By Brady Betzel
I realize, as most editors do, that to grow means to be constantly learning. Not a day goes by where I am not on the Web looking for the latest and greatest tools and tutorials to expand my creative toolbox.
When scouring Twitter one day I found Eran Stern’s (@sternfx) demo of Yanobox Nodes 2 from FX Factory (@fxfactory) which he used to create a promo for the After Effects World Conference. While the project required an advanced level of After Effects skill and finesse, it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would have been, and Nodes 2 was vital in creating such a spectacular spot.
Here is a link to his breakdown: http://www.sternfx.com/tutorials/140. There are many uses for Nodes 2, and motion graphics creator Jayse Hansen has created some stunning HUD display motion graphics in feature films like The Avengers using Nodes 2. Check out his work for some amazing examples: www.jayse.tv.
What Does It Do?
Nodes 2 is a Mac OS-based plug-in (no Windows version, sorry) made for Apple’s Final Cut Pro X and Motion and Adobe’s Premiere Pro and After Effects. It is part of the FX Factory family of plug-ins and must be downloaded as a part of the FX Factory installer. I wish they didn’t make you download their full “plug-in suite” to get Nodes 2; it installs multiple trial plug-ins and clutters up my “Effects & Presets” window in After Effects. But moving on…
For this review I will be focusing on Nodes 2 inside of After Effects. Nodes 2 allows for simple creation of organic structures and beautiful motion graphics reminiscent of data visualizations. It allows for fast yet-detailed control over almost every aspect of creation harnessing GPU acceleration. In Nodes 2 you can even extract nodes from your own footage using luminance values. You need to watch the demo to get a sense of what I’m talking about.
I’ve been able to test Nodes 2 over the past few months and have seen how powerful it is. You can create unique and breathtaking graph-like elements, fiber-optic maps and many other organic shapes with the over 100 preset animations. You could stop at the presets, but if you want to go further you are only limited by the time you can dedicate — you can even import your own .OBJ models to create unique point-based cloud structures.
There are way too many features to go through step by step in this space, but I will touch on a few that I find important, including one feature that I think Nodes 2 lacks.
Right off the bat you can choose a preset, choose whether you want to show nodes, lines, and/or text — you can choose one or all three options. From there you will see a simple “Master Completion” slider which is used to keyframe the start and end of any preset or built animation in your Nodes 2 project. All presets have some awesome animation already built in, but if you want to change or create your own, jump down to the Oscillator and Animation twirl down menus. Whether it’s an undulating jellyfish-like point cloud or HUD-like list connected by nodes and curved lines you will immediately see the power Nodes 2 possesses.
When first trying to create my own structure by importing an .OBJ file it wasn’t as straightforward as it could have been. You need to first apply Nodes 2 to a solid, jump down to the Form twirl down, click the Form drop down and choose “Import Obj 3D Models.” Then you need to twirl down to the OBJ Files List and import your .OBJ files from there. You can either choose a preset before or after importing your .OBJ file if you want to use some of the premade animations with your custom models. I noticed that this would often help me get a better idea of what is possible in Nodes 2 rather than starting from scratch… think After Effects Brainstorm.
While scrolling down the list of menu options we start with Oscillator, which can enable organic motion such as Wave, a sinusoidal motion. Adjusting the Oscillator axis along with keyframing the Osc Amplitude is a sure way to get some cool looks. You can even apply the oscillation to the start form, end form or both forms that you imported earlier and apply a morphing effect. This is located under the Effects twirl down. Keep in mind that you can only apply one type of oscillation to both forms within one instance of Nodes 2.
Next is the Animation twirl-down menu. Here you can set animations to auto animate, no need for keyframes — but you can set and keyframe the animation speed. Again, there is a lot of power within this plug-in, and in the Animation parameters you can choose options such as transforming rotation, text index, line completion, node hue color and many more. You can spend hours upon hours experimenting with the different parameters and adjusting their speeds.
The Transform twirl-down is next. This is where you can move and rotate the actual object. You will also find the “Create AE Null & Attach for” option, and when pressed will create a null object with the Position and Rotation for your Nodes 2 object to be correctly parented to the null object’s Position and Rotation controls. You can then adjust your object from the null or even parent other objects like Element3D text to the null. You will find it much easier to animate movement with the null object than animating the camera itself.
The Form twirl-down menu is the place to dial-in your node and text orientation, special distribution and overall look. For instance you can distribute your nodes along a sine curve and adjust the angle of your text. You will also import your .OBJ files in here.
The Nodes twirl-down menu allows for fine-tuned customization over the look for the nodes. You can customize shape, color (including specifying single color, complementary colors, etc. I love this feature!), adjust node completion animation, and even load an external list of images to be used as nodes — another really cool feature that can yield interesting results.
The Effects twirl-down menu is where some real Hogwarts wizardry occurs. You can easily get many different ideas and perspectives on your Nodes 2 project by selecting different types of projection mapping, such as Cartesian to polar, cylindrical or spherical. You can choose morphing between two forms: create a carrousel effect with Highlight by Index (keyframes are needed) or Auto-Highlight (no keyframes needed, think graph type displays).
The Connections twirl-down menu allows you to link specific nodes together using their index values. The Lines menu allows for deep customization of just how the lines between nodes appear, from basic straight lines to some awesome organic lines. The Text menu is the place to designate text specifics, such as font, size, alignment and even text blending modes. One of my favorite things within Nodes 2 is the ability to use a custom list of text by simply copying and pasting within the Custom Text box. Nodes 2 uses a feature called Accelerated Fonts, which help provide that super-fast GPU-accelerated render time. While there is a limited amount of Accelerated Fonts available, it helps to get a sense of what your project will look like and then change the fonts toward the end if you want.
Finally the Render menu, this is where you can create some pseudo depth of field by enabling depth effects such as opacity, luminosity, luminosity and opacity, and fog. Unfortunately it is not true depth of field.
You’ll Have to Create Your Own Depth-of-Field Options
The lack of true depth-of-field options is the only real issue I have with Nodes 2. But if you do want some depth-of-field goodness all hope is not lost, but you will have to create it yourself. One easy way I found was to use a Camera Lens Blur adjustment layer, create a Blur Map using a precomp of a black and white gradient ramp and curves adjustment (creating my own matte) and set the Blur Map option in my Camera Lens Blur to see the Blur Map precomp (the black and white gradient ramp). From there you can adjust the focal distance or even jump back into your Blur Map precomp and change the type of ramp from linear to radial to get some very interesting results. It’s quick and dirty but works.
Whether you are a motion graphics tinkerer or a professional motion graphics artist, Nodes 2 is a must buy. It is a phenomenally priced plug-in that achieves outstanding results. For under $300 and less than an hour of work you can create motion graphic elements used in Planet of the Apes and Transformers: Age of Extinction.
The presets are amazing, and if you want to take it to the next level you can dive in and start tweaking colors, nodes, animation, and anything else you can think of to create your next set of mind blowing graphics for your blockbuster sci-fi movie.
I leave you with these highlights: Easily create and animate amazing point cloud based generative motion graphics; used in blockbuster movie HUD design like Avengers and Captain America; GPU-accelerated for blazing playback and render speed.
Brady Betzel is an editor at Bunim Murray Productions, a reality television production company. He is one of the editors on Bad Girls Club. His typical tools at work are Avid Symphony, Adobe After Effects CC and Adobe Photoshop CC. You can email Brady at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow him on Twitter, @allbetzroff.