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Animating a Signature in After Effects

5 Quick tips on mask animations, including paint


by Ko Maruyama Several years ago, my PaintBox initiation began with rotoscoping signatures for a game show that featured celebrities' names in the promo. For the show's promotional campaign, I was charged with the task of replicating the light-pen animation that was used on the set to animate each signature for the 15 celebrities that would appear that week. These sorts of effects are much more accessible these days, and programs like Adobe After Effects offer a variety of solutions for creating animated signatures or other writing effects. This week, we'll take a look at a few of the options you can use to create the illusion of writing in your compositions. [an error occurred while processing this directive]Before we get started, you should know this isn't a tutorial for animating specific fonts. After all, do you sign your name in Helvetica Neue? If you are interested in text animation, you can read about it in Stephen Schleicher's tutorial on text here. Otherwise, read on to learn about animating hand-drawn signatures. There are are a few things you have to consider when animating a signature. Are you creating the graphic from scratch or scanning an actual signature? Do you want to retain or create the irregularities found in a signature? Do you need to set specific timing for the character animations? ascenders and curves take longer to write by hand, creating irregular speeds in a signature.

You'll have to play around with these tutorials and find out which method is appropriate for you. 1. Stroke The easiest of animated strokes comes in the form of After Effects' own Stroke plugin. 1. Create a new comp (Command-N) with a new solid (Command-Y). 2. Create a mask (keyboard shortcut to mask/pen tool = g). Note: you can import a spline from Adobe Illustrator and paste it into the mask shape, but let's keep it all in AE for now. (For more on this, check archive tutorial: Copy/Paste.) 3. Apply the "stroke" effect to the layer (found under Effect > Render) and Select Mask1 (your mask) under the "Path" option of the plugin. There are three elements you want to look at.

Start: Controls the distance from the beginning of the path where the stroke will be drawn (percentage of whole stroke) End: Controls the distance from the end of the path where the stroke will be drawn Paint Style: "On Original" - applies the stroke right to the layer. "On Transparent" - applies the stroke as an alpha channel, using the color of the stroke. "Reveal Original" - applies the stroke as an alpha channel for the layer (disregards stroke color).

4. At time=0, set a keyframe for end=0%. At time=end, set a keyframe for end=100%. Pretty easy stuff. The other parameters in Stroke are self-explanatory. A couple of minutes with this one, and you'll be a pro.

2. Write on Instead of assigning a mask to stroke in this plugin, you draw a line at a certain position. The line drawn persists throughout your animation based on the parameters you set in the plugin. Although this is pretty cool if you have one path to follow, if you have multiple paths, you'll need to add plugins; in "Stroke" the option exists to draw all masks. (For more on this, check the archive tutorial: Spline Tricks, Part 2.)[an error occurred while processing this directive]1. Create a new comp (Command-N) with a new solid (Command-Y). 2. Draw a mask with your pen tool. 3. Apply the "Write-On" effect to the layer (found under Effect > Stylize). In order to get the brush position to follow the mask, select the mask and copy the vertices (Command-C). Then, select the brush position attribute and paste (Command-V) the vertices. The mask points become the position keyframes for the brush position. They also contain floating keyframes. All you have to do is select and drag the first or last keyframe to change the timing of the animation.

Stroke Length and Brush Spacing are useful properties. Playing around with these will immediately reveal what they do.

3. Paint In After Effects 6, there is a cool paint feature. No, not vector paint, but real, Photoshop-style paint tools. Unfortunately, you'll have to wait a little longer for custom brushes, but for now at least you can paint with round brushes.[an error occurred while processing this directive]1. Create a new comp (Command-N) with a new solid (Command-Y). 2. Draw a mask with your pen tool. 3. Apply Paint (found under Effect > Paint) Note: To apply a paint stroke, to paint with your mouse, you also must be on the source of the layer. So, double-click that layer in order to use paint. 4. Twirl open the attributes of the Paint and you should reveal a "Brush 1" track. 5. Select the mask shape and copy the vertices (Command-C). 6. Select the Brush 1 shape and paste the vertices (Command-V). 7. Now, under the brush attributes in the timeline, you'll also find "Stroke Options." Whew there are a bunch of them. The ones you want to concern yourself with is Start and End. You guessed it, same as "Stroke." (See above.) Note: Paint doesn't have effect controls in the effect pallet. They reside in the timeline.

