Adobe After Effects Forum
Create a silhouette in a door opening
Create a silhouette in a door opening
by Tim Fast on Jun 28, 2010 at 2:28:30 pm


I've got a composition that represents a room. I've modelled the walls, the floor and the ceiling by texture layers with 3D switcher on.

I have an idea to have a door in the rear wall that opens and a silhouette appears in the opening. The silhouette is another CG object (a ball) created with CC Sphere with 3D switcher on. After a short while the ball starts moving (bounces) toward the viewer.

The result should look like this:

or like this:,1196672958,1/stock-photo-woman-silhouette-7487173.jpg

Except that there is a ball instead of the human silhouette.

I have several problems:

1. What is the best way to create the door in this project? I've tried with a white solid that covers a part of the rear wall with some glow applied but it didn't work well. I cannot reach natural result. Should I cut a hole in the source file of the rear wall? Or is it better to create a mask? Or can I keep the solid but use different effect on it?

2. How do I create a nice silhouette with a light spill over it? Is the mask around the object the right way to go? Are there easier ways?

3. What is the best way to create the shadow? I’m still playing with the lightning options in AE but I cannot get it right. Is a spotlight behind the object a way to go? Are there better solutions to achieve this?

I'm quite a newbie in AE. Probable the project is more advanced than I can handle. However, I'll never learn if I don't try, will I? ;-)

Re: Create a silhouette in a door opening
by Tudor "Ted" Jelescu on Jun 28, 2010 at 4:48:35 pm

Here's one way to do it:

Work in 32 bit to get better glows and gradients.
You need to create a multipass effect:
1- build your camera move first and render out the base layer
2- render also just the door (white solid would do)with alpha.
3- render the silhouette the same way
4- composite the two and apply trapcode shine or a similar plugin to the door layer- to obtain the light rays.
5- play with glows to obtain desired effect.

Tudor "Ted" Jelescu
Senior VFX Artist
Bucharest, Romania

Re: Create a silhouette in a door opening
by Kevin Camp on Jun 28, 2010 at 5:28:47 pm

you could also create a 3d scene within ae... it would be a pretty simple scene, potentially just a floor, wall with a door cut into it, a light and a camera (and the ball layer).

first create a floor layer. create a new solid, call it floor, make it 3-5 times larger than the comp and pick the color that you want for the floor. then make that layer 3d and set the y rotation to 90.

next make the wall layer. you can make it the same size/color and name it wall. make it 3d and set the y position so that the bottom edge lines up with the floor. then create a mask in the shape of a door and set that mask to 'subtract' (rather than the default 'add'). also, set the wall material property'cast shadows' to 'on'.

add a 3d camera and use the camera orbit and position tools to create a camera angle that will show the wall and floor.

add a new light. i'd probably do a point source, then pick your color and make sure shadows are enabled. position it higher than the floor and behind the wall.

you should now get light coming through the door way.

to get the ball to work with the scene, it will need to be on a 3d layer too, so enable that, but set the material property for 'accepts light' to 'off'. also, in layer>transform>auto orient... set it to always face the camera.

now you can animate the center of the sphere (within the sphere controls) to create your bounce, then animate the sphere layer's z position to move through the door.

Kevin Camp
Senior Designer

Re: Create a silhouette in a door opening
by Tim Fast on Jun 30, 2010 at 12:05:09 pm

Thank you Ted and Kevin for your replies!

2 Ted

32 bits is a good tip! However, I have problems to follow the rest of your answer. Why should I render each element separately? With what effects applied? If I render camera movement first I don't know how to sync everything else afterwards. I thought that the whole idea to build everything in 3D was to be able to move camera freely inside the composition.

2 Kevin

Thank you for the detailed description! I'd already managed to build the room but your description still have some touches that I didn't think about.

I have created a mask and a light as you describe but unfortunately it doesn't really work. I get nice shadows on the floor from both from the ball and from the door opening but the latter is black and thus there is no silhouette in it. All I see is the shadows on the floor.

There is no light spill over the edges of door and the ball. But this can be handled later. First I want to see the the silhouette itself.

Any ideas how I can do it?

Re: Create a silhouette in a door opening
by Kevin Camp on Jun 30, 2010 at 4:18:49 pm

it looks like your floor ends right at the doorway. you'll want it to continue into the 'room' beyond the door.

from this camera angle you'll probably need another 3d solid/layer to act as a back wall. it will need to be beyond the light and large enough to fill the doorway.

as far as spill... if you are talking about volumetric light (as if you have a spotlight and you want to see the cone of light, like maybe there is some dust/smoke in the air), you'll need a plugin like trapcode's lux, or you'll need to fake it with a translucent solid and a mask, or something like that.

if you wanted something more like light wrap, where a bright light starts engulfing an object, then you could try adding an adjustment layer over the top of everything with the glow effect on it.

Kevin Camp
Senior Designer

Re: Create a silhouette in a door opening
by Tim Fast on Jun 30, 2010 at 7:34:20 pm

Thank you Kevin that you follow up the thread. It's really helping me a lot. I've tried your both suggestions - with a Trapcode plugin (not Lux however but Shine) and a Glow effect.

