Purchasing a tilt-shift lens can get pricey. If you don’t have one to play around with, we’re going to show you how to get a tilt shift effect (or miniature effect) in After Effects CC. While you can technically do this on any kind of footage, there are two things that will help the tilt shift effect look its best.
First of all, the best viewing angle is looking from above. The whole idea is that you are trying to make it look like your regular sized scene is miniature. So if it’s really small, looking from above really emphasizes the idea that you are actually larger than it. Secondly, you need to create the perception of depth. A simple flat surface is going to make it impossible to make things look small because you need things to compare against.
With those tips out of the way, let’s dive into how to create the effect!
How to Make Footage Look Miniature
Step 1: Create a New Composition
Once you’re inside After Effects and you have the footage that you want to make look miniature, the first thing you’ll want to do is create a new composition. Take your footage and drag it over the New Composition button. This will create a new composition based on the parameters of your clip.
Step 2: Applying the Camera Lens Blur
Next, you’re going to blur out the entire image using a specific kind of blur, the Camera Lens Blur. But you don’t want to apply the Blur effect directly to the footage. Instead, you’ll add an adjustment layer and work with that.
To do this, you’re going to right-click on your composition and select New Adjustment Layer. Once you have the new layer, search for Camera Lens Blur in your Effects Panel. The Camera Lens Blur will help you get the specific look that you want.
Once you’ve applied the Camera Lens Blur, you can change a whole bunch of parameters, but you really only need to focus on a couple.
The main parameter will be the Blur Radius. Try starting out with about 20, then increase or decrease it based on your preference. Right now, you’re aiming to decide what you want the most blurry parts of your image to look like.
Next, you’ll want to go to Iris Properties and Shape, which basically tells you how many aperture blades you want your theoretical lens to have. The more blades, the more circular and delicious your bokeh will look. For example, if you choose a triangle, the bokeh circles will actually look like triangles — you can play around with what you personally like.
Next, you’ll want to check Repeat Edge Pixels to get rid of the dark fringing around your image. You can play around with the other parameters, but there’s only one more that you’ll definitely need to focus on, your Blur Map.
Step 3: Working With the Blur Map
Lastly, you need to choose your Blur Map — but before you choose one, you’ll have to create your own first.
So, what is a blur map? It’s basically a way that you can tell After Effects to select the parts of your image to put either in or out of focus. It does this with black and white: white being what you’re telling to be out of focus, and black being what you want to keep in focus.
To create our own blur map, you’ll need to add a solid white layer. To do this, right-click on your composition and select New Solid. Next, take that layer and precompose it. You should also name the new precomposed layer to “Blur Map” so you can easily identify it later.
Once you’ve named your layer, double-click on your Blur Map composition. You will create the map by choosing the rectangle tool by selecting it, or with the shortcut key Q. Stretch the rectangle tool over the middle of your screen so that there’s a strip covering about 60% of the middle. Then go down to your parameters for your mask and Invert it so that the black is in the center instead of the white.
Once it’s inverted, go to the feather properties and increase it until you get a smaller portion that’s solid black and a very gradual falloff to complete white. Then go back to the adjustment layer, go to the Effects section, and select your Blur Map.
Step 4: Understanding Depth of Field
By now, the basis of your effect will start to take shape. What you should see is a thin section of the clip that is in focus and a roll-off to out of focus elements, which is already giving you the impression that everything is smaller.
Why is it working? There are a lot of elements going into this, but it comes down to the fact that when you photograph miniature objects, your depth of field is impacted a lot by how far away you’re focused on. The farther away from your focus, the wider your depth of field is spread out. If you have the same aperture but focus it in closer to your camera, the depth of field becomes incredibly shallow.
In reality, a scene could have been filmed by at least a hundred feet away. So the depth of field even at a wide aperture like 2.0 still appears to have a lot in focus. But now you’ve tricked the eye into thinking that your scene actually looks like it’s filmed from inches away.
Even though the effect is working, you’re not quite done yet. The basic effect is there but you’ll need to sell it a little bit more.
Step 5: Changing Inconsistencies
The next thing you want to do is take a look at the frame and see if what’s in and out of focus makes sense. This will take some thinking and some trial and error.
For example, if you’re trying to provide a certain focal point but there are different points throwing this off then you’ll have to fix it. This could be difficult if your camera is in motion, but if it’s locked down on a tripod then you can move the blur map to account for this. If you want a certain point to be out of focus, click on your blur map and bring the select side in until you see it start to deselect the edge here.
You can be as picky as you want with these things, but the more you take into account the real-life situation that would happen, the better your look will end up being.
Step 6: Addressing Speed
Now that you have the shallow depth of field and have accounted for how that depth would be displayed in real life, it’s time to address speed. There’s a concept to how we portray motion that you need to apply.
Basically, big things carry a lot of mass so they’re slow to accelerate. Small things, on the other hand, can start and stop incredibly quickly because they don’t have a lot of mass. Think of ants, they don’t travel crazy fast but when we look at them they look like they’re scattering quickly everywhere at once. If we want people to believe that these things are small, we have to make them feel light in our minds, and one way to do that is by increasing their speed.
You can increase the speed a couple of different ways, but our recommended method is to right-click your clip, and then to go to Time and enable Time Remapping. From there you should be given two keyframes, one at the beginning of your clip and one at the end. Take the keyframe at the end and bring it closer to the beginning. If you move it to halfway in between, you’ll double your speed. Try it out at 3-4x the normal speed.
Step 7: Composition Frame Rate
Lastly, to really separate this miniature world is to drop the Composition Frame Rate below 24fps. Go up to Composition > Composition Settings, and drop the frame rate to 15 frames per second.
This will give your footage a slightly more stop-motion type of feel. Finally, color correct your footage, and you’ll have your final result!
The miniature effect can really help put some depth and break reality in your video project. It helps bring to life the illusion that you’re shooting from much further away, or even shooting something tiny in your otherwise normal-sized world. Using this effect to the best of its abilities and focusing on the right parameters can take your project from good to amazing with little effort.
We hope you enjoyed learning how to create the tilt shift effect in After Effects, and can’t wait to see where your creativity takes you!