Reproduce the Split Diopter Look in After Effects (Tutorial)

Post Production After Effects 23/02/2021 4 min read

The Split Diopter shot is a powerful and exciting style to consider when you are filming your projects. If you don’t have access to a Split Diopter lens for the effect, don’t worry, you can recreate the awesome Split Diopter look in After Effects with a few simple tricks. Check out our step-by-step guide to creating your Split Diopter effect.

Part 1: What is the Split Diopter Shot?

A Split Diopter Shot is a specific type of shot that plays with the focus of your scene. For most shots, filmmakers use a shallow depth of field (where one plane is in focus, everything else is blurry) or a deep depth of field (where everything in the shot is in focus).

A Diopter is a type of lens that filmmakers can use to allow them to have two areas of your scene in focus. Unlike deep depth of field shots, a Split Diopter shot doesn’t focus everything in your scene, just specific areas you choose, such as having both a person in the distance and the Foreground in focus, with the space between them out of focus.

Split Diopter shots are used in many Hollywood movies and can be super helpful in your storytelling. Get Out, and Us frequently use Split Diopter shots to create a sense of unease and tension, whereas films like Star Wars and Mission: Impossible use to reinforce action sequences.

Part 2: How to Reproduce the Split Diopter Shot in After Effects

Creating a Split Diopter effect in Post Production still needs a little thought in the filming process. The effect will require two clips, focusing on your background element, the second focusing on the Foreground; for the Foreground, you will need to use a GreenScreen. 

Step 1: Film your shots.

You can cheat and shoot the Green Screen element separately, but by doing it on location, the lighting, camera position & angle, and general atmosphere (wind, etc.) will be the same in both shots.

  1. Set up the Camera and film your background element, ensuring that you use a deep depth of focus. Make sure the camera does not move or change focus during the filming.
  2. Bring in your foreground character, and place a Green Screen between them and the background. Focus on the Foreground Character and film your shot.

Step 2: Building your Composition

The first step in the editing process is to add and treat your Clips. If you have worked with GreenScreen before, you will probably know what to do. If you’re not familiar with Green Screen removal, check out this handy guide.

  1. Add your Background Shot to the Timeline, reposition and resize as needed.
  2. Add your Green Screenshot above your background on the Timeline.
  3. Key out the Green Screen, using the Tolerance and Feather tools to refine the Keying.
  4. Resize and reposition your Greenscreen Layer as needed.

Step 3: Adding the Split Diopter Look

Your Composition will already look quite remarkable at this stage, but the Split Diopter look can give a unique feel, and it can be done in just a few clicks.

  1. Right Click on the Timeline and select New > New Solid. Color is not essential at this stage.
  2. In the Effects Browser, search for Gradient Ramp and add it to your Solid.
  3. Position the start and endpoints of the Gradient using the Position Settings in the Effects Control Panel. Position the Gradient to sit in the space you want to blur between your layers.
  4. Move the Solid Layer to the bottom of the Clip stack, so you can no longer see it.
  5. In the Effects Browser, search for Camera Lens Blur, and add it to the background layer. It can be helpful to turn off the Foreground visibility for this step. 
  6. Adjust the Blur Radius to create the Look, ensure that the Repeat Pixel Edge box is checked.
  7. In the Effects Control Panel, under Blur Map, change the Layer Settings to your Solid Layer – Effects and Masks. This will map the Blur to the Gradient.
  8. If the wrong side of the image is blurred, check the Invert Blur Map box.
  9. Select the Effect and Command/Control C to copy it. Select the Foreground Layer and Command/Control V to paste the effect. You may need to recheck the Invert Blur Map box.
  10. You can adjust the Position of the Blur effect by repositioning the Gradient layer.

Part 3: Top Tips for Split Diopter Shots

Use a Gaussian Blur

The Camera Lens Blur effect is fantastic for giving a natural Bokeh feel to the Blur, as your Camera would when filming a shot, but the effect can be quite heavy and slow things down. If you want a quick alternative, try this method using the Gaussian Blur effect instead.

Use Grades and Film Effects

If you want to blend the elements, adding the Color and Film effect can help sell the look. Right-click in the timeline, New > Adjustment Layer; this will allow you to add additional effects to the overall scene.

Crossing the Scene

A great way to sell the Split Diopter effect is to have the background element pass behind the foreground elements. This is something you should consider when storyboarding your project and filming your shots.

Timing is Important

If you want the Background element to interact with the Foreground, such as two characters waving at one another, you need to pay close attention to your Timings. When filming, ensure that you know how long the sequence should be and at what point the characters need to move, speak, or interact.

Have a Reason

The Split Diopter look is excellent and a lot of fun to create, but it isn’t suitable for every project. Use Split Diopter Effects sparingly, ensuring there is a reason for it to be used, either in the story or the atmosphere you want to build.

Creating a Split Diopter look in After Effects takes a little planning, but the results can be as good as using a Diopter Lens. Now you know how to create this unique effect, think about how it can be best used in your films to help tell your story and build the atmosphere. This stylistic shot won’t be ideal for every project, but we’re sure you’ll have fun seeing what you can create.

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