How to Clone and Interact With Yourself in After Effects CC

After Effects June 14, 2019 13 min read

In this tutorial, you’ll learn how to use After Effects to clone and interact with yourself on camera! Impossible? Not even close! By filming yourself in two separate situations and some planning and clever After Effects tricks, you can achieve this impressive effect. 

In this example, you’ll learn how to throw and catch a ball between you in your clone, but you can apply the same principles to different scenarios. This is a longer tutorial, so buckle up, open up After Effects, and let’s get started! 

Part 1: How to Film a Cloning Scene

Step 1: Set Up Your Scene

To accomplish this effect, there are two things that you need to do. First, you need to have your framing exactly the same for every single take you do. No motion, no touching the camera between takes, and no lighting changes of any sort. 

That means if you’re filming outdoors, you’re likely going to have to do more work in post-production. If you’re indoors, all it means is blacking out the windows to avoid lighting changes from the sun as you shoot. 

Step 2: Practice & Shoot the Scene

Once you’re ready to go through your takes on camera, the second thing you’ll need is time. Go through your motion over and over and over until you’re confident you’ve got the first half of what you’re going for. Make sure you go through the entirety of what you would do in that situation until the cutting point. In the example of tossing a ball to a clone, you’ll want to replicate your initial toss, ball arc, and response. 

Once you’ve captured a solid number of takes, it’s time to film part two of the clone completing the action. For this, still don’t touch the camera. It might be tempting to stop recording to save space or to have two distinct files — but please don’t! Touching the record button will likely throw off your framing, even by the smallest amount, which will give the effect away.   

Run through part two with your second character. In this example, it would be the clone catching the ball that you threw. To film this though, it could be beneficial to have help such as having someone stand in the place of your original character. Use a marker to ensure the placement is really clear. In the case of a ball toss, your helper would stand at the marker and toss the ball exactly as what was done originally. 

Next, go through the motions from start to finish again. Getting this right will require multiple takes. But once you’ve successfully gotten both of your shots, and you’re confident that the motions will match up, it’s time to take these into After Effects and take a look at how to splice these two together!

Part 2: How to Edit a Clone Effect in After Effects

Step 1: Choose Your Footage

Once you’re inside After Effects, the first thing you want to do is look through your footage. You want to start by taking your clip and drag and dropping it over the New Composition button. This will create a new composition based on the settings from your footage. You’ll want to take your piece of footage and break it up into your before and after section. Place the initial action sequence above, and the clone reaction below. 

If you’re using raw footage, you might want to turn down the quality settings. For example, dropping to 1/2 to 1/4 resolution will make it a lot easier to scrub through and work with your footage. Then, you’ll want to disable the bottom layer and find the take of the top layer that you want to use.

You’re looking for a piece of footage that ticks all of the boxes. Using the example of a ball toss again, it should have a good arc, look believable, and like you’re actually going to be interacting with the person that’s not quite there yet.

Once you find something that works, you’ll section off only that piece of footage to use. For right now, you’re only concerned with the main action, for example, throwing-and-catching the ball between the two pieces of footage. You can worry about extending it back towards the preamble a little bit later on. 

Once you found the beginning of the section of the tape that you like, split the clip with CTRL or Command + Shift + D. Then delete the section beforehand that you don’t need to use at the moment. Then go to the ending section and do the same thing. 

Once you’ve found the section of the clip that you’re ready to use for your first character, then you need to find the best clip that lines up. To do this, hide the top layer and find a clip from the bottom layer that looks like it will line up well.

In a perfect world, what you’re looking for is a motion that matches exactly to what you did before. If you can’t find something that matches perfectly the beginning point of the arc and trajectory, we recommend highlighting the ending point as the thing that you should prioritize more than anything else. 

Once you’ve made your decision, section off that clip and delete the section that you don’t need. Then, move the second piece of footage over, so that it lines up with the ending of the first piece of footage. 

Step 2: Match Up the Timing of Your Footage

Now, you can start to work towards splicing together these two pieces of footage! Take the ending point, where you want this to transition over into the second clip. For this example, it would be where the ball would naturally hit the hand of the person catching it. 

From here, go to your second piece of footage and find that same point, as well. Put these two pieces of footage end-to-end so that the timing roughly works out. If you have a full-sized keyboard, you can use the keys Page Up and Page Down to go forwards or backwards one frame at a time.

Now, you’re still testing, but you’ll want to take it another level further. You can hit the T button to bring up Opacity, drop the top clip down to roughly 50%, and then stretch out your bottom and top clips out so that they overlap. What you’re looking for is the trajectory and timing of these two objects.

For example, if you’re throwing and catching a ball like in our example, you’re looking to see if the throw will actually look like it works in real life. An easy way to do this is to take your bottom clip and move it around in time so that you can get the two balls in the same position at the same time at the point of catching. 

You might not get them to be perfectly identical, but that’s okay. Your job isn’t to get it perfect right now, just to get it lined up as closely as possible. With you’re timing and positioning adjusted, you can take the Opacity of your top clip, and you can raise it back up to 100% again. 

