Improved UI, shadows, reflections and more
By Brady Betzel
If you’ve read my past reviews, you likely know how much I love Video CoPilot’s Element 3D. I can’t stop talking about it, in my reviews, at work, on social media, or even at home with my four-year-old son, who typically responds with, “Can it make Thomas the Train?” Luckily, I am able to respond, “Yes, as long as daddy has a Thomas 3D model.”
I’ve been using Element 3D, which is currently in v2.2, since v1. I have always found it comfortable and easy to use, especially as someone with a good sense of spatial 3D relationships, as well as a moderate level of After Effects knowledge. So there won’t be any surprise that the latest release has lived up to its previous incarnations. Furthermore it started and continues to evolve the pipeline between the 2.5D Adobe After Effects and true 3D applications like Maxon’s Cinema 4D and its Cineware offering.
The latest version of Element 3D has some great updates, including interface upgraders; group symmetry modes; matte shadows with alpha channels; general speed improvements; and many more awesome new stuff. Element 3D (E3D) v2.2 is a free update to owners of v2. If you are still running E3D from the v1 era, obviously it still works and works pretty well, but if you want the latest mind-blowing features for a sub-$200 plug-in, v2.2 is where you want to be — you even get a generous $100 discount if you are upgrading from a valid Element 3D v1 license. If you are feeling like you want to spend a little more money, purchase Pro Shaders 2 along with Element 3D — it even comes with a bundle discount that makes it just shy of $250. The Pro Shaders are a library of high-quality textures used inside of Element 3D and even Cinema 4D. I could go on all day about the products that Video CoPilot puts out, but instead I suggest you check out their website, and Andrew Kramer’s awesome tutorial and demo videos.
So let’s dive in and see why Element 3D v2.2 is worth the price of admission.
I really love Element 3D for its particularly easy way of creating fantastic-looking 3D titles quickly. To create a quick and great-looking title in After Effects you can follow these steps: create a new text layer, type your text (usually works better with a thick and/or strong font), under the “Custom Layers” > “Custom Text and Masks” find your layer from the drop down and select it, launch the scene interface, click on extrude, and you are ready to apply a texture.
Once you are done coloring and texturing you can jump back into After Effects and create simple swooshing titles, or even titles that break apart and transform into another title, all within the Element 3D effect controls. You can even add cameras and lights, which will impact your creation. If you do any sort of fancy titling, Element 3D must be in your After Effects toolbox. If you are worried about how well your computer will handle it, I can tell you that you don’t need the behemoth Nvidia Quadro M6000 (although it would be nice). Element 3D just needs a graphics card with at least 512MB of RAM and, while Intel graphics are not supported, there have been some cases where they work. Typically, you will want an Nvidia or AMD card.
If you’ve used E3D before, you are probably past the point of building 3D text and are ready for me to move on to the v2.2 meat and potatoes of Element 3D. So without further ado…
Group Symmetry Mode
In short, group symmetry allows you to designate a reflection of your group within the E3D scene interface. In one of his demos, Kramer uses a futuristic door as an example, and it really makes a lot of sense when describing how Group Symmetry Mode works. If you have one side of a door created and want to simply reflect that side on the X, Y and/or Z-axis, you can enable Group Symmetry by clicking on your group and checking the Group Symmetry box. If you want to animate those individual elements you can jump inside of your group and designate each object to be assigned to an auxiliary animation.
For example, If you have glass in front of your door that is within the same group, you can assign the glass to auxiliary animation channel 1 and the door to channel 2, allowing the glass and door to be animated separately but still operating in the same group. Another benefit of group symmetry is the ability to texture the object and, because E3D processes the symmetry as instances any texture applied to one object gets replicated to each object within your group (with no slowdown). You can even save your group folder as an E3D file to use in another scene.
Matte Shadow With Alpha and 3D Noise
This feature is aimed at anyone doing 3D compositing over live action within After Effects. With Element 3D v2.2 you now have the ability to work with dynamic reflections and dynamic shadows. This leads into creating a shadow of a 3D object while using the alpha channel of a texture to create a more realistic roll-off into your live-action footage. Basically, it gets your composite to look more realistic faster and more easily.
Third on my list is deforming and 3D noise. In E3D v2 you have gained the ability to add primitives directly inside of the scene interface without importing objects, and this makes it extremely easy to come up with organic and often-times wild animations within seconds. Simply drop any primitive object (or anything like text or even an external .OBJ) into your scene, bump up the amount of segments in your 3D model, change your Surface Options > Normal to Dynamic (Deform), as well as check off Optimize Mesh to speed up the rendering, then texture your object however you would like and exit back into After Effects.
Now, under the numbered group that houses your object find the Particle Look and locate the Deform settings. This is where the crazy magic happens. Mess around with the Noise setting a little and you will immediately be looking for some sound effects to complement the weird organic jello-like movement. Check out the MotionPulse Sound Design Toolkit.
I’ve really only touched on a few of the latest updates to Video CoPilot’s Element 3D v2.2. Andrew Kramer and his team have done a great job with Element 3D from the very beginning, and v2.2 is no exception thanks to the addition of sub-surface scattering; Matte Reflection mode; the ability to export .OBJ files for other 3D apps; automatic texture importing with your external 3D objects; dynamic reflection maps; the ability to designate a transfer mode like Add or Screen to your textures; and so much more.
The only knock I have with Element 3D — well, it’s not really a knock — is that once you dive in you just want to keep learning more. It’s an extremely exciting rabbit hole of motion graphics and VFX that’s hard to get out of.
Brady Betzel is an online editor at Margarita Mix in Hollywood. Previously, he was editing The Real World at Bunim-Murray Productions. You can email Brady at email@example.com, and follow him on Twitter, @allbetzroff.