The Importance of Compositing: A Layer By Layer Breakdown in After Effects

October 25, 2010

In this video, I wanted to show you how important compositing is for your 3D renders. A 3D render is never finished straight from Cinema 4D or any 3D package. Every shot needs and deserves some sort of compositing and color correction before it’s ready for prime time. Uploading a render straight from 3D is like uploading a raw image from your digital camera without any color correction. Rich Hinchcliffe was kind enough to allow me to show you his compositng file for this excelent animation for the latest Five Second Projects. I will show you how Rich used After Effects, color correction, blurs, RSMB Motion Blur, Frischluft Lens Care and Lens Flares to turn his simple grey primitive 3D animation into a beautiful, atmosphere rich finished composite.

Before And After

Final Render

Tutorial Focus:  

  • Wicked breakdown, I always love how many layers and layers of stuff goes into making shit look hot!


  • Another great one, had to post a link to this one on my site. Cheers

  • Hey Nick,
    How to get that only “Outline” kinda render? Thats there in the beginning of the clip.

    • Pretty sure he used Sketch and Toon for that section.

    • Perhaps he used the cel render. Tutorial here:

      • Thanks for the link. This was really helpful and this tutorial was nice to see how other people go by making the final output. Keep’em coming Nick!

    • I was toying around with that outline effect the other day. I don’t have my computer with C4D handy at the moment to confirm the exact name of the effect.. but in the render settings under effects there is an effect that will give you the outlines or edges of your geometry for your renders. It’s fairly simple and basic.. no where near the bells and whistle you would get out of Sketch and Toon.. but you could pull off the effect that was done in this video.

    • Hey thank you so much guys.
      I remember Sketch and Toon used by “The Monkey” in Ecko piece for that Rhino section. I dream about it everyday.
      Any suggestions on how to get that Nick?

    • or cel renderer in the render settings effects

    • Sorry to disappoint you all folks, but it’s not done in Cinema 4D at all 🙂 My 3D weapon of choice is actually 3D Studio Max. So, in this instance that outline effect was rendered using VRay (a 3rd party plugin for Max) and it’s VrayEdgesTex applied to the diffuse map.

    • I can’t find the cel render effect in my list – Does anyone know where can I find this feature in R12? Has this merged with sketch&toon?

  • Pretty nice 🙂
    What would be great is a tutorial about the color management from C4D to AE5.
    With the R12 new linear workflow.

  • Hi Nick,

    Thank you and Rich for allowing us to see his work flow. Nick could you please make a tutorial on making render passes in C4D, not to sure how to go about that. Thanks again for everything!

  • Wow I just spent about 8 hours this weekend digging through his AE file. I learned a ton and even created my own little city. Good stuff!

  • That makes me want to go over the process for my old summer in space entry. There were a lot of little tweaks involved.

  • Nice break down. Interesting to see how simple and few 3D passes were pumped out.

    So when is the next 5sec theme to be posted?

  • I do this sort of stuff all the time, Cinema just needs to give me the reflections, bumps, and shadows, and ofcourse the objects. And the rest is all After Effects.

    Here’s one of my latest work where I had almost everything done in After Effects with just a few simple text renders from Cinema 4D:

  • These kind of tutorials are really nice – can’t wait for the upcoming 5 secproject.

  • wow… This is exactly what I needed to see. I’m already doing many of these multiple layer adjustments but seeing it in someone else’s comp and really being able to take a moment to break down the what why’s was awesome! Thanks for doing this Nick and Rich for showing your work!

  • I’m with Lukaz here. It’s awesome to see breakdowns, it gives me a lot of ideas to play with. Thanks Nick!, thanks Rich!

  • Hey Nick quick question where can I get the FL out of Focus plug-in?

  • Big ups to Rich for being generous enough to share his project file. That’s a very cool thing to do and I’m sure I’m not the only person who apreciates it.

    Nice walk though nick. This gave me something to learn while my computer’s transfering files.

    Love that inverted light pass!

  • sweet post, fun to watch

  • I really love this post Nick. It’s great to see what other artists are doing, and more importantly, how they’re doing it. More?

  • Whoohaa! That one was really an eye-opener for me! I’m using Photoshop for quite a loooong time now and nearly tweak/finetune/adjust any image I work with and use the same technique of adding many layers with suptle effects.
    I never realized that it’s a must to adjust anything that comes out of Cinema and that AE is used in exactly the same way as Photoshop is used for still images.

    Thanks for the tutorial – it really helpes me a lot!

  • Nice tutorial, Nick. I’ve still so much to learn about compositing and enhancement in After Effects as well as Photoshop.

    Nick, I’ve been comparing the FL Lens Care filter demo to the Lens Blur filter in After Effects. Can you point out some key differences between the two? I seem to be able to use a z-buffer with Lens Blur as well as with Lens Care, with similar results. Lens Blur doesn’t have the easy “target” button like Lens Care does, though.

  • Really interesting piece. I learnt a lot in 20 minutes. Thank you!

