Adobe AfterEffects – Some Initial Thoughts and Composites

A few months ago I downloaded and subscribed to Adobe Creative Cloud. The main reason was to learn After Effects, which I have been interested in for years. I am barely scratching the surface, have so much more to learn, but I absolutely love it. This is the kind of stuff that I dreamed of doing as a kid – and an adult – and now will be able to do on a laptop.

I will post on my progress, share any cool tips I come across, and share some of the videos I do. I will also share links to books and videos that I learn from.

First of all, the main book I have been reading is Adobe After Effects Classroom in a Book.

AE Classroom in a Book

I really like this book. Very easy to follow, covers major concepts, and there are downloadable work files for every chapter.

The first thing I am trying to learn is sign replacement. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I am a huge fan of director Gareth Edwards, the director of Godzilla. Mr. Edwards was an effects artist and he did his first film “Monsters” on a micro budget. In the DVD “making of” featurette, he talked about how doing simple sign replacements via After Effects was a great way to add production value. It was also much easier and cheaper than creating actual signs. I thought that was a really cool idea.

My first attempt was to replace a poster for The Purge: Anarchy in a bus stop display with another poster. I decided to replace it with a fan art poster for the classic Simpsons musical “Stop the Planet of the Apes, I Want to Get Off” by DJ Clulow.
Simpsons Apes

A Word on the Simpons Apes Poster: I came across the image online and thought it was amazing. It is from one of my favorite episodes and I thought the artist just nailed it. I found out that it was done by DJ Clulow and I immediately bought a print from DJ’s Etsy. When I thought I might post my progress videos on YouTube, I reached out to DJ first who kindly gave me permission to use the poster in them. Please be sure to checkout all of DJ’s work at

To replace the poster in the bus stop I used the multi-point tracking method covered in Adobe After Effects Classroom in a Book. The Purge: Anarchy poster was actually perfect for this, because it has a very bright background. That contrasted well with its black frame. My understanding is that this kind of sharp contrast helps After Effects maintain the points once set.

Here is the video of the bus stop sign replacement. It includes the original footage followed by the Apes poster composited into it:

Next, I wanted to do a sign replacement panning shot. For this I used the 3D camera tracking method in After Effects. Adobe After Effects Classroom in a Book had some great info in it, but I found watching YouTube videos on how to do this the most helpful. Here are two of the videos I watched:

The first video is about replacing an image on a computer screen. I modified my steps a little for the poster, such as the ratio/dimesions for the image I was using. Note that the version of After Effects used in this video is CS6, but I found the steps worked in my CC 2014 version just fine:

The second video has a lot of tips for cleaning up the 3D points to get better tracking. Also, though I did not use it for my video, it includes a way to create your own sign from within After Effects. That is something I will definitely do in the future.

Here is my video using the 3D camera tracking. Again, I replaced the poster for The Purge: Anarchy (Nothing against The Purge: Anarchy at all. In this case it was next to the poster for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes so that’s where Simpons Apes had to go. What a great double feature that would be!).

I think this was good, but the rotoscoping of the Now Showing sign definitely needs work. The edges are not sharp and has almost a fluttering, flashing effect to it. I think the reason for this is that I used the rotoscope brush. I think, but I am not sure, that the rotoscope brush may be better for selecting people or free moving objects. For the Now Showing sign it might be better to do something where I have more defined edges (maybe the pen tool??). This is definitely something I am still figuring out, but when I do, I will post an updated video.

Thanks again to artist DJ Clulow. The Simpsons Apes poster can be purchased on DJ’s Etsy. If you are an “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” fan, there is also an awesome poster for “The Dayman Cometh”.