How To Make A TV Commercial Without Shooting Any Video

by Harlan Yee on July 21st, 2011

I don’t talk too much about my professional commercial projects but recently I created a Spanish language television commercial for a Univision station without shooting a frame of video! How you might ask? I used After Effects… my favorite computer program of all time! Actually, now that I look at it, there is one clip of green screen video I used that was shot for another project but you don’t see it in the final commercial… in fact, when I was done, I was able to delete that video clip out of my project!

So I thought you might be interested in how it’s done. This isn’t a full tutorial but a general overview of how I took very few elements and turned them into a full blown 1280×720 broadcast quality television commercial. The technical term for this type of work is “motion graphics”… Motion graphics has been the emphasis of my career for the past 5 years. In fact, I rarely shoot video anymore when it comes to commercial production.

I’ll start by showing you the finished commercial and then break it down and highlight some of the key steps in producing this commercial.

That commercial kinda goes by quick. I can’t speak Spanish but I’ve been producing Spanish language commercials for about 8 years now. It was a challenge in the beginning but editing to a Spanish voice track doesn’t bother me anymore as long as I have a translated script next to me. Let’s start analyzing the commercial!

After Effects elements for motion graphics

The first thing I started with was some green screen video of a group of people dancing. In the commercial, I turned them into silouettes because I wanted to be able to repeat that clip over and over again to create a crowd of people.

After Effects elements for motion graphics

When the green screen clip was in my timeline, I used Keylight to remove the green background. I then went to Layer>Auto-trace to turn my keyed video into a vector mask.

After Effects elements for motion graphics

At that point, it becomes an animated mask layer and I can assign it a color. At this point, I can delete the original video clip. I then Pre-Comped the auto-traced layer and inserted the pre-comp several times in my main timeline to create the crowd of people. They were placed in 3 rows on different Z-axis positions.

After Effects elements for motion graphics

Additional graphic elements I brought in were images of guitars and light bulbs. All the graphics needed transparent backgrounds. I used Photoshop to remove the white background from the images. Everything on screen had the 3D layer attribute activated so I could utilize a Camera Layer.

After Effects elements for motion graphics

This is important because the camera is what creates all the movement on the screen. All the elements are placed in 3D space but are locked down on the X, Y and Z axis. The virtual camera is able to fly over all the objects in the Comp.

After Effects elements for motion graphics

The guitars were Parented to the light bulb graphics so that they are essentially “attached” to the lightbulbs and move with them.

After Effects elements for motion graphics

The three lightbulbs have a rotation element to them so it looks like they’re rocking out. The anchor point was moved to the base of each lightbulb and I added random rotation with The Wiggler. In order to use The Wiggler, you have to have 2 keyframes on the layer you want to use it on. After that, just set the Frequency and Magnitude to your liking.

After Effects elements for motion graphics

The large array of stage lights behind the main screen was created from one dot generated by using Effect> Circle. I added another effect called Motion Tile to “repeat” the dots.

After Effects elements for motion graphics

The number of repeats is determined by adjusting the Tile Width and Tile Height parameters. The stage light element was placed inside it’s own Comp so I was able to use it 4 times in the spot. I also added the Trapcode Starglow effect to create the reddish glow to the lights.

After Effects elements for motion graphics

Additional spotlight layers were added to light the scene. You can see them above visualized as stars on the comp window. Normally, spotlights are invisible in After Effects but by using Trapcode> Lux, you can make the light beam visible. It’s really a cool plugin. Some of the lights have random rotation to them thanks again to The Wiggler. In addition to adding the beams of light, I added a haze to create the atmosphere of the scene by adding a layer with Effect> Fractal Noise set at 30% transparency which slowly moves on the X-axis. Oh, I forgot to mention that the Trapcode plugins are premium plugins and not included with After Effects.

After Effects elements for motion graphics

When the camera zooms into the big on-stage screen, I used another pre-comp to create a separate animation for the screen contents. The light bulbs that appear were created once then duplicated and off-set so they appear in a sequence.

After Effects elements for motion graphics

And finally, in the transition to the final end graphic, I used Effect> Card Wipe to make the slats that flip into place.

In conclusion, these are the type of projects I really have fun with. I enjoy figuring out how to do things with graphics only and will continue to build my skills in After Effects. If you are a motion graphic designer, I’d like to see some of your work. Feel free to leave a comment and include a link to your work. If you’re just starting out with After Effects, maybe I can answer some of your questions and save you some time. Again, leave a comment below. I’d love to hear from you!

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