When it comes to producing corporate videos, most of us immediately start feeling drowsy. It’s understandable, given the content that many of our clients wish to present. However, if you’re looking to impress a client who is expecting the standard line chart graphics package, why not change things up a bit?
When using Adobe After Effects to create charts and graphs that illustrate corporate earnings, sales projections, or franchise growth, resist the urge to crank something out quickly that resembles a conference room whiteboard drawing.
There are many ways inside of AE to add a third dimension to those boring old 2D charts. If you’ve got the time and a small budget, I would recommend a 3D plug-in such as Zaxwerks 3D Invigorator or ProAnimator in order to turn a flat bar into a full three-dimensional cube that can animate and grow to a corresponding value. The following screen captures were taken from animations created in Zaxwerks 3D Invigorator. Download a free demo of Zaxwerks 3D Invigorator or ProAnimator here.
Below are two examples of 3D bar graphs created in Zaxwerks 3D Invigorator:
With a little bit of effort, you can take a lifeless bar graph and turn it into an animation like this:
However, if your clients are like mine, they’ve given you a very tight budget and deadline, so you’ve got to create something that will catch the eye of the audience without keeping you up into the wee hours of the night. One way to do this is to give 2D graphics new life in 3D space.
Let’s say that your client gives you a rough sketch, or even no sketch at all, with corresponding X and Y data that change over time. The figure below represents a graph I was given a few years ago that needed to be included in a video presentation. Rather than simply import a JPG or PSD file (see below) into Final Cut Pro or Adobe Premiere and let it sit stagnant, let’s give it some life.
Below is a flat graph with data, supplied by the client.
Sure, we could create 2 solids, create new masks from those solids, and simply apply the Stroke effect to animate the two lines. This would certainly be a step above a static jpeg. However, let’s take it a step further. My suggestion would be to create a pre-comp that contains the base grid, the X and Y data, and the animated lines, as previously discussed.
Next, let’s create some semi-transparent background images that we can position at different places in 3D space to add some depth. In my case, I added a series of world map images in order to illustrate the international nature of the client. By positioning the graph Pre-comp closer to the After Effects Camera than the background images, you will create a sense of depth that can distinguish your work from the standard 2D graph.
Now, let’s add some camera movement. Rather than a boring straight-on dolly in or dolly out with our AE camera, let’s follow the evolution of the animated line as it travels up the graph. You can experiment with Camera Settings by selecting your After Effects Camera, then selecting Camera Settings (Layer > Camera Settings) to adjust Film Size, Zoom, Angle of View, and Focal Length to achieve the look you want. Create a new keyframe at your starting Camera Position, and don’t forget to put a keyframe at your starting Point of Interest as well.
Next, go to the end of the animated line graph and position your camera so that the progression of the animated line can be seen at the finish. I’ve found that I can create smoother arcs by using this method of parenting the Camera to a 3D Null Object. To do this, click the Null Layer’s Make 3D option, and select “Null 1” under the “Parent” column in the Camera layer.
Once you’ve settled on an ending position, add keyframes for ending Camera position and point of interest.
If you need to emphasize certain data points in between your start and finish points on the graph, move the Camera Position and Point of Interest accordingly to focus on those positions on the graph, creating new keyframes at the appropriate time and positions.
I always like to create a final ending position that clearly shows the entire graph at once, so the audience has time to absorb all the information.
This way, our attention is drawn to the dynamic growth as our camera follows the rising line, but we can also process the big picture without losing the whole point of the graph due to the “effect.”
Here’s the final rendered animation:
In the following example, I was given the task of displaying the spending patterns of Americans leading up to the recession. The more motion you can give a static graph, the better:
Another way to keep the audience awake when presenting a multitude of data would be to avoid the standard cut or dissolve when transitioning between graphs.
An easy way to do this is to position graph Pre-comps with plenty of space between them, then animate the Camera to move around from Pre-comp to Pre-comp, creating fluid motion and the look of “traveling” from graph to graph. I used this technique with a different client who needed to show multiple graphs without boring the audience. Here was the resulting animation:
Don’t get me wrong, this type of graphic treatment probably won’t win you any awards for motion graphics, but it may earn you some props from a client who was expecting the same old standard graph treatment that we’ve seen a thousand times. And as many of us have realized, exceeding the client’s expectations will most likely translate into more work in the future.
About the Author
Joe Mason has been using After Effects since 1997. He has created motion graphics for religious clients such as the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, Promise Keepers, and Purpose-Driven Ministries. He is a contributor to Michele Yamazaki’s 2011 publication, “Plug-In To After Effects” and has authored tutorials for Zaxwerks, Digieffects, and others.
Visit Joe’s website My After Effects: www.myaftereffects.com