Step 3: Mask Out Your Footage

Your next job is to take the first piece of footage and mask it out so that you can see the action (like a catch) happening in the second piece of footage. First, take your Pen tool and make a very basic mask shape around your subject. 

Once that’s complete, you can see that the two pieces of footage are now able to be seen together. Watch out for a line between the footage though, because there could be subtle lighting changes that you can deal with later. 

A more pressing concern is that you might be able to see your object leaving the frame and being cut off by the mask. To solve this, instead of adjusting the mask itself, you’ll create a second mask.

To create a second mask, go up to your Shape tools, choose an Ellipse, and make a mask around the tennis ball. Having a second mask set to add will allow it to disregard this other mask and allow this section to be seen through regardless. 

Now, if you drop down the mask settings for the ball or object mask and keyframe the mask path, you can go along make sure that your mask is set out of the way during the time that the ball is within the first greater mask. As it passes outside of the original mask zone, you can actually move the mask around and make sure that it always contains the ball. 

Continue on until it reaches just before the hand actually catches the other ball. When you reach the point where if you were to move the mask further, it would start to interfere with the hand, you can actually move the mask back out of the way so that it’s not doing anything at this point in time. 

At this point, you’ll have an okay effect. It’s definitely got some problems, but you can see how you’re starting to achieve the look that you’re going for. But the most obvious problem you’ll see right now is that you have two tennis balls instead of just one following through the frame. 

Step 4: Getting Rid of Your Second Object

To get rid of the second object, hide your top layer so you can focus on the bottom layer. Then, you’ll use the same method you used for the first tennis ball. 

Take the Shape tool and mask around the tennis ball. Then go to the second ball’s mask settings, and change it from Add to Subtract. This will get rid of this tennis ball instead of allowing it to be seen. 

Now you can take the mask properties, keyframe the mask path, and move this mask so that at any point in time it’s covering up this tennis ball. You don’t want to see this one until the very end when it hits the hand. 

You’ll simply want to leave it and move it off-screen. As long as you keep the movement so that it happens in the frame immediately after the previous keyframe, there won’t be motion across the screen. It will essentially look like it teleported there! 

Step 5: Use a Clean Plate to Cover Transparency 

When you unhide the top layer, you’ll see that there’s now an empty, checkered space where the ball was taken out. This doesn’t look very good. What you need to do is find a way to hide that area so that it looks like the rest of the background.

At this point, you’ll add a few more layers in rapid succession. It’s a good idea to make sure you have a clear distinction over what layer is what piece of footage.

First, take the top layer and rename it to something that tells you exactly what you’re working with, like Throw Right. Similarly, name the bottom piece of footage, Catch Left. This way, you know exactly what piece of footage is focusing on what. 

Now it’s time to cover up the transparent hole that’s showing through the frame. What you need to do is take what’s called a clean plate. In a perfect world, you would have taken a moment and stepped outside of the camera frame. This would be a clean plate, an image with nothing in the frame except the background. But here’s how you would fix this if that wasn’t possible.  

First, Duplicate the top layer and find a section that you can use as a clean plate. In this layer, delete all the masks to ensure that you’re working with a typical piece of footage, then extend it on both sides and see if you can find a piece of footage within this clip that has as much of the background visible as possible.

You might not be able to find a perfect section, but you’re simply looking for something that works for your situation. Essentially aim for a section where the masks in your edited clip will never extend to.

Once you’ve found the section, with your playhead over the top of the frame you want to use, freeze the frame by right-clicking on the clip, and going to Time > Freeze Frame. When you have the solid frame, you have to take this piece of footage and rename it to something identifiable like Clean Plate and move it down to the very bottom layer. It might also help to extend the bottom clip, so you can see a bit of the preamble before the throw action. Now, if you take a look at the footage you have, you’ll be able to see whether the empty space has been covered up. 

Step 6: Focus on the Fine Details of Your Object

Once you have the overall scene and look set up, it’s time to do some fine detailing work on the object. When working on this, it’s helpful to set up a loop so you focus just on this section. 

Setting up a loop is really easy! Simply place your playhead above any frame that you want to start and hit the B key. Then go to where the spot you want the loop to finish and hit the N key. 

When you look at this loop, you’ll notice that while you have a bit of detailing work to do, you have an effect that essentially works. Aside from the last few frames, your eyes actually believe that the motion is being carried through until you see a clear jump in the position of your object at the end of the catch.

What you need to do is find a way to merge the two objects to make it even more believable. One of the easiest solutions is to take the fake object and replace it at some point in time. Have it continue on the trajectory that’s a little bit different and have it end up exactly where we want it to be. 

The best part of this solution is that you don’t need any 3D models or crazy tricks to accomplish this. You’ll use your object as it appears in this footage. You want to find the point in time where your object has the least amount of motion blur. Once you’ve found it, use CTRL or Command + Shift + D to duplicate the layer.

