Friday, February 24, 2012

A Caveman’s Best Friend: Fire

The sixth week has ended and I am a bit fatigued from the amount of work I did this week at my internship combined with all my other work going on in school. From the moment I woke up until 2 a.m., I worked on various projects (I have such a tough life). I am a bit downtrodden; my eyes are bloodshot and when I dream at night, I dream of key frames and burning fire. 

At my internship this week, my primary task was to create fire (like a caveman). Fire was so necessary to my survival because I needed to char food for my family and the CW Network, a Fox 56 affiliate. They needed a motion bug made for a contest revolving around the Kindle Fire so I knew actual fire would be applicable. 

Before I started this daunting task, I tried to get a real clip of fire burning on a black background so I could just have fire be the backdrop my CW animation. Sadly, when I used Keylight to take out the background, it came out all distorted and not up to my standards (I can’t imagine what my advisor would think if his saw how shitty this looked).

Then it occurred to me that I would need to create “burning fire” from scratch in the Adobe After Effects, something I was reluctant to do at all because I knew how hard it would be to make the fire look realistic. Before I tackled this daunting task, I decided I would create all the supplementary materials to go with my fire animation.  

First, I created the white banner to be the backdrop in Adobe Illustrator for my 15-second animation with a 90-degree gradient placed on it for slight depth. Then, I vertically distribute centered the CW logo so it had equal balance on the top and bottom of the logo in relation to the banner. I saved the file out of AI as an .eps file. 

After my backdrop was created, I procured a hi-resolution Kindle Fire and used the magnetic lasso tool in Adobe Photoshop to cut out the Kindle Fire, making sure before the fact to double click on the layer to unlock it so I would have a transparent background when I proceeded in cutting it out. I cut it out, used the refine edge tool on my selection and saved the file with a transparent alpha channel as a .tif file. 

I was now ready to set up my 15-second composition in Adobe After Effects. 

I created a new composition in After Effects and configured the resolution settings to run in 60 frames per second at 1920x1080 (1080p) resolution because I wanted the fire to have hi-resolution, a higher refresh rate, and an overall smooth animation. 

I created a shape, then added the CC Particle Systems II effect to the shape to turn the shape into particles that could be manipulated. But why did I use CC Particle Systems II? 
“CC Particle Systems II is a collection of particles that evolves over time and can be controlled to create a virtually infinite number of different animations. These animations might range from simple explosions to sparkling fountains and massive smoke screens.”                                                                           -  Cycore FX Manual
I configured many settings within this CC Particle System. I set the birthrate to 1.7, longevity to .3 and a bunch of other settings involving the production, position, animation type, physics, and color relating to these particles. I used a bright yellow and dark red color for two particle colors then added the effects: CC Vector Blur to blur the colors together, Turbulent Displacement which displaced the layer using fractal noise and Glow which added any type of glow based on alpha or color channels with a two color (a&b) system. So now, I created fire (fire that looked good enough for this project anyway, I could have spent literally 100+ hours making the fire even better.) Hooray.

I made three iterations of my fire:

One for the background, one for the ground and one for in front of the Kindle so it looked as if it was engulfed in flames.

Now, I had to create some transparency mats to ensure that I would have adequate transparency in the right locations. 

The first one I created was under the Kindle because I needed to create an entry point for my animation. I keyed the entrance of the Kindle along with the birthrate of the fire to look as if the fire was rising with the kindle from behind the mask I created.  

My second and third masks were created to ensure that none of my fire went “out of bounds” and my third mask was primarily for the movement in the streak of fire. 

All of these tasks required an extensive amount of “keying”, layering and motion tracking in regards to the Kindle, the fire and masks. If there was anything I could ever take away from my 15 hour for 15 second experience, it would be that I was proud of what I created: FIRE. 

See this tutorial for more information regarding the step 
by step process of: "Forging Fire," in Adobe After Effects.

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