Separating X and Y Scale Parameters w/ Expressions

Separating X and Y positional data is a cinch in AE.  All that’s required of you is to right-click the position attribute of any layer, and select “Separate Dimensions.”  This can be helpful for a plethora of things.  For example, if you wanted to apply an expression to the position of a layer, but only wanted it to affect the Y axis, you can separate the dimensions of a layer, and write your expression on the Y axis attribute.

However, if you wanted to perform the same task, except on the SCALE parameter of a layer, you’ll find no such simple option given to you by After Effects.  However, using a couple of slider controls and expressions, you can do it!

First, you need to add a slider control for each parameter you want to have individual control over.  In this case, we are only dealing with the X and the Y scale, so we’ll need two slider controls. Name them whatever you want, or leave them as ‘Slider Control,’ it really doesn’t matter, but I recommend renaming them to keep organized.  The slider controls can be applied to the layer you want to affect the scale of, or you can apply the slider controls to a Null object or Adjustment Layer.  Hypothetically, the slider controls can be applied anywhere, but it would make the most sense on the layer they are tied to, or to a “Control” Null.


Next, option-click the stopwatch icon of the scale parameter to add an expression.  Delete the automatically filled in text, and replace it with the following:


Now you have complete individual control over your x and y scale axes.

IMPORTANT!  Whatever you rename your slider controls to must match within this expression.  The two screenshots I’ve posted have matching names for my slider controls, so take note of their placement and change them as necessary.

You can also pickwhip the slider controls, but I’m too stupid to describe that in a text-based blog post.  Maybe I’ll do some video tutorials, but I know you all just go to Andrew Kramer anyway ;)

I personally like to make colored solids and use this technique and apply an expression to my Y slider control and create dynamic looking sound bars.  Of course, this requires re-positioning of the layer’s anchor point.  See what you can come up with using this expression, I use it all the freakin’ time.  I would say daily.

One more thing:  I’ve been a lazy/busy douchebag, so I haven’t posted since February or something.  But, I’m really going to try and keep it up this time, so stay tuned to hopefully more cool tips and tricks.  THANKS

Friendly Motivation

I recently spent a few hours with some friends of mine, just hanging out and talking about movies.  The main reason for the hangout was to discuss some VFX techniques and issues one of my pals was having with a VFX heavy short he is making.  The details of the issues et. al. aren’t what’s important here.  What is important, is that it got the many cogs in my dumb brain turning in the right direction towards thinking about doing my own VFX shots and work.

In short, just by hanging out with some like-minded friends, we can teach ourselves a few new things, show off some cool work we’ve done, and get inspired to make even more cool shit.

Now i’m all fired up to go out and shoot some new, challenging, and awesome stuff for my demo reel.  I’ll probably learn a lot while doing it too.



Psyop tracking markers for better tracking results

Tracking is an inevitable necessity while working in VFX.  Sometimes it’s easy, sometime’s it’s a real pain in the ass.  But with enough planning, you can make the mind numbing task of tracking so much easier on yourself.  All it takes is a good look at your set, and some well placed tracking markers.

Which brings me to the topic of tracking markers.  Now, it is known that high contrast, well defined corners track the most accurately by automated trackers, point trackers, user assisted trackers, and more.  Also, it is recommended that a white circle with black triangle inside is best for automated tracking.  But is that the best we can do?


Enter the Psyop tracking marker, developed by Joerg Liebold at Psyop, New York.  This more intricate take on the standard triangle-in-a-circle marker sets the user up for more tracking options once the shot has made it’s way into your post program of choice.  Instead of 3 corners, we have 24 (depending on what your definition of a corner is I guess…).

This more intricate tracking marker is much more resilient to the plethora of conditions any given shot might be exposed to.  If half the marker is obscured by foreground elements, we still have about 10 tracking point options remaining.


Here is a quick example of a shot we recently did using multiple kinds of tracking points.  Simple electrical tape in a cross shape on the back wall, and our Psyop marker in the mid-ground.  The difference here is clear to see.

Any VFX supervisor would do themselves a great service to at least have a deck of these tracking markers in their back pocket and a roll of tape at all times while on set.  You never know when or where you might need to slap down a few points, especially when shots change on the fly.

Adding Markers to After Effects in real time

This is just a stupid tip, but I’ve found it useful on many occasions.

timeline markers

Let’s say you’re overseeing some coworkers and assisting them with… whatever task.  They have a RAM preview up, and you see a blip in their mask or paint, whatever, and you want to put a marker on that spot.  BUT, you’re a busy MFer.  You don’t have time to site there and find the EXACT frame of the error, so why not just make a timeline marker while the ram preview is looping?  Here’s how:

Make sure you have no layers selected.  While the ram preview is looping, press the * key on your num pad, and After Effects will place a marker on the timeline at the exact frame you pushed the key on.  Bang, close enough right?  Now tell your coworker/intern to go find the blip that you know you saw around where that new marker is.

If you want a layer specific marker, do the exact same thing except have the layer you want to mark selected during the ram preview.

Hooray, my first quick tip!

Have fun marking the hell out of your comps!

Setting this shit up yo…

So, my intent is to create this sort of “blog” even though i’m hoping it will become more than that.  I just don’t want to be limited to the word “blog” since I’m not technically a “blogger.”  I’m just some asshole who wants to help other people with the daily stuff I learn as a VFX professional.  Also, I want to log the stuff I’m learning as I go, since I come up with cool tricks and shit all the time, and I always FORGET it.  So, i’m gonna save these tips/tricks/tutorials on the web for all to see, so that I’m motivated to do it for myself as well as others.