret and combine the information into a single file from which you can click and drag into a new composition.

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I shot in camera raw and so the size of the composition is much larger than it needs to be. To fix this I can go to COMPOSITION >> COMPOSITION SETTINGS >> PRESET (drop down menu) >> (choose appropriate format). For me I’m going with the 720 HD format.

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When I hit okay I notice that now my sequence is too large for the composition. To fix it I can just scale down the sequence.

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To export your sequence go to COMPOSITION >> ADD TO RENDER QUEUE. To keep your file size manageable click on LOSSLESS next to the OUTPUT MODULE, go to the FORMAT OPTIONS>>VIDEO CODEC>> and choose H.264 then hit OK. Last thing is to go to your OUTPUT TO and designate what the file name will be and where it will render to. Once finished click OK and hit RENDER. Review your video time lapse video and make further changes as needed.

Additional Tips to Use as Needed

Here are some extra tips and tricks to keep in mind as you go through this process:

  • If you cannot afford all the equipment but have a smartphone there are apps out there that will create photographic time lapses.
  • If you are using a DSLR, keep your camera in Manual mode and take multiple test shots to adjust the aperture, shutter speed, and ISO where they need to be before plugging in your intervalometer.
  • If you are using a DSLR, keep in mind which file type the pictures are being taken in- whether it is JPEG or Camera Raw will have a huge impact on your post production of this time lapse (camera raw = best quality but huge file size. JPEG = low to medium quality but with a much smaller file size).
  • Photoshop CC has a great Automate feature to crop, resize, and retouch multiple photos at once if you want to make adjustments to your composition after the pictures have been taken.
  • In After Effects CC, you can add an adjustment layer above your sequence if you would like to add color correction or effects changes.
  • In After Effects CC, after rendering out your sequence into a movie file you can re-import the video back into After Effects and make adjustments to the speed or even have it play in reverse.


Green Lantern White Eyes Tutorial



A lot of films today have varying effects surrounding the eyes such as turning the eyes a different color, glowing red, filled with fire, etc. It is a good idea for every Visual Effects Artist to have some of these skill sets under their belt. Today we are going to take a look at an eye effect created for the Green Lantern film where the lead actor’s eyes turn white. The effect will be broken down into 3 main steps and can be followed along in this video or by the text supplied below:

  • Step 1: Motion tracking
  • Step 2: creating the eye
  • Step 3: applying the effect



Step 1: Motion tracking basically is the process of following an object as it moves around from frame to frame in a piece of footage. In our footage we need to track the motion of the eyes since that’s where we are applying the effect to. Without motion tracking the effect would not stick to the eye.

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First make sure on your timeline you’re set to where you want the effect to begin, then right click on the source footage and choose TRACK MOTION. Make sure both position AND rotation is checked off. This is because as I talk my head moves around and not only is the position changing, but subtly the angle and rotation changes as well. When you have both checked you’ll notice two boxes appear on your footage, called “Track Point 1” – which is your position – and “Track Point 2” – which is your rotation.

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We’re going to focus on one eye at a time. Let’s go to the left eye first, move the position track point – track point 1 – over to the center of the pupil. Have the small box focus on the iris, and the large box focus on the entire eye. Then move the rotation track point – track point 2 –   to the right eye and set it up the same way, small box on iris, large on the entire eye.

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Go back over to your tracker controls, hit analyze forward, and I’m going to stop it after I close my eyes. Once it finished collecting all the data you will want to go to LAYER  — NEW — NULL OBJECT. Then in your tracker controls hit EDIT TARGET, change it to your null object, and hit APPLY. Now you can see all of that tracking data is now saved to that null object. Now let’s do the same quickly for the right eye. This time the right eye is going to have the position tracker — track point 1 — and the left eye will take the rotation tracker — track point 2 — small box on the iris, large on the entire eye, analyze forward, new null object, edit target, apply, and we’re set. Last I recommend renaming each of the null object layers so you know which is for the left and right eye.

Step 2: Keep in mind that the effect is not applied directly to the source footage, and so we need to create a second pair of eyes to apply the effect to. To do this, what I did was scrub through my footage, find a point where my iris was most exposed, duplicated the layer, right clicked on it, then went to TIME — FREEZE FRAME. Again let’s focus on the left eye first. Zoom in close, and let’s use our pen tool to cut around the iris. Once we have that done we need to create a second mask around the pupil, and to do this one I find it easier to just use the ellipse mask tool. Then go to your mask settings, and change mask 2 to subtract, and by doing this if we solo the layer we can that we created a ring shape that only contains the iris, which is what we’re applying the effect to.

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Again do the same for the right eye: Duplicate the layer, freeze frame, cut out iris and pupil, and change mask settings. Now we need to get these iris rings to stick to and follow the source footage eyes, and to do that all we need to do is grab the pick whip here and parent the left iris ring to the left tracking null, and the right iris ring to the right tracking null. As you quickly scrub through the footage you should notice that they are staying right in place.

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Step 3: To change the eyes white all I did was go to EFFECTS — COLOR CORRECTION — EXPOSURE. And what I love about this is that as you increase the exposure, not only do you turn the eyes white, you retain the highlights in the eyes, and the varying shades of gray which add depth and realism to the effect.

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To have your eyes change over time, what you do is go to where you want the effect to start on the timeline, keyframe the opacity stopwatch at zero, then go to where you want it to end, and turn the opacity up. So now your eyes turn white over time, but you will notice that the iris sticks out a bit as the eye lid should be covering certain portions of it. So to fix this I go into my mask settings, keyframe the mask path, and go through frame by frame and adjust it accordingly.

