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Adobe After Effects Basics – Camera Shake

One of the easiest ways to enhance the look of destruction effects like explosions and impacts is to add a little bit of camera shake. Even the smallest amount of camera shake will greatly intensify the power of the effect. It does so by conveying the impression that the explosion or collision was powerful enough to make the ground on which the camera stands shake.

After Effects Camera Shake 01 - Destruction Effects

Fortunately, it is very easy to add camera shake in Adobe After Effects and in this tutorial we will add some camera shake to the effect we created in my roof destruction effect tutorial. Here is the final sequence of a giant smashing through the roof.

After Effects Camera Shake 02 - Roof Destruction

Adding Camera Shake With Expressions & Expression Controls

To add camera shake to our footage we will make use of two great features in Adobe After Effects: Expressions and Expression Controls. Start out by revealing the Position property on the layer that you want to add camera shake to. ALT-click onto the stop watch icon to add an expression to the property. In the expression editor type

wiggle(10, 100)

After Effects Camera Shake 03 - Wiggle Expression

If you scrub through your clip now, you will see that the clip jumps around by up to 100 pixels 10 times a second. This seems to make the entire scene shake rather intensely. Note that you will see black borders as your clip leaves the main area of the composition, but don’t worry about that for now. We will fix that up once we’ve got the camera shake under control.

After Effects Camera Shake 04 - Wiggle Camera Shake

The strength of the camera shake is controlled by the second parameter of the wiggle expression. We can lower the amount of shake by changing the expression to

wiggle(10, 10)

After Effects Camera Shake 05 - Reduced Wiggle

You will see that your clip now jumps around the screen a lot less, up to 10 pixels 10 times a second.

After Effects Camera Shake 06 - Reduced Wiggle Effect

When adding camera shake to a destruction effect, you will likely want the camera to be stable at first, start shaking when the explosion or collision occurs and then slowly return to a stable shot. Unfortunately, because the strength of the camera shake is controlled by the second parameter of the wiggle expression, we can’t keyframe it. But we can use Expression Controls to get around this limitation.

Go into the Effects & Presets panel and search for the Slider Control effect.

After Effects Camera Shake 07 - Slider Expression Control

Apply this effect to your layer. You will end up with a simple Slider Control effect on your layer that does absolutely nothing. But we can wire up the value of the slider to the second parameter of the wiggle expression – and therefore control the strength of the camera shake with the slider.

After Effects Camera Shake 08 - Pick Whip Expression

To do this, expand the Effects tab so that you can see the Slider property of the Slider Control in your layers window and then go into the expression editor to modify the wiggle expression. Type


and then, with the cursor at the end of your incomplete expression, drag the pick whip icon on the left side of the expression editor onto the Slider property of the Slider Control. Release your mouse to insert this value into your expression. Finish the expression off with a closing bracket and you should now have

wiggle(10, effect("Slider Control")("Slider"))

After Effects Camera Shake 09 - Slider Expression

This expression will cause the layer to shake 10 times a second by the amount specified by the slider value. And, since we can keyframe the Slider property, we can now keyframe and control the amount of camera shake for our effect.

After Effects Camera Shake 10 - Keyframed Slider

I added a few keyframes to kick in with a fairly strong camera shake just as the giant smashes through the roof and then subside slowly back to 0.

After Effects Camera Shake 11 - Slider Value Keyframes

Your composition will now have some camera shake that helps sell the roof destruction effect.

After Effects Camera Shake 12 - Black Borders

Finally, let’s deal with the ugly black borders that we can see as our footage moves around the render area.

2 comments for Adobe After Effects Basics – Camera Shake

  1. nice, thanks.. helps a lot..

    but how did you do that? that crashing roof things?
    the roofs really look crash.

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