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Question about doing forced perspective in After Effects.

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ryan elder
Question about doing forced perspective in After Effects.
on Oct 8, 2018 at 7:29:24 pm

I have a project where I feel maybe I should do forced perspective, since it calls for a police car, and a fire engine, both of which I cannot get during shooting. At least not real ones.

So I was wondering if forced perspective is the best way to go. I took an After Effects course in film school, as well as some forced perspective, as well as watch tutorials on it.

However, one thing we didn't learn was how to do forced perspective on an object that will move around a lot. A police car and a fire truck will have to drive and go to the location and pull up. The characters will have to exit the vehicles.

So is this possible to do in After Effects with some accurate looking toy models? I feel that it is from what I have learned , but the only problem is, I cannot figure out how to make it look good with moving objects, placed in real footage.

Does anyone have any advice?


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Dave LaRonde
Re: Question about doing forced perspective in After Effects.
on Oct 9, 2018 at 1:09:20 am
Last Edited By Dave LaRonde on Oct 9, 2018 at 1:12:18 am

The toy models will kill you. The reason: they don't possess the necessary detail of the real thing, nor can you light them as a real-life example would be lit.

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news. But think about Japanese monster movies where tanks fire at Godzilla. I think you'll take my meaning.

Dave LaRonde
Promotion Producer
KGAN (CBS) & KFXA (Fox) Cedar Rapids, IA


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ryan elder
Re: Question about doing forced perspective in After Effects.
on Oct 9, 2018 at 1:17:21 am

Okay thank you very much for the advice :). Is there a better way of doing it then, if not toy models?


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Dave LaRonde
Re: Question about doing forced perspective in After Effects.
on Oct 9, 2018 at 3:11:57 am

It may be beyond your capabilities, but I would get the shot with REAL vehicles and REAL people, matcing angles. Plus the little bit extra you would need to get the shot to match perfectly. But the angles are crucial.

This requires careful planning on your part. I hope you are up to it. Good luck. Effects shots, even the seemingly-simple ones, take a lot of work.

The last effects shot I did required our station meterologist to stand next to the prime weather vehicle on with a snowy farm field behind him.

We only had the snowy farm field from which to work. But we DID have lighting conditions and an approximate calculation of angles. From that, we shot the vehicle in the same lighting conditions and matched angles . We shot or meteorlogist on chroma key matching the lighting conditions and the angle.

We masked the vehicle, keyed the meteorogist and put it over the background shot, selling the shot with a little snow in the foreground. Oh, and of course color matching.


That's for ONE 10-second shot. On a spot that aired for 12 weeks. In TV market 87.

What do you think YOU should do?

Dave LaRonde
Promotion Producer
KGAN (CBS) & KFXA (Fox) Cedar Rapids, IA


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ryan elder
Re: Question about doing forced perspective in After Effects.
on Oct 9, 2018 at 3:33:51 am

Oh okay. Well the problem is, is that there is a law that you cannot impersonate a police vehicle where I live, so I don't want to get caught doing that.

So I feel that I would have to do something with the help of after effects.


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Dave LaRonde
Re: Question about doing forced perspective in After Effects.
on Oct 9, 2018 at 3:59:55 am

Have you thought about talking to the cops? It's worth a shot!

Dave LaRonde
Promotion Producer
KGAN (CBS) & KFXA (Fox) Cedar Rapids, IA


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ryan elder
Re: Question about doing forced perspective in After Effects.
on Oct 9, 2018 at 4:25:51 am

I asked them for other things before and they said that legally they could not help me at all, so I would be surprised if they let me rent a car, since it's a more toll order, than what they couldn't do before. I can try, just want a back up plan in case the answer is no.


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ryan elder
Re: Question about doing forced perspective in After Effects.
on Oct 9, 2018 at 4:40:37 am

Now you say that models don't look convincing enough, but I got the idea from film riot, where they did it with a model helicopter here:







Does that not look real enough?

Also, when I asked for advice on how to do things before in after effects, the responses before were do it for real and to forget vfx. Is relying on vfx really that bad, that after effects should not even be used for many things then?


