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Zaxwerks Serpentine

New 3D for Adobe's After Effects By Ko Maruyama
While you may know Zaxwerks  previous offerings, the latest plug-in for Adobe's After Effects is the evolution of some of the best parts from its predecessors. Although the company's  other plug-ins offer interesting options for 3D designers, Serpentine gives  After Effects artists need ability to create those  3D animationss that are most frequently requested in motion graphics.

Still in version 1 at the time of this article, the plug-in already offers ready solution for any 2D animator who wants to broaden their horizons and "depth" of their designs by adding some real volume into the air 2.5D  scene.  Of course, some will say that 3D applications -- standalone, separate applications -- will create real 3D geometry, editable surfaces, and advanced controls, but that requires the user to learn a new set of tools being a different application.

The beauty of Serpentine is that the new 3D user who is already familiar with After Effects will quickly be able to create 3D imagery and animation by using effect controls that they have already mastered.

The language you'll find in the effects control window is fairly standard. Select layers as reference, changing numerical values, turning checkboxes on and off, choosing colors and setting keyframes are simple enough, and the pay off is extraordinary.

To those who know 3D terminology, you might consider Serpentine a Sweep NURBS  object for After Effects.  For those of you who don't know that terminology, consider an extrusion, but one that is not limited to a single direction, but instead moves along a path -- which could be anything from a straight line, to a curvy twisting, scaling shape that tumbles through space.

Serpentine works on some simple principles that you  already have mastered in Adobe's After Effects.

First, you want to have a layer that will  define the path, or the "sweep" of your Serpentine object. (New layer, turn on 3D, animate to keyframes:  check)
Next, you will need to have a layer  to hold the results of the Serpentine effect. (New layer, apply Serpentine: check)

The one caveat while designing with Serpentine, is that in the current version (an early release) you are required to click on the plug-in interface "UPDATE" if you make changes to the layers that the plug-in might refer to.  This however, is a small price to pay for the amount of design flexibility you will have immediately within After Effects.  now, some of your 3D motion graphics needs can be met within this plug-in. That means that the whole After Effects team can share their projects, make revisions, without jumping into a second application.

This said, however, I don't mean to imply is that Serpentine is an easy plug-in to learn, and, in fact it has a bit of a learning curve, especially for those who aren't familiar with 3D in the After The facts world. There are several parameters which not only need to be explained to understand how to use them, but may require a bit of experimentation for success.

All of the basics that you would expect to be part of this "sweep NURBS" plug-in are there. Additionally, some features are a pleasant surprise to find as an addition to the 3D rendering.

Serpentine allows you to set an overall specular control, a rudimentary bump map -- that can be defined by another layer in your comp, a reflection map -- which can also be controlled by a separate layer, and a shadow catcher feature.

Serpentine and also allows for five separate and unique rendering styles: standard, absolute, cartoon, wireframe, and hidden line. What's more, the plug-in recognizes lights in your After Effects composition, allowing you to further modify the effects of that rendering style.  (A special bonus for those of you with Zaxwerks ProAnimator, you'll be able to import special ".zxo" files).

In the coming weeks, I plan to explore more of the features in depth, and offer you some projects to play with. You can find this plug-in, and all of the Zaxwerks  fast and friendly 3D software at <a href=""></a>.

Zaxwerks  Serpentine will completely redefine how After Effects artists approach 3D  motion graphics design. Dynamic 3D Lines,  extruded sweeping 3D text,  and action-intensive 3D graphics  no longer require animators to leave the After Effects environment that they already know so well.   At only  $199, this plug-in is a must-have for any After Effects user who wants to push the boundaries of 3D in AE.   Furthermore, this plug-in  works just as well in After Effects CS3 and CS4 (PPC/Intel).

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Ko Maruyama is a freelance animator in Los Angeles.  In addition to working on film and broadcast animations, Ko teaches at Pasadena's Art Center College of Design - focusing on motion design.  When working, writing or testing software allows, you can find him lending a hand in the After Effects board and lurking among the Cinema4D, Visual Effects and Photoshop posts within the DMNForums.
Related Keywords:zaxwerks, adobe after effects, 3D sweep, sweep nurbs, import zxo, proanimator

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