Create a Photo Montage with After Effects

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A Photo Speaks a Thousand Words

Lots of programs and plug-ins create cool photo montages easily and quickly—handy for such things as photo DVDs and slideshows. But what if you don’t have those programs or plug-ins, or you want something a little more creative (yet still as easy to replicate and reuse) using a software program you already own? A few tricks and techniques in After Effects will have you up and running in no time at all.

If you’d like to download a finished movie for this tutorial, visit www.layersmagazine.com and navigate to the Magazine section. All files are for personal use only.

1 IMPORT SLIDESHOW ASSETS
In After Effects, double-click in the Project panel to bring up the Import File dialog, then locate and import the images you wish to use. For our project, I’m importing three folders of photos of yours truly training in the Italian Alps before a big race in Spain and one paper-texture image I downloaded from iStockphoto to use as a background. Note: Though not imperative, ensuring your snapshot images are all the same pixel size will make this project a breeze to complete at the end.
After Effects Tutorial

2 CREATE COMP & ADD ELEMENTS
Select your chosen background texture image (ours is called “Paper 1280.psd”) and drag it onto the Create a New Composition icon at the bottom of the Project panel. This creates and opens a new Composition at the size of your image—ours is 1280 pixels square with a Duration of 10:00 (Composition>Composition Settings). Now, choose any one of your snapshot images and drag it into the Timeline above the texture image. Press S on the keyboard to reveal its Scale property, and adjust it down to 20% (or close to the visual).
After Effects Tutorial

3 ADD PHOTO EDGE
Probably 99.99% of digital images don’t come with a white edge, so we need to add one—but not in Photoshop on every image! Here’s a neat trick: With the snapshot layer selected, double-click on the Rectangle tool in the Toolbar to add a mask automatically around the layer. Now, go to Effect>Generate>Stroke. In the Effect Controls panel (ECP), adjust the Brush Size to 50 px, Brush Hardness to 100%, and Spacing to 0%. Nifty, huh? Nice thing is, we can reuse this on the other images later!
After Effects Tutorial

4 ADD DROP SHADOW
As we’re doing this quickly and efficiently, we’re not using 3D layers and lights to create shadows, so we need a quick effect to raise the photo(s) off the texture. Go to Effect>Perspective>Drop Shadow. Note: Radial Shadow is much more realistic and controllable for single images, but for a montage like this, we can keep it “cheap and cheerful.” In the ECP, set the Distance to 0 px and Softness to 120 px (or adjust to suit your images, as different sizes will yield different results).
After Effects Tutorial

5 KEYFRAME POSITION & ROTATION
At 00:20f on the Timeline, press P and Shift-R to reveal the snapshot’s Position and Rotation values, and click their Stopwatches to add keyframes. Now press V (Selection tool) and move the image to the bottom of the Comp, then hit W (Rotate tool) and adjust its angle a touch. At 00:00f, rotate the image in the opposite direction as much as you wish, then press V and drag it to its off-screen starting position (as shown). While you’re here, click the layer’s Motion Blur switch also (circled).
After Effects Tutorial

6 EASE IN KEYFRAMES & ADJUST VELOCITY
Drag a marquee across the keyframes at 00:20f to select them, then choose Animation>Keyframe Assistant>Easy Ease In. If you scrub the Timeline now, the spin and movement do slow down, but not “heavily” enough. Click the Graph Editor icon in the Timeline, then click just the Position value to show its motion velocity curve. Select that second keyframe to show its handle, then Shift-drag the handle to the left to force the velocity to decelerate very quickly from the start and slowly ease into the second keyframe. Repeat the exact same process for the second Rotation keyframe also.
After Effects Tutorial

7 DUPLICATE LAYER & ADJUST ANIMATION
With Steps 3–6, we’ve prepared a single layer which can be reused many times, and whose core image can easily be replaced later on. Press Command-D (PC: Ctrl-D) to duplicate the layer and, ensuring you’re at 00:20f (to avoid adding intermediate keyframes by mistake), move and rotate this layer to a different end position and angle. Then, go to 00:00f (the Home key does this) and move and rotate (keep using those tool shortcuts!) this layer to a different start position and angle.
After Effects Tutorial