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This technique is great for changing your eyes to pretty much any color, you just need to try different color correction effects and hues.






Using the Rotobrush in After Effects

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The rotobrush in After Effects is a helpful rotoscoping tool any compositor and visual effects artist should have in their arsenal. The video that will be used as reference throughout this tutorial is ‘Cardboard Robots Battle in Space.’ Take a moment and give it a gander so that we are all on the same page.

This tutorial is supplied to you in both the video and written format, and I am going to show you how you can master this tool in three simple steps:

STEP 1: Evaluate your Scene.

STEP 2: Select your subject

STEP 3: Refine your settings

STEP 1: first let’s take a look at what type of scene we’re dealing with here, and what all needs to be done.

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Here we see Justin delivering his famous ‘pappa vador’ speech and obviously the green screen needs to get keyed out in order to use it in a final composition. However, looking closer I noticed the amount of color spill that is on Justin’s jump suit and helmet. Meaning, any normal chroma key effect would eat away at the image to a point that it would not be usable. So instead I thought I could cut around the green screen using the rotobrush, and later apply a simple hue and saturation effect to take out the green spill without deteriorating the image. But in general, it’s just good practice to be prepared and have a mental image of where you’re going before you dive in.

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Now, to get started, set your source clip to the beginning of the time line, double click on it, then select the rotobrush tool here.

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STEP 2: The way the rotobrush works is by going over a section, clicking, and  coloring in a crude form inside what you want selected with this green color.

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When you let go you see the rotobrush deciphers color and shape and makes what it feels is an appropriate estimate to what you were aiming for. Then, just keep coloring with the green until you collect everything you want. However, say you color to much, or the rotobrush chooses an area you don’t want, then simply hold down the ALT key, your brush then turns red for negative, and then go over what you don’t want selected.

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Before we start going through the entire source clip with the rotobrush, take notice of this bar here. It indicates how long the rotobrush will estimate your subject before needing to be re-selected. If the bar doesn’t reach the end of your source clip, simply grab the end and drag it to match the length.

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Once you’re all set, you can hit the space bar to have your clip start playing through with the rotobrush working its magic. As is goes through, it may lose track of the main subject, in which instance, just stop, or go back and make the proper adjustments with the red and green selectors. Repeat this process until you’re all the way through the clip.

STEP 3: When you’re finished it’s time to clean up the matte a bit by playing with your settings. The first thing I like to do is select REFINE MATTE. Doing so helps reduce any chatter and accommodates for any motion blur or quick movements where the edges need to be smoothed out. In the alpha view I can see I still need to clean up the edges a bit, so I head over and increase the smoothness to about 5, increase the feathering a bit, and even play with the choke which basically shrinks in the overall matte — so maybe take that to about 5 or 10% at most.

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And that’s it! You now have a cleaned up roto’d image to work with and add into your final composition.



Professional Color Correction in After Effects

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A camera can only go so far in terms of changing the colors of the raw footage you take; sometimes your typical white balance and contrast adjustments just don’t cut it. Colors seem flat and just don’t come at you enough, so to spice things up, we turn to post-production CC (color correction). Here is a video showing before and after (left and right) comparisons, giving you an idea of the practical capabilities of cc:

We’ll be using Adobe after effects today but pretty much all editing platforms have CC, some more advanced than others. The focus will be on 3 different main effects, each making a slight difference. *remember, CC can be used to not only spruce things up, but create more emphasis on various emotions.

The 3 main effects we’ll use are: Curves, Tritone and Exposure. Each effect will be broken down into small steps so you get a bigger understanding on how each of them work, and how they can be manipulated. So let’s get started.

Some of the footage used in the video will be part of a short movie teaser that I’m making, so of course, we’re going to be aiming for quite a gloomy feel. The shot types and cinematography also play a big part in how we create that atmosphere. The first shot is a handheld shot of a tree. Here is what I’ve done:


This was quite simple to get my desired colors. I added a brightness/contrast effect, to up the contrast and lower the brightness as a starting point. I then added a tritone at 70% blend and went with navy blue midtones and pale yellow highlights. These colors helps make the tree come out and made the branches look more eery.


In the next shot we have a handheld shot of a rocking toy and another one of the shadow that it casts. We used the same effects as last, but also added exposure adjustments, as well as change the color used for the tritone. We took the exposure and offset down for this shot. The exposure controls the amount of light which is let in, where as the offset controls its luminance. I kept the color correction for both the shot of the toy as well as its shadow exactly the same as they were of the same subject.


This shot here is where I decided that a curves adjustment would be useful. The original footage looked very flat and bland, so I needed to correct it quite a lot without it looking too unnatural. The tritone and brightness/contrast was changed a little like the rest, but what helped more with the color grading was the RGB curves.

I took the blacks and midtones lower so the highlights would come out a little more – this helped bring out the texture of the bricks and the colors on the leaves.


The last shot in the example footage is the macro shot of some leaves. The original footage was quite simply dreadful – it was lacking color rendition, and vibrancy and so the color correction needed to boost it up ten fold. I went ahead and turned the brightness down abit and upped the contrast so there would be a little more difference in the background and the leaves. After this is I added the tritone and used bright highlights as well as midtones, and went for a midnight blue for the background shadows. There really was a noticeable difference here.

So color correction isn’t as hard as you thought – just a little experimenting and some decent tools will work wonders here. I hope you’ve all learned something!

Stay tuned for the short movie teaser which I am working on, where I’ll write about some short movie cinematic techniques.

Until next time, Peace, Love and After effects.

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