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Tutorial: Make a Better Glow in After Effects

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In this tutorial we'll learn how to create a better glow in After Effects.

The built in “Glow” effect in After Effects has a whole bunch of limitations that make it a pain to use when you want to really dial in a look. In this tutorial, Joey will show you how to build a way better glow effect than what After Effects has to offer you right out of the box. By the end of this lesson you'll be able to build your own glows from scratch. While this may sound difficult you’ll see that it’s really simple and powerful once you get the hang of it.

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Tutorial Full Transcript Below 👇:

Music (00:02):

[inro music]

Joey Korenman (00:11):

Hey there, Joey here for school of motion. And in this lesson, we'll be taking a look at how to build a better glow effect than what after effects has to offer us right out of the box. The built-in glow effect that comes with after effects is really clunky to use and limits the looks you can achieve the way that I'm going to show you how to build a glow effect will give you a lot more flexibility to really dial in the look you're going for. Don't forget to sign up for a free student account. So you can grab the project files from this lesson, as well as assets from other lessons on the site. Now let's jump in. So I have a comp set up here and there's one layer in it, which is this Photoshop file. And I picked this Photoshop file because it has a lot of contrast in it.

Joey Korenman (00:55):

And when you have images with lots of contrast, um, especially when you shoot these things on, on film, a lot of times you'll get natural gloves and that's why compositors and motion graphics artists add glows a lot to these types of images. Um, I also chose this image because it's very, very saturated. And when you add glows to images like this, there's a lot of problems you can run into. Um, and I'm going to show you how to deal with those and, and some better ways and cool effects you can get using this technique. So to start with, I want to show you the way most people go about adding a glow. Um, and when I say most people, I mean, most beginners that I've worked with in other freelancers, um, and people who don't know how to do this new technique, which I wish everyone knew how to do.

Joey Korenman (01:41):

Um, so what I'm gonna do is go up to effect and I'm just gonna add stylize glow. All right. So there you go. There's your glow. Now, the first thing I don't like about the glow effect is that it's not that easy to dial in the look you want. So the, what the settings are called on this glow effect are not that intuitive. Now I know what they are because I've used this many, many times. Um, so Lee, you know, let's say that I, I, I want a little less glow here, so I would bring down the intensity. Right? Okay. But now I want the glow to come out further. So I would increase the radius, but now I'm noticing that there are things glowing than I don't want, like this area here, this white area on this red pyramid. So I figured out, okay, well maybe that's the threshold, the threshold set too low.

Joey Korenman (02:38):

So I need to raise that. So I'm gonna raise that up. But in doing that, I've actually lowered the intensity as well. So now I need to crank that back up. So it's this constant dance to get the look you want. And then at the end of it, let's say, I want the red pyramid to glow more than the green pyramid. Um, I can't do that unless I, you know, maybe break this up into layers or create some adjustment layers, but then that creates its own problems. Um, and you know, and then there's not, there's not that many settings as to what I can do with these colors. Let's say, um, I want it to de saturated these colors. Well, there's really no good way to do that. So, um, what I'm going to do is delete this, and I'm going to show you one more problem with the glow effect, um, which is actually a bigger problem.

Joey Korenman (03:24):

In my opinion, if I add the glow effect, uh, to this layer, and all I've done is created a quick little comp to show you guys, uh, with just a shape layer in it on a gray background. Um, I'm going to add the glow effect to this layer. You'll see now it's glowing. Um, and we can control the radius and everything we can before. Now, let's say we wanted to animate this glow from off to on, um, well, if I just bring the intensity down to zero, look at this, we get this little buddy, this little black halo around our layer that we don't want. Um, and to get rid of that, we also have to bring the radius down to zero. So when you animate this on, you're not just animating a glow on, you're also having to shrink and grow the glow. So it's not a great effect to animate either.

Joey Korenman (04:17):

And you get these weird, I really don't understand why, why you get this black halo and it's annoyed me for years, but that's one of the reasons I don't use this glow effect anymore. So let me now show you the way that I usually make glows. And hopefully you guys will, will start to get some cool ideas about how you could use this technique to create new glows and get cool effects that, um, you know, wouldn't be possible any other way. So first I want you to understand what a glow is and the way I think about it, all a glow really is. And I just duplicated this layer just so I can, uh, show you guys, um, all the glow is, is a blurred version. So I'm going to add a fast blur to this layer. It's a blurred version of a layer added over it.

