Author Archives: Ben Berke-Halperin

Conference Project Post-Mortem: Mold and Liquid Metal

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My conference project draws inspiration from several sources. From animated films such as Hiyao Miyazaki’s Castle in the Sky to video games like Valve’s Portal 2, fictional media has often explored the relationship between nature and technology within futuristic, post-apocalyptic fantasy worlds. Overgrown weeds and mold attempt to retake the remains of long-abandoned high-tech societies. I’m not sure quite why I’m particularly drawn to this theme, but I find that it serves as both a central aesthetic and plot element in many of my favorite films and video games. The visual contrast between raw, colorful nature and silver steel is striking.

For my conference project, I wanted to channel this type of imagery in an animation to accompany an original piece of my music. Before I began animating or even had my vision for what would become the visual content of this piece, I composed and produced the music. In creating this track, I experimented with a variety of musical styles such as breakcore, idm, and trap. Due to its constantly and drastically evolving song structure, this piece works well as the score to an animation. As I have done with past visual accompaniments to my music, I tried to change and introduce visual elements in sync with changes in the music.

In this post-mortem, I will discuss some of the ways I channeled my inspirations into this piece, as well as the technical processes I used to create these effects. Due to the length and complexity of the piece, I am unable to discuss every aspect of the animation and the creative process behind it. I have thus chosen to discuss only the elements I found most challenging and interesting.

The “nature” influence in this piece is directly drawn from the mold-like patterns found in the 2017 film Annihilation. The following image exemplifies the imagery in reference:

annihilation (1)

Using adobe color, I created a color palette based on this image. This palette is utilized in the first half of the final animation, until the 2:22 mark. I also used this image to create the background of this first half. In photoshop, I transformed a cropped square from this image into a tile repeated as a background. In after effects, I applied the kaleidoscope cc effect to this image, creating the floral mold pattern serving as the background of the following still:

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The black “liquid metal” layer in the forefront of this still is one element of my animation that draws influence from the technological in this dichotomy. The process of creating this effect required much experimentation, but was ultimately one of the most personally satisfying parts of this whole project. My initial goal was to create a moving “liquid metal” overlay effect similar to that used in experimental electronic musician Oneohtrix Point Never’s recent music video Black Snow. Upon seeing that video, my first thought was of the liquid metal effect used for the T-1000 in the 1991 film Terminator 2: Judgement Day.

Still from "Black Snow"

To achieve this effect, I loosely followed instructions from youtube tutorial videos, supplementing with my own experimentation. First, I created a composition with a transparent background layer. I then created a black solid with the Fractal Noise effect. On this instance of Fractal Noise, I used the “dynamic twist” fractal type and the “soft linear” noise type, with a very high (325) contrast and a very low (-101) brightness. I then applied the Find Edges effect, with “invert” on. To create movement, I used the Turbulent Displace effect, and keyframed the evolution. At this point, I had achieved the liquid metal effect, but because it was applied to a black solid, the background was black. To make this effect applicable as an overlay, I used unmult, an effect which turns specific colors transparent. I set this effect to make the black solid transparent, thus creating a liquid metal overlay with a transparent background that could be applied over my animation.

Liquid Metal Overlay

To create the liquid metal sphere that appears at 00:11, I followed essentially the same process, but applied the cc sphere effect. The second sphere in my animation, which consists of moving lines, was also creating using this effect. To create this element, I created a composition with a shape layer. In this layer, I drew a vector shape using the pen tool. I then applied the wiggle transform, stroke, gradient fill, and repeater animation tools to this vector shape. Finally, I applied the cc sphere effect to the shape to give it its form. The following is a screenshot of this element.

Line Sphere

In conclusion, I’m very proud of the work I accomplished with this project. I successfully executed my goal of creating a visual accompaniment to a piece of my music; one which channels the dichotomy between technology and nature through the replication of visual elements from several sources of inspiration. Not only did I successfully execute this goal, my creative process taught me new skills in after effects. Through the process of creating this piece I learned how to create transparent solids using unmult, create liquid metal elements using fractal noise, and turn vector shapes into spheres using the cc sphere effect.

