Blender + After Effects

Ian Pitkanen

Similar to Overlord for Illustrator, BlenderAe can export 3D object and scene data from Blender to After Effects with one click. 
 
Although the add-on can’t do everything that C4D and After Effects can do in conjunction, its a promising start for Blender to After Effects integration. BlenderAe will be useful for anyone integrating After Effects animations in Blender scenes.
 
The BlenderAe aescripts page (https://aescripts.com/blenderae/) lists the following functionalities in Object Mode and Edit Mode inside of Blender.
 
Supported in Object Mode:
  • Cameras to Ae Cameras.
  • Lights to Ae Lights.
  • Objects transformations to Nulls.
  • Empties transformations to Nulls.
  • Planes (planar) to precomposed shape layers.
Supported in Edit Mode:
  • Selected vertices (in vertex mode) to Nulls
  • Selected planar Faces (in face mode) to precomposed shape layers.
 
At first I thought I would use this plugin to import models from Blender. However, as stated on the aescripts page, “A large number of selections, or long frame duration can take a long time to process (particularly for face selections), you can press ‘esc’ to abort the import process.” By my estimation even a fairly simple model would take a number of hours if not a day or more to transfer to After Effects.
 
Good news! There are other relevant use cases for a pipeline between Ae and Blender. At our studio, Greyduck, we frequently work with UI animation. It is common for clients to have numerous revisions and versions of projects. This is a problem if your work includes long render times for 3D scenes that don’t have any compositing done in post production. Here’s an example of a product screen that could be shown off in a 3D environment. 
Similar to Overlord for Illustrator, BlenderAe can export 3D object and scene data from Blender to After Effects with one click. 
 
Although the add-on can’t do everything that C4D and After Effects can do in conjunction, it’s a promising start for Blender to After Effects integration. BlenderAe will be useful for anyone integrating After Effects animations in Blender scenes.
 
The BlenderAe aescripts page (https://aescripts.com/blenderae/) lists the following functionalities in Object Mode and Edit Mode inside of Blender.
 
Supported in Object Mode:
  • Cameras to Ae Cameras.
  • Lights to Ae Lights.
  • Objects transformations to Nulls.
  • Empties transformations to Nulls.
  • Planes (planar) to precomposed shape layers.
Supported in Edit Mode:
  • Selected vertices (in vertex mode) to Nulls
  • Selected planar Faces (in face mode) to precomposed shape layers.
 
At first I thought I would use this plugin to import models from Blender. However, as stated on the aescripts page, “A large number of selections, or long frame duration can take a long time to process (particularly for face selections), you can press ‘esc’ to abort the import process.” By my estimation even a fairly simple model would take a number of hours if not a day or more to transfer to After Effects.
 
Good news! There are other relevant use cases for a pipeline between Ae and Blender. At our studio, Greyduck, we frequently work with UI animation. It is common for clients to have numerous revisions and versions of projects. This is a problem if your work includes long render times for 3D scenes that don’t have any compositing done in post production. Here’s an example of a product screen that could be shown off in a 3D environment. 
 
My initial workflow when incorporating UI elements in a Blender scene like this would be to animate the UI elements in After Effects and then map them onto a plane in Blender and then hit render… Now, imagine we send this to the client and they don’t like how the “UNLOCK” text animates on one character at a time. They want the text to fade on as a single line. Previously I would change the animation in After Effects, render, replace the image source in Blender, and then re-render. 
 
Now with BlenderAe I can change the text directly in After Effects and re-render in a fraction of the time. It should be mentioned up front that the caveat to this technique is that your 3D scene and animation needs to be locked in before you import into After Effects.
 
Here’s the setup for this scene. Two cameras, the phone, a ground plane, and some basic lights.

I wanted to test and see if BlenderAe could handle camera bindings on the timeline between the two programs. On the timeline in Blender you can add a marker using the “M” key on any frame and bind a selected camera to that marker using Ctrl+B with your time marker on the same frame. Now the camera will cut between camera 1 and 2 on playback. 

 

Next, you can install BlenderAe by going to Edit>Preferences>Add-ons>Install Add-on and navigate to your BlenderAe zip file. Install it and make sure the Add-on is checked in the Add-ons list.

 

With the “N” key you can now access the BlenderAe widget in the viewport. 

 

Shift-select both cameras in your scene, open After Effects, Select “Connect to Ae” in Blender and and then “Export to Ae”.

 

That’s it. Now your camera data is in After Effects, camera bindings and all in 3D space.

 

Back in Blender go into Edit mode and select a face on the object we’ll be aligning our text with. Hit “Export to Ae” again. 

 

Then before heading back into Ae let’s export our phone screen by itself by hiding all our other objects and using holdouts with “Transparent” activated under “Film” so we can layer the glass over the text and get that nice reflection in our final animation.

 

Here’s our glass layer and our rendered footage with the plane we exported layered over the phone. No need to track or align anything. The data and cameras from the 3D scene are working in unison with the footage. In most cases you would probably want to use an EXR with all of your objects identified for compositing but we’ll stick with this to keep things simple. 

 

Here we can add our text and animation, layer our glass pass over the top and set it to multiply, and lower the transparency. 

 
Voilà, with our text layers parented to the plane and the position and rotation aligned we now have editable UI for any revisions, templates, or versions your client may request. Your changes can be made right in After Effects, without having to re-render anything in Blender.
 
There are many more application using lights, nulls, and physics simulations that can be imported with this tool that you can explore on your own and with a little forethought the use of compositing and holdouts you can create a very flexible end-product that can be quickly edited and revised.
 
 
You can download BlenderAe from Salt Media at https://aescripts.com/blenderae/ for $30 and see further examples and tutorials on how to incorporate it into your workflow. I am excited to continue using BlenderAe in my client work at Greyduck for quick UI revisions and incorporating all the rich scene data from our Blender projects into After Effects for our team’s pipeline.