8 RINSE & REPEAT
Now, repeat Step 7 (duplicate and adjust) as many times as you wish, making sure to only adjust the Position and Rotation values when you’re at 00:00f and 00:20f. Feel free to have the images come in from any position around all four corners of your comp, spinning as many times as you desire—this is your photo montage! Try to position the “rows” of images so they build upward from the bottom of the texture background to the top, perhaps leaving a gap for titles (or DVD menu buttons) later on.
After Effects Tutorial

9 SEQUENCE LAYER TIMING
Now to make the layers animate in an offset sequence: Press F2 to deselect all layers, then select your bottommost layer first. Now, hold down Shift and select the topmost layer (this is important as it sets the sequence order). Now go to Animation>Keyframe Assistant>Sequence Layers, turn Overlap to On, Transition to Off, and set the Duration to 10 frames less than your Timeline length (in our example, the Timeline is 10:00f, so we’ll key in 09:20f). Now click OK, and preview your animation. Very cool!
After Effects Tutorial

10 LAYER REPLACEMENT
Now for the easy part—replacing all the images! Scrub along the Timeline to 08:00, or to where you can see all of your images, and select one of the layers. In the Project panel, select the image you wish to replace it with, and simply press Command-Option-/ (PC: Ctrl-Alt-/) to replace the animated layer’s contents, but retain the border, shadow, keyframes, and velocity control. “Rinse-and-repeat” this step for all your images, and when you’re done, be sure to Save your work.
After Effects Tutorial

11 NEST COMPOSITION
All the hard work’s now done, so let’s wrap this up quickly and easily. Close this composition, then press Command-N (PC: Ctrl-N) to create a new composition. Choose your desired size and format from the Preset menu (in our case, HDTV 720), Name the comp “Final Comp,” and click OK. Now, drag your master animation comp from the Project panel into the Timeline of the new comp, then Shift-drag it upward so its bottom edge aligns with the bottom edge of the new composition.
After Effects Tutorial

12 ANIMATE POSITION
At 00:00f, press P to reveal the nested layer’s Position value, and click the Stopwatch to add a keyframe. Now scrub along to 08:00f, and Shift-drag the nested layer down (or adjust the Y Position value in the Timeline) until its top edge aligns with the top of the composition. Be sure to choose Animation>Keyframe Assistant>Easy Ease In again on that second keyframe, then hit 0 (zero) on your keypad to create a RAM Preview and see your beautiful composition in motion.

After Effects Tutorial

13 FINAL EMBELLISHMENTS
Go to Layer>New>Adjustment Layer, then Effect>Color Correction>CC Toner, and set the Midtones swatch to a mid gray. Now choose Effect>Color Correction>Photo Filter, and choose Warming Filter (81) from the Filter option. Press T to show the layer’s Opacity property, go to 04:00f and add an Opacity Keyframe. Go to 07:00f and change the Opacity to 0% to bring the original colors in at the end.

After Effects Tutorial

14 ADD FINAL TEXT
Add your final titles and this reusable, very cool photo-montage project is complete. Enjoy!

After Effects Tutorial

ALL IMAGES BY STEVE HOLMES, EXCEPT AS NOTED

43 Comments

  • illd says:

    Steve, you are the man! Thanks for sharing and also providing a video…

  • Ian says:

    Great look for an intro to an album. It should be possible to do this in Flash too for web based usage? I will give it a try…

  • Steve Holmes says:

    I am glad you like it! Thanks for such nice words. All the best,

    Steve

  • kazi says:

    cheers m8 nice job keep up the good work!!!people like u r needed!!!!!