Play around with Paint. There's a lot of cool stuff built in, and is the foundation of some radical developments for After Effects. (Check out "Flow" to simulate buildup. Also check out the archive tutorial covering AE 6 Paint, including morphing splines: AE 6 Paint Tutorial & Morphing with paint.) 4. Paint for Roto If you need to roto an existing (scanned/raster) signature, you can use either Paint or Vector Paint. I suggest you write the signature a couple of times to become familiar with the cadence of the looping. Notice that the letters t and i get last and separate attention.[an error occurred while processing this directive]Create separate passes for the different parts of the signature and paint directly over the scanned image. Use the animated paint strokes to reveal the scan via track matting. 5. Masking Ah. Good, old-fashioned masking. It's not glamourous or high tech. It doesn't require a heavy duty thirdparty plugin, or even the latest version of After Effects. Animate your masks to reveal (or conceal) portions of your signature layer. Boom. You've got an animated signature. 6. Get Creative With other means for revealing images in After Effects--man, oh, man there are so many--you should be able to find something that suits your signature. From Adjustments > Levels all the way down to Transitions > Gradient Wipe, there are many features that will help you make your "John Hancock" shine. Adding a pencil To add a writing utensil, simply import your raster art and move the anchor point to the tip of the instrument (pencil/pen/quill...).[an error occurred while processing this directive]You can use any positioning system you'd like, but for the sake of convenience, let's use the "Write-On" plug-in since it already contains position data. Follow the steps outlined above for technique No. 2 (Write-on). Then: 1. Import your pencil image (or download this one: pencil.tif).

2. Select the pencil layer and move the anchor point to the tip. (Keyboard shortcut = y) 3. Reveal the Position parameter for the pencil layer (p). 4. Option-click the stopwatch for position to turn on expressions. Using the pick-whip, drag to the brush position of the "Write-On" effect. Now, where your stroke goes, so will your pencil. Change the timing? The After Effects expression takes care of the position data for the pencil layer.

You can download the "Love_Pencil" project for After Effects 6.0 here. You can download the "Love_Pencil" project for After Effects 5.5 here.

Ko Maruyama is a freelance animator and blood donor. When not bleeding, or writing tutorials on Love, you can find him answer questions in the After Effects forum. Ko's work has appeared in every television market and currently appears weekly on ABC Kids, every Saturday morning.

First off open up After Effects and create a new project (or open the sample file I've included below) and create a new composition. 1. Create a background or use one of the presets by going Animation>Browse Presets. Here I took the Green Crystals preset, removed the CC radial fast blur and added a Find Edges filter to give the look we have here. 2. Take your text tool (the big T in your tool bar) and write your text. While you're at it, you might switch to the text workspace (pull down menu on the right side) 3. Now with the text layer still selected, take the pen tool which is to the left of the text tool. Once you've selected it, look to the right of it and make sure the rotobezier button is checked. 4. Change the viewing size of your comp to 50% because you want to start your path off the screen itself. 5. Starting off screen, put down some bezier points for your path which is also called a mask in After Effects. This is the path that the text will travel on during our animation. You can undo any point by ctrl-z. 6. Now, go to the timeline and expand the text layer you've just created. You should see Text, Mask and Transform. Expand Text and you should see Source Text, Path Options and More Options. Expand Path Options and under Path you should be able to change it from None to Mask 1. Now your text should be on the path.

7. If your text is upside down, turn on the Reverse Path option and it should fix it up. 8. Go to the beginning of your timeline and click on the stop watch for the First Margin parameter which is under the Path options as well. 9. Click and drag to the left of the screen until your text is completely off the composition. 10. Take your CTI (your playhead or time indicator) and move it to the end of the composition. Then move your First Margin to the right until the text has moved completely off the right side of the composition. Tip - hold down the shift key as you're doing this and it will go quicker. That's it! All right, so ten instructions probably should have been in a PDF with some documents, but I hope you'll cut me some slack! Text on a Path project file