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Using Generate and Noise Effects

One of the easiest ways to create seamless backgrounds is to use effects within After Effects. Although After Effects includes several effects, we've handpicked our four favorite that are flexible and easy to use: 4-Color Gradient, Cell Pattern, Radio Waves, and Fractal Noise.

4-Color Gradient

The 4-Color Gradient effect (Effect > Generate > 4-Color Gradient) is an easy way to generate gradients within After Effects (Figure 7.5). The gradient is created using four control points. You can assign a color to each point and specify its position. In fact, both color and position can be keyframed to create an animation. After Effects uses four solid-color circles blended together for the effect.

  1. For best results, apply the 4-Color Gradient effect to an adjustment layer. You can use it in an 8-bpc or 16-bpc color project.
  2. Assign the desired colors to the Color 1–Color 4 wells.
  3. Increase the Blend Value to create a more gradual transition between colors. To reduce any further banding, increase the Jitter setting.
  4. Adjust the Opacity and Blending Mode of the effect. Although you'll find sliders for both in the effect, you'll have better control blending and fading the adjustment layer instead.
Figure 7.5

Figure 7.5 Try combining an organic texture with the 4-Color Gradient effect. A great source for free texture layers is

Cell Pattern

The Cell Pattern effect generates a loopable pattern based on cellular noise algorithms. With 12 patterns to choose from and several controls for size, contrast, and speed, you'll find the effect very versatile.

  1. Choose a method from the Cell Pattern menu. Some patterns are sharp and angular, whereas others are more organic. Experiment to your heart's content, because you can change methods at any time (Figure 7.6).
    Figure 7.6

    Figure 7.6 Here are three of the 12 cell patterns. From left to right, Plates, Pillow, and Tubular.

  2. Adjust the contrast of the effect to create the desired pattern. You can use the Invert check box to swap values of luminance. The Contrast/Sharpness slider modifies the overall detail level of the cells.
  3. Modify the randomness of the cells with the Disperse slider. The lower the number, the more uniform the pattern (Figure 7.7). If you increase Disperse above 1.0, be sure to set the layer to Best Quality.
    Figure 7.7

    Figure 7.7 Different Disperse values were used to modify the Cell Pattern. A value of 0 creates a uniform shape. Increasing the value to 0.50 adds more randomness. A greater value of 1.50 starts to create very irregular shapes.

  4. Adjust the size and position with the Size and Disperse sliders.

    The key to making an animated background is the Evolution option. As you animate evolution, the pattern will change over time. By default, revolutions are progressive, which means each cycle is an entirely unique value. However, there is a way to create a seamless loop point.

  5. Under Evolution Options, select the Cycle Evolution check box to ensure that a revolution for the Evolution slider makes the pattern repeat.
  6. Add a keyframe near the start of the composition for Evolution for 0x and one at the end for a full number (such as 2x). By using full rotations, you'll create a loopable pattern (Figure 7.8).
    Figure 7.8

    Figure 7.8 Using full rotations with the Cycle Evolution option enabled creates a loopable pattern.

  7. To create a richly layered background, blend multiple layers with the Cell Pattern effect applied. You can stylize the background with the Colorama effect and a vignette as well (Figure 7.9).
    Figure 7.9

    Figure 7.9 Stacking multiple instances of the Cell Pattern effect can create depth and visual interest.

Radio Waves

The Radio Waves effect creates a radiating wave pattern from an effect control point. The effect is quite versatile and can make a variety of wave shapes. You can also bounce the waves back from the edges of the composition with the Reflection control (Figure 7.10).

Figure 7.10

Figure 7.10 Reflected waves bounce back from the composition edges to create a fuller pattern.

The effect offers several controls and just screams to be played with. Here are a few of the most relevant controls that will give you immediate results:

  • Wave Type. You can use a polygon, the edge of an image, or a mask. A cool effect can be had by using a shape layer and then animating that shape while using the edge method.
  • Frequency. Experiment with high frequency settings to create several waves. Be sure to use smooth contours to create a gentle stroke.
  • Image Contour. You can trace the edges of an object (even a moving object). Try using a stroke on a keyed object or an animated graphic.
  • Parameters Are Set At. If you'd like the wave to evolve over time, choose the Each Frame option. This option is best if you've animated the object creating the Image Contours for the wave.
  • Wave Motion. The Frequency option offers great controls over how frequently waves are generated. The greater the frequency, the more waves. You can also have additional movement with Expansion, Orientation, Velocity, and Spin. The Lifespan of a wave can be adjusted. The longer the life span, the more strokes onscreen at once.
  • Stroke. Use the Fade-in Time and Fade-out Time to create smooth transitions between the stroke's entrance and exit.

Fractal Noise

The Fractal Noise effect creates results using Perlin noise. It can be used to create organic-looking backgrounds and textures (as well as to simulate natural effects like fog, water, fire, and lava). The effect is quite useful because it works even in 32-bpc color.

This effect is possibly the most flexible effect you'll find for generating patterns (Figure 7.11). It's literally a one-stop-shop and can save you time and money. On the surface it looks like a simple cloud generator, but dig a little deeper and you'll find much more.

Figure 7.11

Figure 7.11 These three patterns were all created with the Fractal Noise effect. Different Fractal Type and Noise Type settings were used.

Here are a few of the most significant controls:

  • Fractal Type. Choose different effects from the Fractal Type menu. Each type generates different random values.
  • Noise Type. There are four different types of interpolation to use between the random values in the noise grid. These methods further modify the fractal type and can produce dramatically different results. Together, Fractal Type and Noise Type create 68 different possible combinations.
  • Transform. Twirl open the Transform properties to find a collection of controls that dramatically affect shapes. Be sure to try the Perspective Offset option, which simulates different depths for the noise.
  • Complexity. This slider determines the number of noise layers that are used to create the fractal noise. Increasing the number adds more depth, but also increases render time. You can also experiment with the Size and Contrast sliders to get various results as well.
  • Evolution. The Evolution controls are where the animation is easiest to control. As you learned earlier, be sure to select the Cycle Evolution option. You can then keyframe full rotations of the Evolution property to create a seamless looping background.

Be sure to colorize the grayscale textures using one of the many colorizing effects at your disposal. CC Toner (Figure 7.12) and Colorama both work well to remap the grayscale values to a vibrant color. Also, experiment with edges; both blurs and emboss effects work well.

Figure 7.12

Figure 7.12 Two Fractal Noise layers are blended together to create a more complex pattern. The color tint comes from the CC Toner effect, which uses three colors to tint the image based on tonal values.

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