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Light painting with C4D, After Effects & a DSLR.

Trying to work out some sort of intro animation for your showreel is rarely easy.  In fact, it’s generally a proper pain in the hole.  The quandary of infinite choice will get you every time, like going into a supermarket to do the weekly food shop when you’re starving, you end up not knowing what you’re going to do with yourself and buying a wheelbarrow, some cat food and a shoulder of lamb, even though you’re vegan and live in a flat with no pets.

So buck the trend then.  Do something leftfield. I’d been wanting to something like this for a while.  Mainly as I think I’m pretty good with C4D and I’ve got a lot of experience behind the lens in the studio, fartknocking about with timelapses and like shooting with the DSLR in general.

Start off in C4D or any other 3D app, the workflow is the same.

– Pick a chunky, display typeface for best results.
– Add a primitive in – a narrow cuboid loosely shaped like a Fry’s Turkish Delight is probably the best bet.  Or perhaps a little thinner, like a Milka bar with a strawberry yoghurt filling.
– Type up whatever it is you want and add a simple, coloured material – you probably won’t be needing GI, SSS, ambient occlusion or any glossy reflection.  Flat, matte colour will do.
– Put the text and the cube into a boole object and add a couple of keyframes for position to make the cube move through the text over a period of about 10 seconds, making sure there’s no easing on the keyframes.
– Make 2 versions, one with the cube moving L-R, the other R-L. The text now looks like it’s being cut through like a CAT scan, so change your camera view to Left or Right and render it out on an empty black background – it will help to have the 2 different R-L and L-R versions later when you’re out at night.

In After Effects

In the timeline, add –

1 second note saying Up is this way and that the video goes L-R or R-L so you know you’ve got the right version.

5 second countdown clock – in my version, I added a an animated stroke/trim paths, add some beeps so I can count it down when the screen is out of view, and most importantly, TURN OFF THE LAST 2 SECONDS OF CLOCK!  This is to stop the clock showing up in your photo.

10 second (in my case) C4D animation

4 seconds of black so you don’t get random light streaks from your phone’s or tablet’s screen in the shot.

Then, export that puppy to your phone or tablet as an mp4 or something.  You’ll need a different version for each word, obviously.  So now you’ve got a slew of videos on your phone or ipad,it’s time to get out and shoot them.

Out and about

Necessary gear:

Tripod – a decent one with a bit of weight to hold keep everything locked off and steady.
Remote shutter release – you can pick up a cheap, unbranded one for about £15.
Lots of storage cards – those .CR2 files are big.


Super important.  For this I wanted traffic light trails in the background, but need a relatively dark middle third to the image to show up the light source from the phone, otherwise the background light overexposes the photo and your light painting is invisible.

And – this is important – to keep the phone moving in a straight line, I needed railing of some sort to run my hands along.  Attempts made without a railing were practically illegible and looked like I was operating the phone with my tongue.


Choose a useful time to go out and do this.  Obviously, you’ll be outdoors at night and standing around for a couple of hours, so dress appropriately.  Wear plain all black or navy clothing with no large logos or shiny buttons & zips to avoid creating any unwanted micro light trails with your own body.

First a few 25-30 second exposures to get your timing and composition right, making sure you’re turning the screen ever so slightly to face the lens of the camera – this takes a bit of fiddling to work out what works.

Set the interval to 10 seconds to give you time to briefly check your image and to resume your position.

I shot these at 25fps, so 4 seconds of footage = 100 photos x 30 secs = 50 minutes.  If you’re lucky, that is – avoid kicking the tripod and don’t start clowning about with the camera itself once you’ve started as you create a wobbly final image sequence.  And that looks like crap.

So stay out in the dark and cold for a couple of hours, repeatedly walking and moving with serious purpose in front of your camera like a loon or deranged performance artiste.  Then go home, import it to AE, stablise, scale, crop and export for editing at HD/2k/4k, etc.

Phone vs ipad

I used a phone on this particular project, but when I first saw somebody else do it, they used an ipad. Phones are obviously smaller and more discrete, whereas ipads emit more light and don’t need to be as close to the camera and so this will affect how you compose your shot.

Obviously, this is down to you and your location.  Waving a phone about late at night won’t attract (m)any odd looks, but an expensive tablet might.  Equally, a phone is cheaper to replace if you drop it into the harbourside, unless you insist on forking out megabuck$ on the latest and greatest portable attention wasters.

Just be sure to thoroughly drunkenly practice your kung-fu moves beforehand.