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How to Add Area Lighting Effects to Cartoon Animation Using After Effects

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What You'll Be Creating

Area lighting effects are essential for illuminating specific areas and for creating mood in your animation. In this lighting tutorial for After Effects, you'll learn how to create cartoon lighting effects using Cartoon Animator and Adobe After Effects.

What You'll Learn in This Tutorial

After Effects has many different tools that allow you to create lights in your animation project. In this tutorial, we will be importing an animation project created in Cartoon Animator and show you step by step how to use area lighting to enhance your scene. You'll learn:

  • How to import your project from Cartoon Animator
  • How to isolate specific parts of your project and export the alpha channel in your video files
  • How to create a light in Adobe After Effects
  • How to use glow lights for different light sources (e.g. computer screens and sci-fi buttons)
  • How to apply and edit area lighting and glows to create cartoon lighting effects in a scene

What You'll Need

To follow along with this tutorial, you will need your own versions of Adobe After Effects and Cartoon Animator. You can download a free trial version for Cartoon Animator on the Reallusion website. You will also need an animation project created in Cartoon Animator. 

You can create a custom project quickly and easily using ready-made assets available in the Reallusion Marketplace. Here you can find a wide variety of content for your animation such as characters, buildings, interior/exterior furniture, special effects, and scenes. Check out the Reallusion Marketplace and the scene we'll be using in the link below:

'Teleport' by Anton Bakhmat'Teleport' by Anton Bakhmat'Teleport' by Anton Bakhmat

1. How to Export a Cartoon Animator Project

Step 1

Here we have a project composed of a number of different props that make up the scene. These include the different parts of the teleportation machine, the wires, and the background image. This project also includes an animated character running across the scene.

cartoon animator projectcartoon animator projectcartoon animator project

Step 2

To export your project, go to the top menu bar and select Render > Render Video.

render videorender videorender video

Step 3

This will open up the Render Settings window, where you can choose how to export your video or image. If your project includes transparent elements in your animation, make sure to select the Transparent Video checkbox to keep the transparency (you will need to select the MOV format).

Have a look through the other options here you might like to change, such as the output size and output range. Once you are happy with your selection, click on the Export button to choose the location to save your video file.

render settingsrender settingsrender settings

Step 4

Once it has finished rendering, you will have a video file that you can import into your Adobe After Effects project. 

exported video fileexported video fileexported video file

2. How to Export Layers With Isolate Selection

Step 1

Sometimes, you may want to export individual objects from the scene. This is especially useful as it will allow you to have even greater control over your After Effects project. Exporting layers with Isolate Selection will allow you to export a prop whilst making everything invisible.

To do this, make sure to go into your Scene Manager and select the object that you would like to isolate. In this example, we will isolate the machine.

select machineselect machineselect machine

Step 2

Once you have selected the object you would like to isolate from the Scene Manager, go to the top toolbar and click on the Isolate Selection (I) button.

isolate selectionisolate selectionisolate selection

Step 3

Clicking on the Isolate Selection (I) button will make everything in your project appear invisible apart from the selected prop (in this case the "machine" prop).

prop machine isolatedprop machine isolatedprop machine isolated

Step 4

Enabling Isolate Selection also allows you to select different objects in the Scene Manager.

isolate exampleisolate exampleisolate example

Step 5

You can also select multiple props together by clicking and holding the Control or Command key on the keyboard.

select multiple propsselect multiple propsselect multiple props

Step 6

Once you have selected the prop that you want to export, you can simply go to the render settings again (Render > Render Video) to export your selection.

render isolated proprender isolated proprender isolated prop

Step 7

Make sure to select the Transparent Video checkbox to keep the transparency (you will need to select the MOV format). This will allow you to keep the transparency when exporting the video file, which will come in handy when using it in Adobe After Effects. Keeping the transparency will allow you to see the image or video layers behind it when editing.

Repeat this process as many times as necessary when exporting the other props such as the character and wires.

export mov fileexport mov fileexport mov file

Step 8

Make sure that the output resolution and frame range remain the same for all your exported props. This will make it so that all your video layers are the same size and time duration.

Once we have all the transparent props exported, it's time to import them into Adobe After Effects.

select output size and frame rangeselect output size and frame rangeselect output size and frame range

3. How to Import Files Into Adobe After Effects

Step 1

Now that we have all our exported video files ready, it is time to take it into Adobe After Effects, where we can enhance our animation even further by adding cartoon lighting effects to it.

Let's start by listing the video files we have exported from Cartoon Animator. For this example, we have exported all the props within the scene manager, which include the following:

  • Character (G3 Actor)
  • Background 1, 2, and 3
  • Machine
  • Machine Screen
  • Machine Overlay
  • Wires 1, 2, and 3
exported props from the scene managerexported props from the scene managerexported props from the scene manager

Step 2

In Adobe After Effects, import each of the videos by going to File > Import > File and selecting the MOV video files.