Joey Korenman (05:09):

That's it see how now it looks like it's glowing. Now that's a very simplified version of it. Um, but in essence, that's what a glow is. It's sort of the image that has bright areas blurred, and then that blurred copy of the images is added or screened, um, you know, or, or maybe burned or dodged over the image. Okay. Depending on the effect you're going for. All right. So what's great about thinking of glows this way. All right, I'm gonna delete this layer for a second. What's great about this is that you can think of a glow as its own layer, and you can have total control over that layer, including the brightness and darkness of that layer, how much that layer is blurred, how much of that layer you even want to show the saturation that layer. So let's say that we want only the red pyramid to have a glow on it. And we only want the top of the red pyramid to have a glow, and we don't want this white part to glow only this red part. So with the glow effect, that would be a lot trickier with this technique. It's actually pretty easy. So what we're going to do, it's going to make a duplicate of this layer command D um, and I'm going to add a levels effect.

Joey Korenman (06:27):

All right. Um, now when you make something glow, um, and, and generally when I use, when I make gloves, I use the add mode on the glow layer. Um, cause you get that nice, bright poppy popping effect. All right, I'm going to undo that. Um, so when you add something, if, uh, if your glow layer has any black areas in it, um, that part of your glow layer will not show up only the bright areas show up. So I use that to my advantage by using the levels effects, to crush the blacks, to make everything disappear that I don't want to show up. All right. And when I say crush, the blacks, that's what this arrow does on the levels effect. It brings everything to black, to the left of that arrow. Okay. Now you might think that I want to crush those blacks all the way till only the red showing up.

Joey Korenman (07:23):

I don't need to do that. I just need to make this little arrow, this little white arrow that was within the red pyramid go away. All right. So now that, that is pretty much gone. Um, now I'm going to add the fast blur effect to this layer. I'm going to have repeat edge pixels turned on and I'm just going to blur a little bit. All right. And you can see that when I blur it, it starts to crunch in a little bit. So I need to uncross those blacks just a little bit. All right. And then you can even push the whites a little hotter if you want to. Um, you know, until I actually turn this into a glow, I don't know what it's really going to look like. So, um, I'm just going to leave it there. And now if I set this to ad mode, now you'll see something strange has happened here.

Joey Korenman (08:14):

Um, I have basically made my comp very dark. Now, the reason for that is because we are in 32 bit mode, um, pretty much all the time. Now I work in 32 bit mode. Um, it's, it's, it's a better way to composite, especially things like glows. Um, they, they work a lot better in 32 bit mode, and there's some really complicated reasons why I won't get into those now. Um, but I'll show you how to fix this. Um, and just to prove to you that this is actually what's going on. If I switched to eight bit mode, my glow works now, right? If I turn this layer off and then turn it back on, you can see, I now have a glow. Um, but in 32 bit mode, I get this strange effect here. The way to fix that is a, you need to clip your blacks.

Joey Korenman (09:00):

All right. Um, the law, the short version of what's happening is when I crushed these blacks, I'm actually creating black levels that are less than zero. And so when I add those black levels to the image underneath it, I'm actually darkening the image, even though I'm adding, it's like I'm adding a negative number, think of it that way. So in the levels effect, you can clip where it says here, clip to output black. Right now it's off, it's off by default. I'm just going to turn that on. All right. So now we get all the, the glory of 32 bit glow compositing. Um, but our blacks are not going to subtract if we, if we crush them a lot. Okay. Um, so now you can see this glow is pretty subtle right now. It's not doing a lot. Um, and I'm just going to, uh, quickly rename this layer, red glow.

Joey Korenman (09:57):

So I keep track. All right. So you can see what happens if I crush the blacks more or less, you can see now this is, this is essentially the threshold setting of the glow effect. It's it's how bright does the image have to be before it actually glows? Right? Think of it that way. So, but doing it this way is better because if I solo this layer, I can actually get a visual representation of the parts of my image that are going to glow. It makes it a lot easier to figure out where things are that need to go up. Um, this fast blur is now the radius of my glow. All right. So if I just want a slight glow, I might just keep that around there. And now if I push the white levels, that's the intensity of the glow. All right. Um, now my favorite part about doing it this way is now I can draw a mask on this layer.

Joey Korenman (10:55):

Someone hit G bring up the pen tool, and I'm just going to draw a mask just around the top of this pyramid, and I'm gonna hit F so I can feather that mask. So now maybe need a feather that a little more. Now I have this nice glow just on the top of this red pyramid. All right. Um, now it, it starting to look a little too oversaturated. To me that's pretty common with glows, um, because you're, you're also increasing the saturation of the image underneath the glow layer when you add the color of the glow to it. So, um, the best way to deal with that is to de saturate the glow. All right. So I'm going to solo the glow layer so we can just see, this is just the glowing part of the red pyramid. I'm going to add an effect to this color, correction, hue, saturation.

