After EffectsTutorials

Opposites Attract: Title Sequence in After Effects

Using a combination of type, 3D layers, repetitive expressions, parenting, and masking – a very striking title sequence can be created from just a few elements.

A project we recently created at Energi for the Type group at Adobe yielded some tips and techniques that were so much fun that I thought I would share them with you. With the theme of “Opposites Attract,” I think you’ll find quite a few attractive options here to use in your future After Effects work.

The specs for this project are an NTSC square-pixel composition (720×540), 29.97 frames per second, 8 seconds long, with a background color of white.

[For a QuickTime preview of this project, go to]

STEP 1 Background Type Element
As always, we need to start somewhere, and so we’ll start with a simple text element. With the whole “opposites” idea, we want to construct a mass of words that are opposites. With the Timeline or Comp panel selected, go to Layer>New>Text to add a new text layer (this ensures that the layer is centered in the comp). Type in the first word (“Love” in our example) and press Enter on the keyboard to exit text-editing mode.

STEP 2 Format Type
If you don’t see the Character palette, click the small palette icon to the right of all the tools in the Toolbox. Ensure that the color of your type is black (RGB), then adjust the font, size, tracking, and kerning to your own style. For our design, the “light” words will be in Trade Gothic Bold Condensed (lower case), 36 pt, with Optical kerning. When you’re finished, go back to the main selection tool and adjust the Baseline Shift value (–) of the type until it appears centered vertically over its anchor point.

STEP 3 3D Layer; Add Anchor Expression
In the Timeline panel, click the 3D Layer switch for the type layer, then in the Comp panel, click Active Camera and switch to Custom View 1. On the keyboard, press the period key (.) a couple of times to zoom in, then press A to reveal the layer’s Anchor Point property. Option-click (PC: Alt-click) on the property’s stopwatch, and in the resulting text field in the Timeline, key in the following, pressing Enter when done:
offset = wiggle(0,1000);
[anchorPoint[0], anchorPoint[1], offset[2]]

PRODUCTION NOTE: If code cannot be set on two lines in the running text, typeset the code in the image area.
—Split the Timeline in two and zoom in on the code as much as possible

STEP 4 Duplicate Layer
This expression creates a variable called “offset,” which contains a randomization script “wiggle” that allows a property to offset up to 1000 pixels, but 0 times per second—meaning that there’s no movement. Applying this expression only to the Z axis “[2]” gives our word a push to a random position. Now, with the layer still selected, press Command-D (PC: Ctrl-D) to duplicate it, and another word appears in a different position along the Z axis—the wiggle script creates new values for each new layer!

STEP 5 Format New Type Layer
Double-click on the new layer’s T icon in the Timeline to select the type, and enter the word that’s opposite to your first choice (in our case, “hate”). Then, go back to the main selection tool and format the new word’s font, size, tracking, and kerning accordingly. You might want to click the other layer’s Visibility icon in the Timeline to hide it and switch Custom View 1 to Front to make the type adjustment easier. In Front view, it’s also much easier to adjust the Baseline Shift to re-center the new type.

STEP 6 Add Orientation Expression
Back in Custom View 1 with both layers visible again, select the Love layer and press R to reveal its Rotation and Orientation properties. With the newfound understanding of the wiggle variable used in Step 3, we can apply the same theory to tell After Effects to automatically rotate the layer to a new angle each time. Option-click (PC: Alt-click) on the Orientation stopwatch, add the following expression, and press Enter:

STEP 7 Apply Expression Again; Check Size
As you can see, this has chosen a random orientation angle for X, Y, and Z. Now click on the word Orientation to select it and press Command-C (PC: Ctrl-C) to copy it. Select the Hate layer and press Command-V (PC: Ctrl-V) to paste the Orientation expression directly to it. Again, After Effects will use new wiggle values to offset the angle of this layer (around our custom anchor point). Before continuing, you might need to drop the size of your type to leave a little more room around the words (you can do this later).

STEP 8 Create Mass!
Now for the fun part: Twirl up both layers, select them both, and use the shortcut to duplicate them both at the same time—brand-new position and orientation values again! Select the new layers one at a time, double-click the T icon to enter text-editing mode, and change the words again (peace and war, day and night, Starsky and Hutch, etc). When you’re finished, repeat this process again and again until you have the required mass of words—all being repositioned and rotated by one single expression!

STEP 9 Control the Mass
The “universe” of words we now have needs to spin around a central axis, but animating all these layers (in our example, more than 200) isn’t a good choice. So, go to Layer>New>Null Object, then click the Null layer’s 3D icon in the Timeline. Now, press Command-A (PC: Ctrl-A) to select all the layers, Command-click (PC: Ctrl-click) on the Null to deselect it, then Control-click (PC: Right-click) on the Layer/Source Name Bar, and choose Columns>Parent. Choose the Pick Whip icon next to any of the selected layers, drag it onto the Null layer’s name, and let go.

STEP 10 Spin the Mass
Select the Null and press R to reveal its Rotation properties. At 0 seconds on the Timeline, click the stopwatches next to both Y and Z Rotation to add a keyframe at 0°. Hit End to go to 8 seconds, then change both the values to read 1x+0.0°, giving them a full rotation across time. Press 0 on the keypad to preview a few frames of this beautiful mass of spinning words. Next, we’ll split the entire image so the top half stays the same, but the bottom half shows white words on a black background—remember, opposites.

STEP 11 Create Adjustment Layer; Add Invert
At 0 seconds, go to Layer>New>Solid. Set the Width to 720 and Height to 270 (50% comp height), check that the color is black, and click OK. Drag the new solid down 135 px to align it at the bottom of the Comp panel, then click the Adjustment Layer switch in the Timeline. Make sure you don’t make this layer 3D also—leaving it 2D allows it to adjust all the layers beneath it. Now, go to Effect>Channel>Invert to apply the Invert filter, and the bottom of the comp will turn completely white.

STEP 12 Add New Solid
The words are white, but why did the background not turn black? Because the Invert effect can only invert the color of an object and our white background is just the composition’s background color. So, go back to Layer>New>Solid and click Make Comp Size to ensure this one covers the entire background. Change the color to white, click OK, then go to Layer>Send to Back to place this solid behind everything else. Now we see the difference.

STEP 13 Add Camera; Adjust Z Position
Now that we have this wonderful three-dimensional mass of spinning words, easily inverted from black to white, and making a very stunning graphic, let’s add a subtle camera move to gently pull back on the mass and finish the sequence. At 0 seconds, go to Layer>New>Camera, and from the dialog’s Preset menu, choose 28mm. Ensure Enable Depth of Field is turned off and click OK. Now press P to show the camera’s Position property and set the values to 360, 270, –200 to move the camera into the center.

STEP 14 Animate Camera
Click the camera’s Position stopwatch to add a keyframe, press Command-G (PC: Ctrl-G) and enter 5.0 to jump to 5 seconds along. Now adjust the camera’s Position values to 360, 270, –1200 to pull the camera back, and with the second keyframe selected, go to Animation>Keyframe Assistant>Easy Ease In to slow the motion down into the keyframe. Preview or create a final render of your scene, and I’m sure you’ll agree that the world of opposites sure does offer some pretty creative options. Enjoy!

Steve Holmes is the Creative Director of Energi Design in Sausalito, California, as well as the host of the Total Training for After Effects 7 video training series and others, such as InDesign CS2, Creative Suite 2 Workflow, and Digital Video Workflow. He can be reached at