When the files are being imported, a new window will open where you must decide how you wish to interpret the alpha channel. Select Straight - Unmatted and click OK.

Interpret footageInterpret footageInterpret footage

Step 3

Once you have imported all the videos, you will find them located in the Project panel, which is usually located on the left side of the screen.

project panelproject panelproject panel

4. How to Prepare the Scene

Step 1

Create a new composition by going to Composition > New Composition (Control-N). 

new compositionnew compositionnew composition

Step 2

In the composition settings, use the following:

  • Composition Name: Render Comp
  • Width: 1920 px
  • Height: 1080 px
  • Frame Rate: 30
  • Duration: 33.20 seconds
composition settingscomposition settingscomposition settings

Step 3

Use the mouse to drag and drop each movie file into the composition. Make sure that you layer all your props correctly. In this example, we have layered the props in the following order:

  • Machine Overlay
  • Character
  • Machine Screen
  • Wires
  • Machine
  • Background
layer orderlayer orderlayer order

5. How to Add Area Light to the Scene

Step 1

Now that we have all our video layers set up in the scene, it's time to add some area lighting. To do this, go to Layer > New > Light located in the top menu bar.

create a new light layercreate a new light layercreate a new light layer

Step 2

This will open the Light Settings window. From here, choose the following settings:

  • Light Type: Parallel
  • Color: #3CA8D0
  • Intensity: 180%
  • Falloff: None
  • Cast Shadows: None
light settingslight settingslight settings

Step 3

In order for the new light to affect our video layers, we need to make them 3D layers. To do this, make sure to check the 3D Layer box next to each layer.

make 3d layersmake 3d layersmake 3d layers

Step 4

The new parallel light will now affect the 3D layers.

parallel light parallel light parallel light

6. How to Add Equipment Lights and Glows

Step 1

Select the video layer you want to add the glows to. For this example, we will use the Machine layer. Then go to the Effects & Presets panel and type "glow" in the search bar. This will reveal the Glow effect, which is found under Stylize. 

Add the Glow effect by double-clicking on it or by dragging it onto the Machine layer.

glow effectglow effectglow effect

Step 2

Once it's applied to the video layer, go to the Effect Control panel and use the following settings:

  • Glow Based On: Color Channels
  • Glow Threshold: 75%
  • Glow Radius: 20
  • Glow Intensity: 1.5
  • Composite Original: Behind
  • Glow Operation: Add
  • Glow Colors: Original Colors

Feel free to experiment with the settings until you find a look that you like.

glowing screenglowing screenglowing screen

Step 3

Apply the Glow effect to the other layers which contain lights, such as the other Machine layers and the Background layer.

machine glows appliesmachine glows appliesmachine glows applies

7. How to Add a Spot Light

Step 1

To add a Spot Light to the scene, go to Layer > New > Light located in the top menu bar.

add a new light/add a new light/add a new light/

Step 2

In the Light Settings, choose the following settings:

  • Light Type: Spot 
  • Color: #3CA8D0
  • Intensity: 170%
  • Cone Angle: 75°
  • Cone Feather: 58%
  • Falloff: None
  • Cast Shadows: None
light settingslight settingslight settings

Step 3

Once the Spot Light has been added to the scene, use the Transform Options to move the light in a suitable direction.

transform optionstransform optionstransform options

Step 4

You can also use the red, green, and blue arrows attached to the light in the preview panel to control the X, Y, and Z positions of the light.

move the lightmove the lightmove the light

8. How to Add Cartoon Lighting Effects to a Character

Step 1

Go to the Effects & Presets panel and type "light sweep" in the search bar. This will reveal the Light Sweep effect, which we will use on our character.

Apply the effect by double-clicking on it or dragging it onto the Character layer.

light sweeplight sweeplight sweep

Step 2

Once it's applied to the video layer, go to the Effect Control panel and use the following settings:

  • Center: 960, 270
  • Direction: -30°
  • Width: 50
  • Sweep Intensity: 25
  • Edge Intensity: 50
  • Edge Thickness: 4
  • Light Color: #FFFAF0
  • Light Reception: Add
effect settings for the light sweepeffect settings for the light sweepeffect settings for the light sweep

Step 3

This will apply some area lights that affect the character.

light sweeps applied to characterlight sweeps applied to characterlight sweeps applied to character

Awesome! You're Finished!

Congratulations! And that's how you can add area lighting effects to a cartoon animation project in Adobe After Effects and Cartoon Animator. Feel free to experiment with the different effect options such as intensity and colour to edit the look of your project. Using light requires some trial and error to figure out the best settings to use, so make sure to experiment.

In the meantime, I hope you've found this lighting tutorial for After Effects useful, and I'll see you next time on Envato Tuts+!

final area lighting effectfinal area lighting effectfinal area lighting effect
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