Kinetic Text: Untitled

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For my kinetic text assignment, I decided to animate motion-related words to follow the motions they describe. First, I will describe my animation and the process used to create it.

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The animation opens with the word “reveal” horizontally sliding to the left to reveal itself from behind a mask layer. “Reveal” fades away and two instances of the word parallel slide across the screen in a parallel but opposite motion. The word “split” appears, and, using the “cc split” effect, it splits in two. Each piece of the word stretches until it is off screen, and a spinning, three-dimensional “spin” rotates as the background shifts from a solid red to an orange and black gradient ramp. This spinning effect was created by keyframing the Y-rotation on the 3D text.

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“Spin” fades away, and the word “zoom” appears on screen, growing increasingly large. I created this zoom effect by simply keyframing the scale of the text layer. Once “zoom” has zoomed so far that the text is no longer legible, the word “scatter” appears.

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I keyframed the position of each separate letter to move off the edges of the screen. This creates the effect of the word disassembling into scattered letters. Then, the word “underline” appears from behind a mask layer, and a line grows, underlining the word. I animated the growth of this line using a key framed trim path. “Underline” disappears and the background turns black. The word “disintegrate” enters the screen using the “raining characters in preset”. Then, using a combination of linear wipe and several layers of particle animation, the word disintegrates into dust. Then, the word “repetition” repeatedly types itself across the screen. Once “repetition” disappears, “slice” appears.

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The “slice” text consists of two layers, each with a mask either obscuring the bottom or top portion of the word. The layer with the bottom of the word visible slides off screen. The background shifts to a gradient ramp of a light blue to dark blue. Finally, the word “reflection” appears on screen, and its reflection slowly appears beneath it. To create the reflection, I duplicated the text layer and applied the cc composite and linear wipe effects.

For me, this project was an exercise in animating the transformation of text. The words I chose describe themselves, each serving as an example of the effect being demonstrated. I feel that I’ve been very successful in achieving what I set out to with this project. The only area of this project which I feel I could have better executed is its length. I struggled to create an animation as long as the 4 minutes required by the prompt.

Space Oddity

This piece is an animation I created in After Effects which accompanies a piece of music I created. Inspired by David Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” this animation evokes the themes of interstellar exploration and the infinite nature of outer space.

My process of creating this animation began with its musical score. The musical track I chose to accompany the visual is a piece of my own. As a composer and producer of electronic music, I found it made sense for me to utilize my skills in the realm of music to accompany this visual project. The song that scores my animation is entitled “Violence and Perfume”. This title holds no significance to the video piece, but comes from a vocal sample from Cecelia Condit’s 1983 horror short “Possibly in Michigan,” which is included in the opening of my track. As elements of the music (such as drums, bass, and synthesizers) are introduced and removed throughout the song’s form, visual elements of my animation are simultaneously introduced and removed.

Probably the most essential technical element of this animation is the fractal, which is zoomed in on throughout its duration. The fractal uses a mandelbrot set, with a z=z^5+c equation. With a black and white color palette, the ever expanding fractal represents the depths of space.

fractal layer

At 0:33, I keyframe the start and end parameters on the trim path of a circle shape layer to create the illusion of the circle slowly drawing itself. I then use the repeater effect to duplicate the circle, creating five interlocking rings.

Here are the rings:

rings layer


I created the above image by editing together sections of my glitch gif project from earlier in the semester. The original photo being glitched is a selfie I took of myself. I saved the photo in photoshop as a .bmp file. After changing the file from a .bmp image to a .txt text file, I adjusted small sections of the file’s text code in textedit. This adjustment results in a glitch effect when reopening the image as a .bmp in photoshop. I cropped the image down to the glitch sections and rearranged them to fit the 1280 x 720 dimensions of the screen. I utilize this image, which I’ve titled glitchscreen.jpg, in two ways in my animation.

