How To Create A Miniature Effect In After Effects


Tilt-Shift lenses are expensive.  So if you don't have one to play around with for yourself, we're going to show you how to get one of it's effects right inside of After Effects.  The effect we're going to dive into is called the 'Miniature Effect.'  

Before we start, it's important to note that you can technically try this on any kind of footage, but there’s 2 things that will help your footage look the best for this miniature effect.

1 - 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.  

2 - You need some perception of depth.  Just a flat surface is going to make it impossible to make things look small, because you need things to compare against.  But with that out of the way, let's dive into the tutorial!

The Miniature Effect

This text has been transcribed from the video and optimized for your reading pleasure.

So here we are in After Effects, and we have our footage that we want to make look miniature.  And this is what it looks like to start.  Pretty normal, but you can see that we’re already satisfying our first two rules, looking from a more top down perspective, and also having a lot of depth in the shot.  So where do we start?

The first thing you’re going to do is take your footage and drag it over the new composition button to create a new composition based on the parameters of your clip.  Great.  Now our next step is pretty simple.  We’re going to blur out the entire image using a specific kind of blur.  But we don’t want to apply this directly to the footage.  Instead, we’re going to be adding an adjustment layer and working with that.  

Right click on your composition and select a new adjustment layer.  Now search in your effects panel for camera lens blur.  This particular kind of blur will help us get the specific look that we want to get.  

Now that you’ve applied it, you can change a whole bunch of parameters, but really you only need to focus on a couple.  The blur radius will be your main parameter you work with.  I’d suggest starting out with about 20, but feel free to increase or decrease it based on your preference.  Right now you’re just gunning for what you want the most blurry parts of your image to look like.

Now go down 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.  So we can see here that if we choose triangle, the bokeh circles will actually look like triangles. but you can play around with what you personally like.  For me, I’m going to choose the decagon for the most circular bokeh.  
Great.  You can play around with all the other parameters, but there’s only 2 more that we’re going to focus on. First, check the repeat edge pixels to get rid of the dark fringing around your image.  And lastly, you need to choose your blur map.  But we actually need to create our own first.  So, what is a blur map?  Well 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.

So to create our own blur map, add a solid white layer.  Right click in 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 select it for our blur map later on.  Now double click on your blur map composition and we’re going to create the map.  Choose your rectangle tool by selecting it or with the shortcut key Q.  

Stretch it out 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.  Great! Now 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.  And now, let’s go back to our adjustment layer, go to the effects section, and let’s select our blur map.  

And now we see the basis of our effect take shape.  So here what we have now is a thin section of the clip that is in focus and a roll off to out of focus elements.  And we can already see that this is giving us the impression that everything is smaller.  But why is that?  Well there’s a lot of elements going into the reason, but a lot of 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 you focus, the wider your depth of field is spread out.  But if you have the same aperature but focus it in closer to your camera, the depth of field becomes incredibly shallow.  

In reality, this scene is being 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 we’ve tricked the eye into thinking that this scene actually looks like you’re filming it from inches away.

But we’re not quite done yet. The basic effect is there but we need to work on selling it a little bit more.  The next thing we 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. But here in our shot we can see something right off the bat.  Down at the center of this intersection is where our focus is the sharpest, which is where we’re trying to trick the eye into thinking is the center of focus. But over here to the right we have a ledge that’s way closer to the camera than say, this car, but this ledge is way more in focus.  It can break the illusion a little bit.  This is going to 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.  We want it to be out of focus, so let’s double click on our blur map and bring the right side in until we see it start to deselect the edge here.  We’re just going to estimate for now.  

Great, that helps us out a lot actually.  One more that we can see is over here this building is being blurred out at the top, but really it’s not farther away from the camera than other elements that are in focus.  So what we’re going to do is just include a little bit more of the building so that it is more in focus.  The same way that we did for the ledge.  Great.  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.  

Now we’re so close to being done.  We’ve gotten the shallow depth of field, and we’ve accounted for how that depth would be displayed in real life. But now we need to address speed.  There’s a concept to how we portray motion that we 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 mind, and one way to do that is by increasing their speed.  You can do this a couple of different ways, but my preferred 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.  What i'm going for is about 3-4x normal speed.  

Great! Now lastly, we’re going to really separate this world from what we know in reality by dropping the composition frame rate below 24fps.  I’m going to go up to composition > composition settings, and drop the frame rate to 15 frames per second.  This will give our footage a slightly more stop-motion type of feel,  and now if we throw on a quick color correction, and we're left with our final result.  

We hope you found this video helpful.  If you did, we’ve got lots of other tutorials for Premiere Pro, After Effects, and filmmaking in general! If you have any questions, let us know in the comment section below.  

Thank you so much for watching and we hope to see you in the next video!

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