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How to Make an Awesome Electric Shock Effect

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Read Time: 14 mins

Today we're going to learn how to make a cool electrocution effect that follows the contours of the body of the person that's being electrocuted. I'll also talk about making lighting look more realistic verses just using Advanced Lighting on it's default setting.


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Hey, what's up? This is Adrian C. Jensen for ae.tutsplus.com. This time, I'll be breaking down an effect that I did for the Portland Superhero Coalitions Trailer. I hope you all enjoy it as much as I did. Let's fire up After Effects.

Okay. To get us started, I've got this footage that I'm going to make a new comp out of and just trim it to the correct duration. On top of that, I've got this Rotoscope job that I did of Bender, here. I'm just going to move it to the right spot. Now, I want to take a minute to show you something about this Rotoscope. Not only is it not perfect, but it's also not even very good.

You can see his arm disappears here, I've got some other crap included in it and, really, that doesn't matter at all. It's okay. I think one of the important things you need to learn about doing special effects or animation or anything like that is when it's okay not to be perfect. I could have spent hours on this Rotoscope but it wouldn't make a difference. It doesn't matter in this case, and you will see why.

Anyway, I'm going to go ahead and trim it where I need it. It starts here; I don't need it before that. Then we just need to include the part where he's shaking from being electrocuted. Right here is where he kind of stops and just starts to look pissed. So, we'll trim it up right there.

The other things I want to do before we really get into the meat of this effect is to take the bottom and we're going to time or map it, just to correct the acting a little bit. Because, as you can see, he gets stabbed with the cord right here but he doesn't react to it until here. So, we just want to speed that up a little bit. So, put a key frame here and another one say about there. Then grab these last two key frames, move them over, like this, and then realign the top footage and then trim that up. That should still look good.

Okay. Now we're going to motion track a little. But, I already know this is super difficult to motion track so I'm just going to do it by hand. I'm going to add myself a new null object and just trim it to where I need it. Now, lucky you gets to watch me move it around.

As you can see, our null object now follows the end of the cord, sort of. It's not close to perfect. I mean, the cord doesn't even keep touching Bender the whole time but, for this effect, we're going to have so much randomness in it anyway; it really doesn't matter. This should be good. If it's not, we'll fix it, but it should be good.

So, now we're going to start with this Bender mat layer. We're going to make ourselves a copy of it because we're going to use this a few times. We're going to use the find edges effect. Invert it and then apply a levels effect and then just crush it up until you think it looks good. We're just trying to make a nice looking outline.

We might be able to get rid of some of this noise we have if we just use unmult from Knoll; it's part of Knoll Light Factory, I believe. What it does is it takes away black - see, it takes away the black and just leaves us with this white. Then, you can use it a simple choker; just choke that up a little bit. So, we still have some noise but we have less of it. That's really okay.

Then, I'm going to apply Reelsmart motion blur to it because - here, let me let you see this. You'll see when he's shaking around in this clip, there's a lot of motion blur here and then now in this thing we just made, there's none at all. So, we're just going to use Reelsmart motion blur. Just throw that on. If you don't have this, you can use Force motion blur or you can just not do it at all.

Now we're going to precompose this. We're going to move all the attributes and we're going to open up the composition. We're going to add a new solid, which we can make black. Move that to the bottom and then add another one. Let's label this "noise." Let's just trim these down to where we need them. We're going to add a fractal noise and set it to a multiply transfer mode. We want to monkey around with the contrast and the brightness until we get it looking how we want it, which is basically just cutting out chunks so that the whole thing's not showing the whole time.

Then, we can put expression on the evolution: time times a ridiculously large number, just so that is different on every single frame. I think I'm going to shut off the motion blur effect because I think it's slowing us down. Alright. That looks good. You can change the scale of the noise, if you want. I think I'm going to make it a little bigger.
Now, back in our main comp. I'm horrible at organization; you should not be like me. We'll call it "Glow", I guess. Set it to an add transfer mode or you could use screen, lighten or color dodge. I recommend you play with everything in this section right here and see which one you like the best. They're all going to give you different effects and they're all good.

We need to add a glow to it. I'm going to use Star Glow, which I know a lot of you don't have. You don't have to do this the same as me; you can just use the regular glow or don't use a glow at all. Just do whatever you want. We're going to change these colors. I like to use the first one as
"Electric", which obviously makes good sense for this, and the second one as "Aura", which is a nice purple color. Maybe not "Aura". Maybe "Spirit."
Yeah. It's also purple but not as purple.

Then, we could change our streak length; we can change our threshold. I'm just going to cycle through these transfer modes so you can see what they do. I think add's working for me in this case, though. Pull up or shimmer a bit. Here's what that's looking like so far. See, we've got this awesome lightening just chasing around the contours of this guy's body. If you want to add more of that, then just change the settings of your noise inside that precomp.

The other thing we're going to do to make it look pretty cool is we're going to go into the Transform Properties here and set key frames per opacity. So, we can have it on for a little while and then we're going to start making it flicker by alternating key frames: 0 and 100 percent. Then, we'll have it on for a little while longer, another key frame there. Then, we'll turn it off for a little while and maybe copy these key frames.

Let's have it flicker again. Then, we'll just leave it on for the remainder of the layer. Here's what that looks like. I'm going to add a little bit more flickering to it. I think that looks pretty cool. Just play with these opacity key frames until you get it looking nice and random and electrical.

Now we're going to duplicate this Rotoscoped layer again. Move it up to the top here and we're going to add a tint to it. We're going to add a levels and we're just going to crush those blacks and those whites to make it as much contrast as we can get. Then, we're going to use that unmult effect again. Now you can see what that's done is just give us this shape here.

