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Distorto: Warp Effects in After Effects 6.0

An exploration of new tools and filters By Ko Maruyama
In After Effects 6.0, Adobe has introduced a bunch of new filters and tools, some for production and workflow, others for generating new kinds of visual effects. These range from the paint engine (carried over from Adobe Photoshop) to the Liquify filter, a tool for distorting images. Today we'll take a look at a few of these new distortion features, including the Liquify tool, as well as its cousins, which can be used to extrapolate similar distortion data. This is better than goo-d!

There are four brand new Distort Effects in After Effects 6.0. I keep wanting to call them filters, but that's just because I am familiar with their use in Photoshop. These are filters on steroids. If you've ever used Liquify, you know how frustrating it can be. There are no handles on the mesh, you can't save the mesh as dxf or cad spline data (except .msh preset data), and even the largest view scale is sometimes too small. Well, all that is excused by the improvements made in After Effects: Yes, you can animate your Liquify Mesh. Yeah.

My daughter has volunteered to be the subject for these Distortion experiments. (She actually loves to drive the wacom pen.)

So, is Liquify better than Mesh Warp? They're different. Liquify has a "paint-on" application where as Mesh Warp allows you to control the handles. Yes, it's true that there is still no control over the mesh vertices in Liquify for AE, but to make up for it, you can now keyframe between Liquify Mesh shapes. The differences in usage are too numerous to squeeze into 1,500 words, so you'll have to play with Liquify and find out for yourself.

There are several tools to Liquify AE, though notably missing are the freeze options. (The workaround is to use masks, and there is a way to paint an area and transform it to a spline mask, so there is a provision for it.) The tools that are included are as follows:

  • Warp Tool. The freeform finger painter.;
  • Turbulent Tool. Wavy Warpy Wiggy.;
  • Twirl. Both clockwise and counter clockwise warpers;
  • Pucker. Like a pinch warp;
  • Bloat;
  • Move Pixels;
  • Reflect;
  • Clone. This one is very trippy when animated; soon to be overused;
  • Reconstruction. This is a nice way to brush back in some of the image that you may want as original (akin to the Freeze tools of Photoshop, more later).

    Because each tool is guided by a brush, each tool carries with it brush options. They're all pretty obvious. Size, Pressure, a Freeze Mask option for each tool and tool-specific parameters. You can still view the mesh in several colors, but I don't consider the view option worth anything.

    The Distortion Mesh function is very, very, very important. All it does is set a keyframe. It's the best option in the lot. What this function does is allow a mesh shape to be saved; then, at a different point in time, you can create a separate mesh shape. After Effects 6 will then morph (dang, I wasn't going to use that word, but it's hard not to), yeah, morph between the mesh shapes. Lastly, Adobe has made a provision for the "Distortion Percentage"--the amount of distortion the effect applies to the original image.

    So now you can just about make your own talking chihuahua or California cows (of course nothing as nice as Michael Killen's ... yet).

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