  • Do you think Mike the Monkey did any post compositing here:

    • I would bet the farm that almost everything you see commercially has been composited in some way. I don’t know for sure, but it’s a solid bet that it was. Your render is NEVER finished without some compositing.

  • Have been trying to composite multi pass layers of 3D in after effects but coming up with white edges and fringing. I come from a background of using shake and nuke where you’d unpremultiply the pass composite it and then premutiply it again, but find AE confusing as it handles the premutiplying for you. I use straight alphas, and think its something to do with the way their being used. Anyone know the ‘proper’ way to composite passes and get clean edging?

    • Probably not the ‘proper’ way but I get around that same fringing problem with straight alpha’s by applying the alpha layer as a luma matte on the 3D render layer.

      Hope that helps!

  • The lens flare that he is replicating there is that of a anamorphic film lens. Good post.

  • Thanks to both Nick and Rich, very informative.

    Nick, you said this wasn’t really a tutorial, but I think you tutored us well. Keep up the good work, man.

  • compositing is being able to judge and tweak separately the scene continuity, the lighting, the shadows, lens flare, atmosphere, camera movements and mismatches, Focus, Motion Blur, Film grain, Bluescreen integration, and the digital integration for all of the elements in your scene and even R,G and B channel compatibility separately.
    I strongly recommend a book called “The art and Science of Digital Compositing” from Ron Brinkmann edited at Morgan kaufmann’s for those who want to push further in compositing.

  • Thanks a lot for the breakdown Nick.

  • Thanks for pumping out all the tutorials lately Nick!

  • Thanks a lot.

    Would love to see some tutorials which go in detail with these plugins such as Reel Smart Motion Blur, Frischluft Out of Focus or the onboard plugins add grain or lens flare.
    Maybe you can give us some more hints or helpful suggestions to create such a cool look.


    • I mean the deep motion designer secrets. Maybe you disclose that secret?

      • There are no “secrets” here, Benjamin. Everything I know, I am trying to put on the blog. The big “secret” about design is that it takes a long time to be good. As always, the answer is hard work. All the tutorials in the world won’t get you where you need to go. Practice making things look good every day and you will get better every day.

    • I appreciate your work. Its fantastic. I know you share a lot with us and almost free. You are one of these valuable guys. Hopefully me too in a few years.
      But I think there are “secrets” and you have to collect them over time. These secrets show if your work is just normal or professional. And I`am sure you know a lot of these little secrets 😉
      I take your advice. See you on wednesday.
      Thanks Nick!

  • Thanks for going through this Nick. Really makes more sense to make work easier for yourself in AE after doing all the base work in C4D.

  • Hey guys :), first of all I introduce my self am character artist/maya generalist and i had produce a 3d short animation movie with my teammate relased this past july 2010,u can check it at the link beside, I would say thanx alot Nick and to all the motion graphics community am new in the motion graphics world but am comming from a pretty similar world ,and want learn more about motion graphics. All of u guys made it that more easy for me sharing knowledge!!! I also offer my help to any of u guys want learn maya!!! i know that most of u use c4d am also learing it at this moment “many cool function in dynamics” so u can mail me at

  • which is better: rendering jpeg Image sequences or rendering a video from cinema 4d to be used in after effects?

    • I usually render to an image sequence rather than straight to a MOV file etc because you don’t loose anything if your machine crashes. Imagine getting 98% of the way through a 24 hour render and your computer to crashes, and all your left with is a corrupt 500MB MOV file that you can’t open – not fun! If you’ve rendered it out as an image sequence, you’d still have that first 98% all saved already.

    • good point, that makes sense. thanks Rich!!!

  • Thanks to Rich. Very good understanding of AAE. and Nick for sharing.

  • this video only makes me love even more AE!

  • LOVE this post! It’s awesome how some of the more complex looking parts were done in the most simple way, like just rotating the lights layer 180 degrees.

  • Yeah, thanks Nick. Your site has always been great but you’ve really taken it to another level recently. Was out of the game for a few months with my interactive (aaarghhg) workload but I got primed and leveled back up in no time thanks to your resources. And The Monkey is a serious badass too. Props all round!

  • Does anyone know how I can get the reflection of the headlights so ‘stretchy’ on the road? I’ve tried to increase the ‘blurriness’ of the ‘reflective’ in the material editor, but it does not give the desired look. I’ve asked Rich this, but since he was using 3d Studio Max he couldn’t answer this for Cinema 4D. Hope you guys can help me out…

    • I was having the same concerns. I think what your after is reflection falloff. I couldnt achieve it im my version of the similar scene.

      What i ended up doing was rendering out a reflection pass, and then applying a fast blur to it…unfortunately the road isnt the only thing with a reflection so my clips just kept looking hazy.

      If you come across a solution, give us a shout.

  • I think it would be really cool to see a regular feature on the site of you (or the creator) breaking down a project file and showing you how it’s built.

    It’s the best way to learn other than just creating your own stuff imo and you don’t get a chance to pick a part others files very often.