Now, the reason we did that is because we're going to put the advanced lightening effect on it now. We're going to tie the origin to the position of his null and we're going to put the direction way out here. We're going to add an expression to that: wiggle about 10 times a second, by 700 pixels. So, it's just moving all over the place, just randomly moving.

Now, just temporarily, turn on this composite on original switch there. Turn all those effects back on so that you can see what happens when we turn up this alpha obstacle. Actually, just so we can see it, let's add a fill effect right before the lightening. Turn this red so you can see. If you put the alpha obstacle on a negative amount, then it will start doing what we want here.

You can see how it's kind of climbing up this wall here and sticking to this one here. We don't need that fill anymore, but if we turn off composite on original and then also on this and put on our other layers, you'll see that it kind of hugs this guy's body a little bit better. See that right there? That's exactly what we're going for. Just like this.

The other thing we'll want to do is change this glow color to something a little more cyan like that. Then turn the opacity of it down. You should never, ever, ever use the advanced lightening on its default settings. It's the first thing that's going to get you in trouble. When other people that make videos watch your video and see that, they're just going to shake their heads at you.

You can mess around with the forking if you want, mess around with the decay if you want. Get some settings that you think look pretty good. I'm actually going to turn this glow off altogether and I'm going to copy this star glow effect we have here and paste it here so that it matches. Make sure that's on the same transfer mode, which we have at add.

Now, if we duplicate that, since we have the position moving around randomly, you're going to get a different lightening bolt for zero extra work. So, you can do that if you want. Maybe change some of the settings, like take the forking down a little bit, put the turbulence up. I don't know, whatever you want. Just play with it until it looks good. And we're going to precompose those. Make sure to include the null; call it lightening. I'll change it back to the add transfer mode and cut it down to how we need and we're going to do the same thing with the randomizing of the opacity of it, to make it flicker. Check out how that looks.

I personally think this looks much better than it would if he was just tried to use the lightening on its default settings. I'm actually going to go into that comp and we're going to take one of the lightening layers. I'm just going to grab the direction of it, just move it somewhere else so we can add to the randomness of it a little more. And, in fact, going to the expression itself, just change it to something else - something similar but something not exactly the same.

Another thing I like to do with lightening: we can add ourselves an adjustment layer and put a directional blur. Just blur it a little bit in the general direction it's going, to kind of simulate a motion blur. It's not prefect but it's also not good - nah, I'm just kidding. It'll be good enough. I'm going to tone it down a little bit, just to make it subtle. Go into the lightening comp, copy that null, go back into the main comp and paste it back in so that we still have it here.

Now we're going to make a new light. Make it a point light; that's all we need. Go into the Transform Properties and just zero out this position. Now if you hold shift and parent it to this null, you'll snap the position to the null. See, now it's right there were we need it. We'll add a new solid again, just trimming it to where we need it.

We're going to add a video co-pilot to optical flares. Set the source type to track lights. Turn on disabled 3-D perspective, turn off all these other things so that we can control it ourselves. And now, we just go into the options and I'm just going to find a preset that I like. You know, I think I'm going to go with this one; it's called 'North Star.' You can pick whatever one you want or just make one. It's fine. Whatever.

And then, we're just going to go into the Flicker and just turn that up to randomize it a bit. We'll set our mode to add. We're going to precompose it, including the light and the null layer. Give it flare. Trim it down, set it to add and we're now going to do the same thing with the flickering of the opacity. And there we go. We're just making that as random as we can.

Something else I like to do is take the lightening and the glow, precompose those together. Set it back to add. And I want to add a curves. We're just going to try and change the colors to match the colors of that flare better because I like the colors of the flare better. So, to do that I think we need to maybe add some green, maybe take out some red. And I think that looks better. Then, if we duplicate it and add a fast blur, we can add a little bit more glow to it overall.

Now, just to top that off, I have these firecracker elements from Action Essentials that I'm just going to toss in there. So, I need to go copy my null again. Paste it in and I'm just going to add these on top of everything. Do add transfer mode.

I'm using Firecracker 3 and Firecracker 11, which I picked because I like the way the sparks kind of linger around. I basically just picked the longest ones. So, move it into position and just parent it to that null. Do the same thing with the other one. And then, just add some quick, awesome sparks to the initial contact. I offsetted the number 11, which is the smaller of the two, just to make that blast there last one one frame longer. I think I need to actually move them both back to right here. There, I think that looks about how I want it.

Now, finally, to top everything off, we're going to add an adjustment layer. Trim it to start here and I guess it can go on for the rest of the comp. Move it down to the bottom just above the footage. There we're going to add a levels to it. We can solo just the footage and the adjustment layer for now. And now, we're going to move this dark point in to darken it up a bit, to make it look like the power's going out a little bit. Like all the power is being directed into Bender.

But, we want to leave the outside bright because the sun is not powered by electricity. Right? So, we're just effecting the interior, which is why we're using levels instead of an exposure effect. Pinky frame the opacity -
set that at 100. Move forward a little bit and set that to 0.

But then, we can add a wiggle. I don't know, maybe 5, 15, or something like that? That will add a little organic wiggle to it and do some of our work for us. We're going to increase it. That way, there's this initial surge that we key frame but then the power kind of struggles to say on for the remainder of the clip. I might increase the speed a bit.

That looks like it might be what we want. Let's give it one final preview. Alright. My wiggling on the adjustment layer is too fast and my glow is too intense. Maybe if I change it to screen instead of add it will be better. Now we'll preview that again. And I think that looks fine. Thank you guys for watching.

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