Adding Noise & Grain back into your VFX

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So you’ve just spent hours, days, possibly even weeks arduously creating a visual effect. It might be a CG animation, matter painting, or a simply cell phone screen – and you’re ready to comp that bad boy into your final scene. So you color correct, motion track, and everything else you think necessary. But wait. Something looks a bit off. It doesn’t quite gel with the rest of your scene. The solution? Add Noise and Grain!

Noise is an artifacting seen when shooting on video, whereas Grain is an artifacting seen when shooting on film. In either case, when you comp your VFX, you will want to be sure to add this artifacting back into your work in order for it to appear more naturally as a part of your scene. It may appear to be subtle, but the eye picks up on these things, even subconsciously, and as you perfect your craft, it’s a good habit to get into to add grain back into your VFX before exporting.

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I’m going to show you my technique for adding grain quickly. To my surprise, after working professionally in the field close to five years, I couldn’t find any samples of adding grain when I searched for this technique online. So, for sake of variety after my effect break down, I will supply some alternative methods I also found online that more or less achieve the same goal.

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For my technique I’m using After Effects CC. With your layer selected go to Effects > Noise & Grain > Add Grain

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This will bring up a set of tools and controls for you in the Effect Control Panel

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For my magic recipe, after changing the view mode to FINAL OUTPUT, I adjust the intensity down to .1 >, the size to .08 >, and the softness to 1.5

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From there you can tweak as needed. For most general purposes, that is all you will need to get the job done. As I zoom into my comp I can see there is a nice grain running in through the grays and blacks that help blend the whole image together nicely.

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Now, beyond the technique I just described, there are a few other methods out there. For instance, there are some basic grain overlays that you can download for FREE here that will allow you to simply add above your layer, change the blend mode to OVERLAY, and adjust the opacity to your taste. Here is a video giving you the steps as well:

Otherwise, another method within After Effects is Match Grain (versus Add Grain which is the method I use). In my opinion, Match Grain doesn’t work well with a heavily compressed image or video. But if you are working in RAW, then this might be the best method for you! Check out the tutorial here that breaks down the effortless process of using a Grain Card in your composite to create the end result you are looking for.

Finally, if you would like to read more into the science of why noise and grain looks and performs the way it does, you can check this article here.

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Fractal Noise: The Wonder Filter

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For the last 5 years, After Effects has been my go to compositing and motion graphics application whenever I need something beyond the depth of my NLEs. AE has the ability to do a lot of amazing things that would probably take pages just to list. With the filters and options that come bundled with it, the user can take on common to complex post production needs. One filter that I believe stands out above the rest is the Fractal Noise filter. This filter has been the basis of many creative and complex effects. On its own, you can create a myriad of assets such as backgrounds, overlays, textures and more. Of the many templates I’ve used, Fractal Noise has been used in about 80% of them. Within its parameters, a user can manipulate its parameters and create something unique. Used with other filters such as glow, blur and more, the possibilities are expanded. I’m going to show you 3 breakdowns of Fractal Noise designs you can use on your next project.

Background

In this example from author Chad Perkins‘s book Cheat in After Effects 2, I have a fractal noise background which looks like bars of light. The solid is set to 1920 x1080. Within Fractal Noise parameters, the fractal type is basic, the noise type is set to block, the contrast and brightness are modified, the transform settings are modified drastically, complexity is between 2-4 and the evolution is animated over 5 seconds. Combined with the Tint and Corner Pin filter as well as an adjustment layer containing the glow and curves filters, you get this cool animated bar background you can use for a high action title sequence.

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Streaks Overlay

This mograph element is relatively easy to accomplish using the Fractal Noise filter. From this example of Harry Frank‘s Form Backgrounds, he accomplished this by manipulating these fractal noise settings. With composition set to 3000 x 1080, he set the fractal type to basic, noise type to soft linear, modified the contrast and brightness between -100 to 200, transform settings to get the streak look and animated the evolution over 9-10 seconds. He also set an expression for offset turbulence that would affect its position over time. When combined with the Tritone and Glow filters, you get a streaks overlay you can composite into your footage or animations.

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Texture

One of the best ways to use Fractal Noise is when you need an animated texture. With this text layer in my composition, I will place an animated fractal noise solid into my text. Here is my settings and result of my fractal noise below.

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With my text layer above it, I will set my fractal noise beneath to Alpha Matte. Now, my text will inherit the fractal noise as a texture and with some further tweaking, I can get a unique text design that looks something like this.

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As you can see from these breakdowns, Fractal Noise is a versatile filter. On its own, it can create a lot of items. Grouped with other filters, it becomes an enigma of creative awesomeness. Next time you are in After Effects, play around with the Fractal Noise filters and see what you can create. You might create something quite amazing.

I’m the NLE Ninja with AudioMicro asking you to stay creative.

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