I use the kaleidoscope effect on an image layer of glitchscreen.jpg to create a pattern reminiscent of stars. At 1:10, I introduce this image through the kaleidoscope and black and white effects. The kaleidoscope uses starlish as its mirroring shape to create the star pattern. I use expressions on various parameters of the kaleidoscope effect to create motion in this layer. I apply the expression random(10,20) on the kaleidoscope effect’s size and random(360) on its rotation. These expressions are random number generators, which cause the kaleidoscope layer to rapidly and unpredictably transform. I use the black and white color effect on the layer to drain the kaleidoscope of its colors. At 30% opacity and with no color, the layer serves as a textural overlay over the zooming fractal, but does not introduce colors of its own. After a beat drop which introduces a new synth sound around 1:40, I introduce a second layer of kaleidoscope, which includes color.

My animation addresses the themes of space travel and exploration found in David Bowie’s “Space Oddity”.  Throughout the duration of the piece, I use keyframes to adjust the magnification of the black and white fractal layer. This evokes a sense of movement through the vast, infinitely evolving space of the fractal. At the 1:10 mark, coinciding with the beat drop in the music, I introduce a starlish kaleidoscope effect on a layer of a glitch image with a random number command on its rotation and size. This layer is intended to create the effect of stars as the viewer moves through the depths of fractal space. The five interlaced circles created by the repeater effect are the insignia of the imaginary space shuttle in which the viewer is traveling. At 2:24, the space exploration mission falls on unfortunate circumstances. The shuttle reaches a dangerous region of space and begins to experience technical malfunctions, represented by the purple glitch static and yellow transforming shape. These technical malfunctions lead to the tragic demise of the space exploration.

In conclusion, I feel that this piece is an accurate reflection of the After Effects skills I’ve learned so far this semester. I definitely feel that I was able to execute my vision for this piece on a technical level. On an artistic level, I am a bit less enthusiastic about my end results. While I do enjoy some aesthetic aspects of what I’ve created, I do wish that I had put more thought into my color and motion choices in the animation. At times in the animation, I feel that I introduce elements (such as the appearing and disappearing rectangles) simply for the sake of introducing new elements rather than for the purpose of furthering the narrative of the piece.

That said, I am very happy that I have created an animation to accompany a piece of my music. I also feel satisfied with this piece as a reflection of my abilities in After Effects. This piece demonstrates my proficiency in creating fractals, and .bmp text glitches, using keyframes, expressions, the kaleidoscope effect, trim paths, and the repeater effect.

Digital Tools: The Art of the GIF

Above is the first gif that I’ve made. It uses the most basic animation technique, as it simply consists of two alternating images, flashing to an erratic rhythm. I constructed these designs in photoshop using the brush tool. The two images were initially created as separate pieces, but I soon noticed that they shared a similar color palette and shape. I then had the idea to pair them, which created the effect of the asterisk-like emblem (the first image) being distorted intoa messy scribble (the second image). As a result of its minimalist color palette and clean style, I find this to be the most visually appealing of the gifs I’ve made. However, from an animation standpoint it is definitely the most basic of my gifs. With my next gif, I set out to practice my animation skills. gif2 Visually, my second gif is quite simple: an orange rectangle diagonally slides back and forth across a teal background, with an occasional trail resembling the type of glitches found on mid-1990s windows operating systems. My intention with this gif was not to create an artistic masterpiece; rather, I sought to create a sense of movement through animation. While the animation of my first gif relied on two flashing images, this gif was an exercise in creating the illusion of movement by duplicating and moving one image (the orange rectangle) across many layers. Each position of the rectangle is a different layer, the visibility of which is determined by the animation frame. I’m happy with how the glitch trails turned out. One aspect of this gif which I feel unsuccessful with is creating the illusion of smooth movement. I tried using the tween effect, but the rectangle’s movement still appears more choppy than I would like. gif3 For my third gif, I decided to take the concepts of animated movement and flashing slides even further by creating a series of appearing and disappearing geometrical patterns that completely transforms throughout its loop. The goal of this gif was to take the audience on a visual journey as the image transforms entirely. There is no grand concept behind this gif; it is simply the product of me playing around with different combinations of layers I created in photoshop.