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After Effects Tip: Retinal Scan

Using masks and displacement to create a laser scan effect By Dave Nagel
I've presented several tutorials on using displacement to achieve depth effects on 2D images. This time around, we take a look at the Displacement Map filter in Adobe After Effects (any version) to create the illusion of a beam of light scanning the contours of a subject's face for a retinal scan. Of course, this process can be used for any sort of light effect, and not just for retinal scans.

Now, this particular exercise started off as a simple project to show one way (of many ways) to create a retinal scan effect, though, in the process, I may have gotten a bit over-enthusiastic, bringing in some motion tracking and effects plugins, as well as a little GarageBand action for the score. In the end, I wound up with a pretty lame 30-second spot for a hypothetical product called the AccuScan 2000 from Nagelgruppe Security Corp. Here it is.

Dumb? Yes indeed. (But you have to agree the music saves it.) Well, if nothing else, it only took an afternoon to make, and I cracked myself up in the process from the stupidity, and that's always my highest goal.

Now, putting all the other effects aside, the retinal scan effect itself is quite a simple one. The key is to make it conform to the contours of the subject's face. Here's how it works.

Comp setup
Begin by importing your footage into After Effects and placing it in your timeline. If you don't have footage set up at the moment and would like to follow along, you can download a sample project here (112 KB, Stuffit archive).

Next, add a solid layer to your timeline (Layer > New > Solid). In this case, we'll make it red.

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Related Keywords:adobe after effects, retinal scan, laser effect, light beam, displacement map


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