Joey Korenman (11:47):

And now I can desaturation the glow if I want to write, or I can add more saturation. You want to, all right. So if we look at this in context, if I bring down the saturation, you can see now, if I bring it down too much, it starts to, it starts to turn it white and kind of de saturate the, the image underneath it, which could be a cool look. It, it almost starts to look like a bleach bypass or something like that. Um, I don't want to do that. I just want to bring it down a little bit. So it's not such a screaming red color. All right. That's starting to feel pretty good. Now. I feel like I want to see a little bit more of that glow. So I'm going to blur a little bit more. All right. And I'm just going to push those whites a little hotter.

Joey Korenman (12:30):

So we get a little more glow. That feels pretty good to me. I'm actually, I'm digging that. All right. And usually I turn that off, turn it on. It's just a nice little glow hit right there. Um, and if this was animated, this is just a still, but if it was animated, if I animated does mask, um, then this glow would only be on this pyramid. I could totally control it. All right. So now I'm going to do the green pyramid. So my do is duplicate my red glow layer. I'm gonna rename it green glow.

Joey Korenman (13:04):

I'm just going to move the mask over. And let's say we want a little bit more of that green layer to go out. All right. So let's solo that green layer. We can see, this is now the piece of the image that's glowing. All right. Now this green layer feels a lot more saturated to me, then this red layer, and it could just be that the color of the pyramid to begin with was more saturated. So, um, I'm just going to on this green glow layer, I'm going to use this hue saturation and bring that saturation down even more, all the way to negative 100. All right. Now, just to show you guys some other cool things you can do with this. If I bring the saturation back up now that this is on its own layer, I could actually affect the hue of the glow too.

Joey Korenman (13:51):

So if I want, I could push that glow more blue, right. And, and you can see the effect, you're getting a good push the saturation on it. Um, and then come back up here and bring the whites back down a little bit, and you can get this kind of cool glow to it, right? It's a, it's a bluer color than the actual pyramid underneath it. Um, and because I have total control of this, I'm going to, uh, I'm going to Seoul this one more time. If this feels too bright to me, I can also mess with these bottom set, this bottom set of arrows here, which is basically the, the output level of the, uh, levels of fact. This is the input level. This is the output level. If I bring the white output down, I'm darkening the white level. So if we own solo that I can control how bright that glow is on its way out to.

Joey Korenman (14:45):

So now I have my red glow, I have my green glow and they're, they're set very, but I can totally control each one. Um, so now let's do the blue pyramid. So I'm going to duplicate the green layer. I'm going to move the mask over so I can see it on the blue. Now, let's say for the blue one, um, I don't want the hue and I'm going to rename this blue glow. I don't want the hue to shift on this one. So I'm going to set the Hugh back to zero. All right. So now it's basically, it's, it's a blue glow. All right. Um, I do want to de saturate a little bit. I want it to be a little bit brighter. So my new increase, the white output. I'm going to bring the whites. I'm going to bring the white input back in a little bit.

Joey Korenman (15:35):

So it brightens everything. Okay. Um, and I want to try a different blur on this pyramid. Um, so if I turn this fast blur off and we saw this layer, so this is the part of the blue pyramid that we have isolated to glow. Um, and we did that by using the levels. Here's the raw image, actually, here's the raw image. And remember we use levels to crush these blacks. So we only have this part that's going to glow. Um, and then we used human saturation to bring the color saturation down. So the glow doesn't blow out the color. Well, we have all these other blurs and after effects that we can use, and they all do different things, um, and you can play with them. And I would suggest you do that because you can get really cool effects. Um, you actually can recreate a lot of very expensive plugins that you can spend hundreds of dollars on by doing this technique and combining a few different blurs.

Joey Korenman (16:37):

I'm not going to name any names, but I'm just telling you, you can do it. Um, so for, um, for this tutorial, I'm going to show you the cross blur, um, because it's kind of interesting what the cross blur does is it lets you blur, um, it blurs an image on X and Y separately and then blends those two together. It's, it's sort of like using a directional blur horizontally and vertically, and then combining those two layers together, it just doesn't want effect. Um, and you can add the two, um, blurs together and you can get some interesting effects doing this. So, um, I'm going to use this blur and you can see you get this kind of cool hard edge to it when you, when you do this and you can really crank this up and get some interesting, interesting looking blurs. All right.

Joey Korenman (17:26):

All right. So, um, and now this blue, it feels a lot brighter than the green. So I feel like I need to make the green a little bit brighter and probably probably need to just kind of equalize the glow levels across all three of these. So anyway, you can see that I'm using the glow, you doing a glow this way is, is incredibly flexible. Um, and if you see something on Motionographer or you see a commercial, um, and you see a glow that kind of has a unique look it's de-saturated, or it's a different color, or it, it looks like this where it looks like it was blurred a certain way, and then you, you can create all of that and just, and just add them to your base layer. And now you have a glow, um, that you can totally control. So this is the way I suggest doing glows.