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Tim Wilson
Re: Question about doing forced perspective in After Effects.
on Oct 9, 2018 at 9:27:56 am

[ryan elder] "Does that not look real enough?"

I love the guys at Film Riot, and one reason their stuff works is that they don't ask more of any method than it can provide.

For example, by making the model backlit and surrounded by dust, they were able to get away with a dramatically lesser level of detail. When it was on the ground, it was far away and still backlit -- again, reducing the amount of detail.

You specifically mention that you'd want to have your actors exiting the vehicles....well, look again at the video at exactly the 1 minute mark. Not only is the dude already out of the helicopter, he's already far enough away from it that he's not interacting with the model whatsoever. He's barely crossing through the shadow on the ground, which is easily handled with a simple mask. What you're talking about would require a level of realism that NOBODY is doing with software alone, no matter how big the budget or the crew.

What you're talking about would take a major crew using dedicated modeling and compositing software (not After Effects) thousands of human hours....vs a few hours of shooting a real car.

I think you're also misunderstanding your local police force's objections. They don't want you to use one of their cars, and they don't want you on the street with a car that looks like a real police car (which, uhm, is nonsense -- what do you think people do to make every movie, TV show and commercial with a police car???), but it would actually be quite straightforward to just shoot a plain white car, and add on decals and lights in post. THAT's doable.

A fire engine is a different story. The solution there: don't try to fake it at all, or go to the extreme that the Film Riot guys did, which is to use the model in the distance, backlit and obscured.

This gets to a broader rule, which is to write only what you can shoot or persuasively fake on a feasible budget. Can't fake it? Write around it. Take another approach.

Which is to say, it's perfectly reasonable for you to ask, can I do this with After Effects? And the answer is, you can do SOME things with After Effects, but absolutely not ALL the things you want to do. Some of those can only be done in the real world, with real objects.

A couple of broader notes:

-- Forced perspective is an interesting approach, and I strongly encourage you to watch the Lord of the Rings featurettes on this subject first. Note that Peter Jackson had to build two versions of most things that people of differing scales would interact with -- but they're built at full resolution, so to speak. No cheating with toys.

-- Likewise, watch those featurettes to see how he handled minatures. He did a ton of them, and there was a traveling show going around to science museums in 2007 or so that I went to see -- absolutely breathtaking. Incredibly moving, but the detail on them was staggering, and they were also a lot bigger than you'd think. In fact, Peter Jackson called them "bigatures" -- Minas Tirith was 7 meters tall! (Some details here.) I was able to see some "miniatures" in the 4-foot high range myself, and I assure you, they weren't toys.

-- Here's the thing about forced perspective, though. Jackson gave up on it. He took a very different approach as he began The Hobbit, trying to do it with green screen and models rather than building multiple sets, and the strain on Ian McKellan having to act alone on green screen stages led to him breaking down in tears, and nearly quitting acting forever on the spot. It's quite jarring to see, and I do strongly recommend checking it out. Honestly, it's better than almost anything in The Hobbit. (Sorry not sorry. 😂)

But what he did in the end was turn to rotoscoping! Just shoot everybody in the room at the same time, mask 'em up, and shrink 'em or grow 'em as necessary. There was still much attention to be paid to sight lines and lighting, and there was lots of cleanup involved...but it also meant that once again, the one shortcut he couldn't take was in the building of the objects. He had to actually build them.

Now, nobody is thinking that you're making the Lord of the Rings, or even The Hobbit 😂 but the same principles apply.

And for THAT, I highly recommend listening to the commentary track and features that go with the DVD of El Mariachi, by Robert Rodriguez. The key to making a movie for $7000 is that NONE of it was done in software. Admittedly, software was expensive at the time, but the point is that he was able to persuasively fake things in one take that would have taken days to work out in After Effects, even with Video Copilot providing the blood spatters.

