After Effects Tutorial – Blending Modes

By Tom Womack

When I was first drawn to After Effects, one of the most powerful attractions was, the effects ! The idea of creating your own movies, animations with a message, having colorful explosive tools at your disposal is certainly exciting. However, lIke many of life’s softer lessons, blending modes offer a subtle and perceptual magic that let you ‘sneak behind the scenes’ and speak to your audience in subliminal ways.

Blending modes let you share a morning moment with moisture glistening on a spider web. Blending modes let you highlight a portion of your image for emphasis. Perhaps most of all, blending modes let you discover the image that only exists when two images share their color and light creating yet a third image greater than the sum of it’s parts. Sharing color and light from combined images is exactly what a blending mode does.

For me, blending modes is one of the less scientific, ‘mechanical’ tools in your After Effects tool box. It is not unusual and can produce the best results sometimes to simply, ‘play’, experiment with different blending combinations because they are not completely predictable.

How do we get started ? Choose a couple layers that will be your subject. For this exercise, choose a couple that are likely candidates for sharing color and light. In the lower left hand of your layer panel, the center button will display and remove the matte and mode column displays. The ‘F4′ key does a similar display, toggling between the switches and modes panel.

It’s important getting started to appreciate how the blending modes are categorized for you. The top two and the easiest to grasp are the darken and lighten categories. The darkening modes produce a darker image comparing the pixels of the two images and choosing the darker. The lighting modes do the same for lighting your image. At a pixel, RGB level, this elegant tool is simply comparing every pixel in the two images and choosing one to highlight over another. The varying degree of application are what the subcategory of modes do.

When you apply a blending mode it is applied to the layer you choose and the layer underneath. However, the layer underneath is that layer and any ‘bleed through’ from layers underneath it. Like a stack that is evaluated from the bottom up, each layer is blended and any color or blending effect is applied to the current layer and the one immediately beneath.

A simple exercise to illustrate this blending behavior is to create an ‘adjustment layer’, perhaps a tint or color. Place it at the top of your composition, above all layers and you will see this effect distributed down to all. Next, move this layer down beneath the first. You will see your tint applied to all layers except the first. Move it down once again, and, I think you get the picture. Any blending is applied to the immediate layer and any beneath so you can be selective, and need to be to produce your desired effect. If you have two layers that you want ‘blended’, you might place them at the bottom of the stack to be sure this effect is only shared by those two.

Blending produces special effects of light and shadow, combinations that produce the setting you want but my favorite blend is when two completely different images become one. If animation let’s you breath life into your composition, blending let’s you combine the characters of your choice as if they occurred together.

Simple examples are creating the flash of a blast or gunshot in one composition then combining it with your ‘green screen’ actor shooting the gun. Without any adjustment, when you overlay a composition on another you bring in the outline of the composition, the rectangular card backdrop of the original composition. Using the correct blend mode, only the subject of your overlay appears. This technique lets you blend different subjects from different compositions to produce the complete image and effect you seek.

Full Moons, Dogcreek, think globally, act locally.

Web Designer Tom Womack uses Adobe Design Suite creating dynamic sites with rich media.

Adobe After Effects is my application of choice having endless possibilities. I use Premiere Pro for video editing, Flash for final Web compatible movie. I am on a constant learning curve and regularly update my media page.

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