Use of a camera is almost expected now in any motion graphics project, but understanding physical cameras is fundamental to making informed decisions about how we use the virtual cameras in After Effects. In this series, we will examine the history of cameras, discuss the fundamental principals of camera design and see how those fundamentals are mirrored in After Effects. Finally, we will discuss tools for moving cameras around in the After Effects environment, as well as the 3D Camera Tracker and stereoscopic camera rigs.
The earliest camera was the Camera Obscura, whose basic operating principles were known to the ancient Greeks and Chinese. The Obscura was essentially a darkened room where a small hole was placed in one wall allowing light to enter and hit a wall opposite the hole. The major limitations of the Obscura? It was very difficult, if not impossible, to turn an entire room to face the direction you wished. Also, portability was an issue – how does one transport a room from one place to another to another.
Those problems were easily solved by the use of mirrors that allowed light to enter from the ceiling – a mechanism was then added to allow the mirror housing to rotate. Further, lenses and smaller boxes were developed, but all were limited by the inability to record the images. That was solved by the development of photosensitive materials and the development process, a technology that was refined, but essentially unchanged, until the advent of digital sensors and digital photography beginning in the 1980’s. Recently, pinhole camera and rudimentary camera-based photography has emerged a specialty art form, proving the resiliency of the technology and a certain desire for ” delayed gratification” on the part of artists.
Additionally, the hardware of photography has been largely unchanged since the early days. The process is essentially the same – have a box with a photosensitive surface and a hole that allows light to enter it. Like the recording media, hardware was developed and refined over time. Prime length lenses gave way to zoom lenses, manual focus was replaced by automatic focus, etc. Likewise, shutter speeds got faster and body styles and “preview” systems improved. The most transformational development was the single lens reflex camera with interchangeable lenses and integrated light meter, made most memorable by the legendary Canon AE-1. Further developments were, more or less, variations on that particular theme.
Many aspects of real cameras are incorporated into the virtual cameras used in all computer graphics software packages. They are meant to imitate and simulate as closely as possible the attributes of real cameras. Since motion picture footage comes from the real world, and special effects must match what is seen in the footage, it is essential to have virtual cameras that mimic their real world counterparts. This series is an exploration of those cameras, and it is hoped that by understanding the corresponding attributes between virtual and real cameras, greater results can be achieved for all motion graphics artists.