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Exporting Environment Layer produces radically different results

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Chris YoungExporting Environment Layer produces radically different results
by on Sep 10, 2015 at 7:45:15 pm

Hello, gracious volunteer experts.

I am working on my first After Effects project, and exporting is screwing with my mind. I made my video in FCPX/Motion, but wanted to add an environment layer to a logo, like I had seen in my online class. I thought the effect was neat, and I'm committed to broadening my skills on a regular basis - especially after nine years in the industry. I thought it would be a good learning opportunity, but I've been trying to export now for two days and I... just... give... up.

So, I traced my logo in Illustrator, and imported it into AE on top of my video. I made a copy of the video, and turned the copy into an environment layer like I had seen online. It looked really pretty cool.

Okay, maybe a little bit flashy, but I liked it.

Then it came time to export. I tried H.264, I tired QuickTime, I even tried a .png sequence. Everything came out with a solid black thing dividing the screen.

With more experimentation, I discovered I could turn off the environment layer, and it would export correctly. But, if I wasn't using the environment layer, I could have just done this in two minutes with Motion.

So, then I tried turning off the video, and just trying to render the logo on its own. I figured, give it some transparency and import it back into Motion and call that good. No dice. A huge, blurry image of the main video appears in the background. I thought, "this must be what the environment layer actually looks like," because it was about what I was expecting. But then I added a reflective square, and it reflected an image of the main video as if it were though polar coordinates (wrapped into a disc). This lined up with the discussion of "wrapping" an environment layer during the class, so I'm now assuming that's what those layers look like, and I have no idea why AE is adding an unwanted background.

Sorry - didn't get a screenshot of this.

Then, wonder of wonders, I tried exporting one last time with everything turned on, and got a new result.

This was not good, but it did look like a familiar problem. Clearly, the logo was tilted back though the background video. Again - everything still looks great while previewing in AE, both before and after rendering. So, I went to make sure the main video was 2D... and it was. Since I don't seem to have 2.5D commands, I couldn't drop it any further back. So I instead make it 3D, pushed it back in z space, and increased the scale. Perhaps predictably, the quality broke down pretty noticeably, and I scrapped it.

Based on everything I know, a 3D layer shouldn't intersect a 2D layer like that, anyway. Maybe it's different in AE, but my experience is that you have absolute foreground and absolute background for the 2Ds.

Then I checked the coordinates of the environment layer. They seemed reasonable, but I moved them around a little to check - no difference, so I moved it back where it was. Then I exported one last time (H.264, I think) and got this monstrosity instead:

Why? I have absolutely no idea. Now it's all I get. I must have changed something absentmindedly, but I can't think what it would be. It's not a complicated project.

Since then, I've looked through the message boards here, done Google searches, watched some training videos, and bemoaned the fact that I ever, ever thought it was a good idea to move this out of FCPX/Motion.

Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated. It's lucky this is a 'training' week, because it has blown through a colossal amount of time.



I'm very comfortable with video and effects generally, but have never before worked with AE. I wanted a solid learning experience, and that's what this is. However, I've run out of options based on my training so far, and I just realized I've been chewing the inside of my cheek for I-don't-know-how-long. That's... not a great sign.

I apologize if I've used any incorrect AE terms. Feel free to use whatever language in answering, however. I'm no stranger to the help system.

Late 2014 iMac
4 GHz Intel Core i7
AMD Radeon R9 (I realize it's not ideal for ray-tracing, but it is what it is)
OSX 10.10.5

Adobe After Effects CC 2015: on 1-month trial subscription

I posted a picture of my workspace. The camera has no movement, but I read somewhere that a camera was necessary for an environment layer to work. This seems false, since it looked fine in the preview even beforehand, but Google seemed pretty sure. Deleting it has no noticeable impact.

The light is a simple pin light off towards the left somewhere, just to brighten the logo slightly.

Logo 9 is... the logo. In vector format.

And "Showcase" is the finished background video, also wrapped around as an environment layer.

Ray-tracing quality is 9/cubic, because that was mentioned during my training and I wrote it down. Not 100% sure what the other anti-aliasing filters do, but that's a different lesson.

Exporting has been done in the three formats I'm most comfortable with: QuickTime, H.264, and .png Sequence. I would have liked to try "Animation," but it doesn't seem to be a setting, oddly, even though it was mentioned on the Cow, here, and it's a perfectly valid setting for Compressor. Whatever.

Any other information I can offer, please let me know.

Novamation Studios

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