  • Steve Holmes says:

    Hey Ian,

    Yes absolutely, the process can be replicated quite easily in Flash. This tutorial is in fact based on a similar project we’re working on for a Flash site, so the ideas translate well. Just using MCs with stills inside, then duplicating/swapping those, would be the same.

    Good luck, have fun!

    Steve

  • James says:

    This is bad ass.. Im getting married next week.. What perfect timing for this tut.. There wwil be lots of pics to play with.. Thanks!

  • aron says:

    What a beautiful typeface at the end. It is also used in the comercial of absinthe on your web page, doesn’t it? What’s the name of it? I really like it.

    Found something similar (Windsor D Cond Extra) but it dosn’t have that feel.

  • Steve Holmes says:

    Congrats, James! And I’m happy this concept had such perfect timing for you. All the best, I’m sure the finished product will look great!

    Best of luck for the future, and thanks for the good words.

    Steve

  • Steve Holmes says:

    A very keen eye there, Aron! Indeed, it is the same typeface we used for the Le Tourment Vert commercial :)

    The font is called Rosewood, and I used the Fill version. The font is from Adobe.

    http://store1.adobe.com/cfusion/store/html/index.cfm?store=OLS-US&event=displayFont&code=ROSQ10005090

    By the way, we also did the Type+Motion piece which you can see on the Adobe Type page of their site :)

    Hope this helps,

    Steve

  • Steve Holmes says:

    Thanks for the cool words, Kazi. Glad so many folks are enjoying this one!

    Steve

  • remko says:

    could you share the resource files, at least the AE file :)
    good work, love it!!

  • Paul says:

    Thanks Steve .. I have lots of enthusiasm and little skill – these tutorials are a great help

  • Steve Holmes says:

    Thanks Paul, glad to be of help. Enthusiasm will get you most of the way, that’s for sure! :)

    Remko – I normally don’t share the files, but if it helps in this case, I can give you an AE file to check over, with solids in:

    http://www.clickenergi.com/layers/photo_montage.aep.zip

    Hope this helps,

    Steve

  • me says:

    coooooooooooool :)

  • Didrik says:

    Can someone leave the link for the video? I can’t find it.

    Love the idea i use AE for photo stuff all the time and this was a great one

  • Steve Holmes says:

    Hi Didrik,

    The video link is at the top of the page, right above Step 1. It says “If you’d like to download a finished movie for this tutorial, visit http://www.layersmagazine.com and navigate to the Magazine section”, but if you click it it actually just immediately starts downloading of the video montage from the tutorial.

    Hope this works for you,

    Steve

  • Steve Holmes says:

    In fact, it’s easier if I just put the URL right here :)

    http://www.layersmagazine.com/downloads/marapr09/ae.zip

    Steve

  • ag says:

    very very nice

  • Steve Holmes says:

    Thank you :)

  • Mike says:

    Can’t download the project file for some reason?

  • yhara says:

    Just like everyone else, thanks for this tut. I manipulated the steps somewhat, but it turned out excellent

    Thanks

  • Steve Holmes says:

    Sorry all, for some reason that project file I uploaded to our FTP server at the studio got deleted. I have re-posted for anyone who wanted it.

    Have fun,

    Steve

  • Bob Gilchrist says:

    Stunning. Thanks so much!

  • Bob Gilchrist says:

    Steve – that link:
    http://www.clickenergi.com/layers/photo_montage.aep.zip

    Doesn’t work?

    I’d love to use your idea for my niece’s wedding video (I’m non-pro and this is a personal family project – no fees involved!).

  • Steve Holmes says:

    Sorry all – the new .aep I posted was capitalized. Right name, wrong format. Here you go:

    http://www.clickenergi.com/layers/Photo_Montage.aep.zip

    Cheers,

    Steve

  • Bob Gilchrist says:

    Hey – thanks Steve! :-)

  • Steve Holmes says:

    My pleasure, Bob! Hope it works out perfectly for your project.

    All the best,

    Steve

  • vfox says:

    Great article!