Joey Korenman (18:22):

And I'm going to show you one more thing before we end the tutorial. Um, so let me just show you real fast. If I, so the original layer, this is where we started. This is where we ended up with our three glow layers. Um, now this is sort of the tedious way of doing it. And even though you can do it very quickly, um, sometimes you have a dozen layers that all need the same glow, um, and you don't have time to make masks and do all these things. So I'm going to show you a great way of doing that. So let's just say we wanted a, I just turned all these global areas off. Let's just say that we had our original layer and we wanted to make a good glow that we could then copy and paste and apply to other layers. So what we're going to do is pretend that we have duplicated this layer, even though we haven't, and we're going to add the levels of effect crush the blacks.

Joey Korenman (19:20):

Okay. Until we have just these, these parts of the image, we're going to add the fast blur. Okay. And now we need to crush the blacks a little bit, just like before. Okay. Now at this point, oh, we also need to make sure we have this set clip to output black needs to be on. Now at this point, if we had a copy of this layer, um, and that was what we were working on. We would just set that to add mode. Um, the problem is if you have a dozen layers that need this glow, you don't want to have to have a copy of every layer making 24 layers. Now, um, that's one of the things about after effects that I don't like is that a lot of things require you to duplicate layers that you really don't need to duplicate in like a node based composite or, um, luckily after effects has this cool effect that a lot of people don't know about.

Joey Korenman (20:18):

Um, but it's incredibly useful. And I'm going to show it to you. If you go to effect channel CC composite, all right. Now, when you apply this by default, all it does is take the original image before any of these effects before the levels. And before the fast blur have been applied and it puts it back over itself. So you're basically back to zero, um, which is not what we want. All you need to change is this composite original. So what this effect does is it takes your layer, applies levels, then fast blur to it. Then it, this CC composite effect takes the original unaffected layer and composites it with itself after you've put the effects on. All right. I don't know if that made any sense, but if I, essentially, if I changed this from, in front to add, we are now basically adding the result of levels and fast blur to the original image.

Joey Korenman (21:21):

So we're doing what we did before using two layers with one layer. All right. Um, and if you turn this effect off, this is now your glow, that is being added to your original layer. All right. So what's great. Is that now we say, okay, look at this, this glow looks pretty good. Maybe we want to boost the Weiss a little bit. So it's a little more intense, but then we want to bring the white level down. However, it's very saturated. Um, I want to de-saturate that glow a little bit. All right. So what's cool about this CC composite effect is that you can think of it almost like it's splitting your layer in half. If we now add a hue saturation effect to the Slayer, if I bring the saturation all the way down, you can see it makes our entire layer black and white.

Joey Korenman (22:13):

That's not what we want. If this effect comes after the CC composite, it will affect the entire layer if it comes before the CC composite. So we just drag it above this effect. Now it's only affecting the image, you know, sort of the effected image before this effect. So if we turn this fact off again, you can see that this is now the result that is being added because we're an add mode to the original. All right. So this is great because if you had five other layers now that you wanted this glow with, um, you could just copy this effect stack here and paste it and have that exact look on each layer. Um, this is useful for a lot of other things, but for glows, um, it's, it's incredibly useful because you can, you can stack a whole bunch of effects and you can, you don't have to use a fast blur.

Joey Korenman (23:16):

You could use the cross blur if you wanted. Um, but as long as you end your chain with CC composite set to add, and it doesn't have to be at, it could also be screen if you wanted a little bit less intensive, a glow. Um, but as long as it ends with the CC composite effect, you get your glow. Um, and it's all in one layer and you don't have to mess with all those other layers and masking and all that stuff. Um, so anyway, I hope this was really useful. Um, there's a lot you can do with this. It really takes a lot of playing around with different effects to find what, what effects you can combine to make cool glows. Um, uh, another thing I like to do is to add noise to glow so that it kind of breaks them up. And you can do that.

Joey Korenman (24:00):

I'm using this method and that's also until next time, thank you guys for watching and I'll see you soon. Thanks for watching. I hope you learned a lot from this lesson on building your own custom glow effect in after effects. And I hope that you can use this technique in your own projects. If you learn something valuable from this video, please share it around. It really helps us spread the word about school of motion. And we truly appreciate it. Don't forget to sign up for a free student account so you can access the project files from the lesson you just watched, plus a whole bunch of other goodies. Thanks again. And I'll see you next time.

Music (24:41):

[inaudible].