The result from the Shine plugin is pretty much what I'm looking for:

But it costs money. :-/ The other problem is that when I move the camera, the appearance of the rays changes too. Here is the same effect parameters but with a little higher camera.

And even if the rays are nice I don't really need them. For me it would be enough if the light just wrapped around the objects. However, I can't make the Glow effect work. I've tried to play with the parameters but nothing works so well. As a result I just increased the radius, all other parameters are untouched. You can see the result here:

As you see the light doesn't evenly wrap the whole opening. It rather looks coming from a point. Are there any parameters I can change to fix it?

Thanks again for your help!

Re: Create a silhouette in a door opening
by Kevin Camp on Jul 1, 2010 at 12:42:04 am

adjusting the threshold should start blowing out more of the doorway, so it should start to even out.

Kevin Camp
Senior Designer

Re: Create a silhouette in a door opening
by Tim Fast on Jul 1, 2010 at 3:40:04 pm

Thank you for your reply Kevin. However, I've already tried to play with Threshold and it didn't help. I think the problem is something else. Of some reason the Glow effect affects only the light layer (hence, it looks coming from a single point and not wrapping around the objects) despite that it's applied to an adjustment layer on the top.

It might help if I clarify how the door is built. It's a white solid between the light and the rear wall. I also set the light transmission to 100% in the material properties. If I place it as you suggested behind everything (including the light) the door becomes gray with a white spot in the middle (where the point light is).

I realize that it can be difficult to know what the problem is without having access to the project. If you are out of ideas and want just drop the case, no problem. I will understand - you've already helped me a lot. I will try to solve it somehow on my own then. But if you do have other ideas what I can check to solve the problem I'd love to hear them. ;-)

Re: Create a silhouette in a door opening
by Kevin Camp on Jul 1, 2010 at 4:30:10 pm

the light transmission property is a good idea... however i don't know why it's not working with glow...

if your glow adjustment layer is above your doorway layer (the one with light transmission enabled), then it should be effecting that layer too. and if the light transmission is 100, then it should be as white as the light source, so it should have just as much glow...

maybe there is a layer order problem...

your layer order should be something like this (i'm going to take a guess at your layers):

  1. glow adjustment layer
  2. camera (this could be above glow layer)
  3. light (this could be above glow layer)
  4. doorway (layer w/ light transmission)
  5. sphere
  6. back wall (with door cut into it)
  7. sidewall 1
  8. sidewall 2
  9. floor

and all layers are 3d layers (except the glow adjustment layer), right?

Kevin Camp
Senior Designer

Re: Create a silhouette in a door opening
by Tim Fast on Jul 1, 2010 at 4:54:08 pm

That's exactly how they are ordered:

There are also some other experimental layers that I've switched off.

The Glow effect affects probably the white solid (the door opening) but not in a way I would expect. The effect is a bright light spot at the same point where the light projects on it. Instead I expect that all objects (the rear wall and the ball included) would have a glow effect (something like a halo) around them. I guess you have the same expectation since you've advised about the effect. But of some reason it doesn't work like that. :-/

Re: Create a silhouette in a door opening
by Kevin Camp on Jul 1, 2010 at 5:58:24 pm

yep, the adjustment layer should be 'adjusting' all layers below it.... is the adjustment layer the full size of the comp? or is there a mask on it, or something that would affect it's size, scale, etc...?

Kevin Camp
Senior Designer

Re: Create a silhouette in a door opening
by Kevin Camp on Jul 1, 2010 at 6:42:01 pm

i have a feeling that there is something fairly simple that we are overlooking that is preventing yours from working correctly.

i hope you don't mind, but, i put this together so you might be able to compare it to what you have. it's a bit simpler than yours, but it works as described...

here's screen shot...

and here's the project (cs4)...

Kevin Camp
Senior Designer

Re: Create a silhouette in a door opening
by Tim Fast on Jul 1, 2010 at 7:17:28 pm

Haha, while I were typing you did exactly what I asked for. :-) Thank you!

Anyhow, after I looked at your project, I realizes that I didn't succeed to find the right combination between Threshold and Radius. I had higher values for both. I tried the same settings as you have and it worked better.

However, I still get some artifacts at the shadow and discoloration of the floor around it. So you do in your example. Besides, the lower Threshold I set, the more impact it has on the lightened parts of the walls which decreases the texture detail. In my final composition I will have the foreground lit well but the glow effect might interfere with it.

Anyhow, I guess I will have to play a little more with the settings and figure out how it works.

Thanks a lot for all your help! It feels really nice to know that there are people that spend there free time to help others to get better in something. :-)

Re: Create a silhouette in a door opening
by Tim Fast on Jul 1, 2010 at 6:49:14 pm

Yes, full size. No, no masks.

Kevin is it asking too much if you could build a simple composition as described above and post the result here? It would take like 10 minutes and we would get the answer what the problem is.