    Make photo collage in a snap with this free software

    http://www.ourpix.com/photo-collage.html#125

  • YY says:

    Thanks for the tut Steve,

    I am having an issue with step#9. Once I complete the step all the pics but 1 disappear. What did i do wrong? Thanks again Steve

  • Steve Holmes says:

    Hey YY,

    Hard to decipher what the problem is from the description, but sounds to me like you’re either not setting the Overlap option on, or your timeline length is different to the one here and if you enter my numbers it’ll give you a different result.

    What I’d suggest is check these steps:

    1. Your timeline is 10:00 long
    2. All the layers are the same length, fully 10:00 long
    3. Select them in the right order (bottom to top)
    4. Choose Sequence Layers
    5. Turn Overlap ON
    6. Set Duration to 09:20, which is 10 frames less than the overall timeline. This basically shifts each layer along by 10 frames from the start of the previous one, saving you the time of doing it by hand.

    Let me know if this doesn’t work for you again if you follow those steps, and perhaps I can take a look at your file in that instance.

    Let me know,

    Steve

  • Michael says:

    Steve, I put one of these together and it works well, I appreciate the help. However I have a huge file size , like 10GB and I can’t export it to a dvd. Can you help me with some advice on how to down size it and export it so I can play it in a dvd player anywhere? Thanks, Michael

  • Steve Holmes says:

    Hi Michael,

    10gb? How are you exporting it from After Effects, which compressor settings? To play it on a DVD player, you’ll need to export as MPEG-2 (and if you did it 16:9 HD then it’ll need to be re-sized down to widescreen SD format). I usually use Compressor (Apple) for MPEG-2 compression, and then DVD Studio Pro to put the pieces together.

    Let me know how you’re doing the export, and let’s see if we can figure out what’s happening.

    Steve

  • jirre says:

    I am typing from Brazil. Very good the tutorials. Do you have them in PDF to download? Thank you very much. If possible, e-mail me to jirre1@bol.com.br
    Sorry about my english (is not my first linguage), but I try to do the best.

  • Steve Holmes says:

    Hi there Jirre,

    Your English is just fine my friend, thank you for trying well! Sadly there are no PDF downloads for the tutorials, but they were originally in printed form on Layers Magazine. If you can get hold of one of the magazines, you’ll at least have a “real” PDF version, one you can hold :)

    Hope this helps, and glad you like the tutorials! Don’t forget to check out the After Effects Podcasts I have done, on iTunes: http://itunes.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/viewPodcast?id=295971174

    Enjoy!

    Steve

  • kj says:

    Hey Steve I have redone the montage 11 times and if time after step 11 all of my pics disappear but the first one. I have checked all the sets like you said and i’m still getting the same thing, do my pics all have to be the same size?

  • janis says:

    hi

    nice tutorial

    but one thing.. when i copy and past the component.. so i get 4 of them..
    i get about 4.50min video..

    but….. when i reander control + m to avi i get 20Gb of that project :|:|
    how do i get it much smaller?

    gr.

  • Carey, are you sure 😀

  • flak says:

    I can’t replace the layer (photo)….

  • Yun Xian says:

    Oh!!!You are awesome!!
    I finally found a tutorial for photo!!!
    Thaaaaaaank you so much!

  • kampung says:

    hi thanks so much for your tutorial….
    thanks for sharing your talent…
    may god reward your kindness with his blessings

  • Tony says:

    For a simple 2D photomontage, Here is a excellent tutorial from Video Pilot (http://www.videocopilot.net/tutorial/elegant_slideshows/). 3D photo montage is a much more complexed subject. After Effects is a very powerful software to do both. Explorer the difference between 2D and 3D photomontage at http://www.memoryimprintstudio.com and get some insights of some 3D photo montages at this site (www.3d-photomontage.com).

    Happy Media Creation!!

    Tony

  • Peter says:

    Thank you so much for your tutorials. I have benefited a lot from your tactics, be blessed