  • Uou.. This is the cruel and Real 3D Master Piece.. Just watch… the guy is called alex roman and Everything… I mean.. everything is made in 3D MAX (Except the guy that is made in chroma key)…

    I would love to know how to make it… or that you Nick could tell us how to do something like that…. specially that forest scene…

  • Nick you’re in the Top of my fave sites…always updated…love it….thanks

  • Nice! What were the two blur plugins called? I couldn’t quite hear what Nick said!

  • hey Nick were do you go to get the FL out of focus plug in?

  • This really cool to watch, see who else’s compositing files you can get your hands on and do more of these.

    Also I heard you might be coming to Portland for our 3D/AE PDX…there’s free beer and Portland in December is… miserable, but come anyway!

  • Congratulations Rich on a great piece and thanks for sharing.

    Nice work Nick in dissecting all the layers. It totally blew my mind.

    Looking forward to more tutorials in the future.

  • Cool one.

    To me this tutorial explains pretty much the sense and purpose of compositing.
    3D can always be just the first bit of a great piece as we see it here.

    Three thumbs up and thanks again Nick!

  • This tutorial has really taught me a lot about moving from 3d into after effects. I need to be getting out of 3d a lot quicker now that I’ve seen what can be achieved from after effects.

    Thanks guys!

  • wow, this is really eye opening. I usually make it a habit to always color correct, but never to this extent. Thanks for this!

  • Mean tutorial, cheers.


  • hello grayscale gorilla,
    iam ur big fan, i am always love ur work , but i am also using c4d and after effects can u tell i have a stuff or not , its all indian style of working

  • Nick! Thanks alot for this tutorials, i’ll work in a postproduccion of a videoclip in a few weeks and this tutorials, (*)no especificamente este si no viarios de ellos me han ayudado muchisimo a afianzar algunas ideas Gracias! From Argentina!!

    (*) Sorry for my Spanglish language

  • Thank you for the project download and the breakdown , really great stuff. I was curious about RSMB, there are 2 levels there for buying it, RSMB and RSMB Pro, I just wondered if anyone has experienced major differences that would make it worthwhile to get the extended version.

  • Awesome awesome awesome tutorial. Thanks so much for taking the time to show this. This was illuminating.

  • The link is not working anymore. Anyone have a copy?

  • Can anyone re-upload this project please?

  • Nick!

    This is probably my number 1 most wanted thing with after effects! Tutorials serve their purpose in teaching concepts, but layer breakdowns (especially of broadcast or professional projects) are great to show how those concepts can really be applied and how much it takes to give your project that professional look.

    Great breakdown, I’ve mostly been looking at your Cinema 4D tutorials as I’ve just picked it up, but I used after effects for months beforehand and I’ve been trying to get more professional and polished motion graphics. I’m not sure if you’ve done too many of these (like I said, I’ve mostly looked at your C4D tutorials) but regardless; definitely do more!

    Stay awesome Nick.

    : )

  • hi nick , Dude how did you make that lighting?

  • Hey Nick great thanks, awesome tutorial, so useful!

    Quick little question!

    Wanted to recreate it quickly to see if ive got it and found myself stuck on that silly thing.
    In the c4d part, how did this guy make those smudged reflections on the asphalt road?
    Cant find a way to get my reflections blurred downwads so nice and vibrant.

    Will be happy to get a tip on this one!

    Thanks a lot! 🙂


  • This is such a fantastic video – Rich did a great job.

    I know this post is literally ancient in internet terms, but I would seriously LOVE if someone could direct me to a new download link for Rich’s AE project files – as the original link is dead.

    Seriously, if anyone has ANY way of getting me the file (eMail/fileshare etc), I would be truly grateful.

  • I just wanted to let you know that I appreciate your tutorials especially this one because, It reminds the creator to think outside of the platform they are using and use other platforms to enhance the initial animation or still render. Part of me thinks the inhibition is because most software do not allow cross platform but to be confined to their tools and it’s human nature to not wonder too far or it gets spooky. Anywho, thanks very much!

  • Hi Nick or anyone,

    Is it possible to export from Cinema 4D into raw format so I can edit in Lightroom? Just like a raw picture from a camera, I can have more controls over editing in Lightroom than Photoshop.

  • Thank you so much for sharing!

  • Awesome Nick! Thanks again!

  • Thank you so much Nick. Actually, before watching this short tutorial I had even not a foggiest notion of it. Tons of Thanks to greyscalegorilla.

  • Hi Nick, For some reason your video didn’t come through using your email link. I’m wondering if it’s because I’m using Apple Mail. Love what you guys are doing and looking forward to using some of your products. Thanks!

  • Really awesome ???

  • This is an amazing example – unfortunately the link is DEAD now. Is there any way to get it back up or host it somewhere else?

  • Hi Nick and GSG team! So this amazing tut is a few years old now…taking into account all the new iterations of Cinema 4D and After Effects (and features within), have any of these techniques changed? What would be different if you were doing this all over again today?

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