Start with the Wikipedia entry to get an idea of some specifics. My favorite: actors simply spilling empty bullet casings out of their hands while they pretended to shoot the machine guns. This was easier than worrying about working with blanks (notoriously prone to jamming), and was done while filming, so NO effort in post whatsoever. It also allowed them to avoid having to rent or buy guns that could fire blanks in the first place. Any guns they couldn't borrow, they just used toys, and let the bouncing shell casings and sound effects sell the effect.

Again, not criticizing you in the least for bringing this up in an After Effects forum. If you want to take a Film Riot-style approach, you certainly can, but do what they did: backlit distance shots, nothing close, nothing that requires high detail or complicated masking. Forget about having people enter or exit the vehicles.

Otherwise, follow the principle that filmmakers at every level of budget use as their bedrock: borrowing or building stuff is almost always cheaper than post, and if you can't borrow or build it, don't write it.


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ryan elder
Re: Question about doing forced perspective in After Effects.
on Oct 9, 2018 at 11:02:12 pm

Okay thank you very much for the advice :).

Now you say that the police have a problem with impersonating a police car, but should have no problem with a white car with lights on it and what not. But I don't think that just white would be enough, and the car would actually have to say police on it, as well as some other things, in order for the audience to buy it, won't they?

And I would like some other police cars at the scene, but instead of using a real ones for the other parts, can I just have forced perspective then, since no one gets in and out of the other cars?

What about a police road block? Can I show an actor in his car approaching it, but the road block is just forced perspective, and isn't really there, as long as no officers get out of the car, and area already out?


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Tim Wilson
Re: Question about doing forced perspective in After Effects.
on Oct 10, 2018 at 3:19:30 am

[ryan elder] "But I don't think that just white would be enough, and the car would actually have to say police on it, as well as some other things, in order for the audience to buy it, won't they?"

Yes. Create the labels in Photoshop, use Mocha or your favorite native After Effects toolset for corner-pinning and displacement mapping to "attach" the police labels to the car, adjust lighting, dirt, etc. to taste.


[ryan elder] "instead of using a real ones for the other parts, can I just have forced perspective then, since no one gets in and out of the other cars?"

Remember Dave's point about bad monster movies and toys? If you WANT to make the aesthetic choice to intentionally use toys to look kitschy and cheesy, that's fine. Embrace it, because that's what you're gonna get.

But it sounds like you're going for something more realistic, like that video that you picked from Film Riot. They didn't use physical models. They used 3D models and compositing tricks to make the finished scene look more realistic. It sounds like that's what you're going for, so take a closer look at what you're doing. It happens that this is also the approach that fits best with having After Effects closer to the heart of your toolset: compositing 3D models into 2D scenes, adding things like lights, dirt, grain, lens flares, and color grading to blend all the elements together.


[ryan elder] "What about a police road block?"

Vastly easier to get a real road block. Even if it's a saw horse and blinking lights, you can pick these up at your local hardware store for a pittance. If you need something more official-looking, there's also surely a construction site near you where you can borrow some cones and barrels for a night.

(And if you're not ready to raid a construction site to borrow some "props" for the night, you should ask yourself if you're ready for independent filmmaking. 😂)

Otherwise, once again, you're going to better off buying or building a 3D element than trying forced perspective with a toy.

These kinds of questions are why Dave suggested that you may be getting ahead of yourself by thinking about After Effects first, though. Some of these are broader aesthetic choices that you'll need to make as a director, for how you want VFX and SFX elements to interact with your world, and how you want your audience to feel about them.

Ain't nothing wrong with cheese, man. You can do amazing stuff with cheese. Every filmmaker in your position needs to watch El Mariachi and listen to the DVD commentary.

But if you're aiming for more realism, forget forced perspective and toys. Either use real elements or 3D models, and use After Effects for "dressing" them to fit into your world.


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ryan elder
Re: Question about doing forced perspective in After Effects.
on Oct 10, 2018 at 4:03:35 am

Okay thanks, and yes I am going for realistic. But when yous real elements and 3D models, what do you mean? Are you saying I should get a real white police looking car, and then put labels on it in post with photoshop?


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