Rename your new layer something like Ball, then go into the footage and delete the mask around the subject. Once it’s deleted, you’ll need to create a new one using your Shape tool, and create a perfect shape around the object. Try to match the shape that it is in that particular frame.

Next, right-click on the layer and select Time > Freeze Frame. This will freeze your object in this position for this layer. You’ll see that it matches perfectly with your object of the tennis ball because we took it from an existing frame. You’ll use this to hide the switching point between the real object, the frame, and the new one that you’ll create a new trajectory for.

But first, you want to make sure that this is believable by increasing the Mask Feather. Then, clean up your timeline a bit by going back to the frame you took your object from, and make sure that the fake object that you stole from the freeze-frame only starts to appear at the transition point. 

Step 7: Changing the Object Trajectory

Once it’s cleaned up, head to the starting frame and keyframe the position of your freeze frame object to actually end where the real object was caught. Once you’ve moved to keyframe over to that point in time, physically move the object to match the position of the object. If you just have the starting and ending points, it’ll be just a linear path straight from start to finish.

However, you can also use the marker that appears and use it to change the trajectory of the ball from linear to curved. Doing this will take some trial and error, but it won’t mess up your keyframe simply change the trajectory. Go backwards and forwards in time, try to get a sense for the position and match it up with the real tennis ball as closely as possible. 

You’re not trying to mimic timing, but mimicking positioning. The timing might be a little bit off, but this is not where you fix that, just worry about relative arc and positioning. Once you’re decently happy with it, what you can do is highlight your keyframes then right-click, go to Keyframe Assistant > Easy Ease, this will quickly help you to get a way more realistic nonlinear trajectory for your tennis ball. 

Step 8: Changing the Object Speed

Once you’ve added the Easy Ease, you can go up to your Graph Viewer to manipulate your keyframes in more detail. By changing around the values, you can impact the speed at which your position change takes place without changing the position of the trajectory. 

You want to follow the actual speed of descent that happened in real life. You can use the yellow tabs to change the curvature of the graph. The lower on the graph a particular position is, the slower it will be traveling. Use the peaks and drops combined with the position of the real-life version of the object and try to get your fake one to line up perfectly.

Once you think you’re close, a good way of checking is to reset your in and out points to something a bit quicker so you can just focus in on the trajectory. To really see if it works, you need to get rid of the real object and see what the fake one is doing.

Split it right at the point where you want the fake object to take over. Then take the same Mask Layer that’s surrounding the object and keeping it in frame, just change it so that it says Subtract. You don’t even have to change the mask around, and you’ve already made the tennis ball disappear. If you unhide your fake object, you can see that the transition from real to fake happens flawlessly. 

Step 9: Add Motion Blur to the Object

The first issue is that it’s pretty clear it’s just a still image moving around the frame. It doesn’t really feel like it belongs. This can be fixed with just two simple clicks. You want to click the enable Motion Blur button. 

This enables motion blur to take place for any elements that you’ve manually keyframe the position for, which includes your object. Now, if you select the Motion Blur option for the tennis ball layer, you can see that the object now has motion based on the direction that it’s moving. This makes it look like it’s interacting in the environment that it’s placed. 

Step 10: Final Organization and Finessing

The last simple thing that you can do is delete the excess of the object footage. If you play it on a loop, and think the trajectory needs a little finessing, you can highlight your object layer and play around with both the position curve as well as the speed graph values.

Lastly, clean up the point at which there are two tennis ball objects seen at the same time. Hide the fake object for just a second and highlight the Catch Left layer. You can see that you have a mask that’s set off to the side, but then just a frame earlier, it’s masking out the object. 

What you want to do is move forward one frame to where the mask is placed outwards and use that same mask to quickly cover up a bit more of the object. You want to cover up as much of the object as possible (without getting rid of any of the catching fingers). 

Once you’ve done that, when you unhide your object layer, you’ll see that the motion is much better. 

Part 3: Troubleshooting Tips

Once you’ve completed your edits, there might be a few things that are still distracting:

Masks

Because you moved the mask around, you might have moved it over an existing mask to get it out of the way, but now it’s not doing anything. Simply find the point where you would switch over and then make it cut with CTRL or Command + D, then from this new layer, you can just delete the mask.

Lighting

You might also have a few lighting issues when you mask off and switch between clips. To make this less noticeable, we have two tips. 

First, when you start to incorporate a new piece of footage underneath a masked piece of footage, try and keyframe in its Opacity from 0 for as long of a duration as possible. This will help to make the change a lot more gradual and be a lot less distracting to your viewers. 

Finally, if feathering your mask isn’t enough, you can easily hide your mask edges by using pre-existing lines within your composition examples. By hiding your mask edges along these lines, you’ll be able to make them a lot less noticeable. Plus, once you add some color grading and sound effects to the mix, your final effect should look fantastic!


We hope you found this tutorial on how using After Effects to clone and interact with yourself help. This is a fun technique you can use in an upcoming video project, and you’ve now learned that it’s not as impossible as you might have originally thought!