Motion graphics Film titles

This one of 11 x 2hr technical workshops I created for the module Med 107 Motion Graphics as part of the BSc Interactive Media degree. These workshops were designed to provide first-year students with an introduction to animation techniques and concepts using Adobe After Effects. This lesson focussed on Film title production. I used the example of Catch Me if You can title sequence to introduce the students to character animation, loop expressions, importing After Effect files Iris wipes, and reinforce the use of pre-compositions, audio, Track Mattes, Blending modes and trim paths. 

Workshop Overview

We are going to be recreating the first 18 secs of the Catch me if you Can movie titles, a movie title sequence created in the style of Saul Bass.

How the Catch me if you can titles were made

Catch Me if You can titles on Youtube

In this class we will be using character animation, loop expressions, pre-compositions, imported AE files, blending modes, audio, iris wipes, track mattes, trim paths. 

Getting Started

I started the process by drawing out all the elements in Illustrator, and assigning each animated element a separate named layer. It is important to name layers intuitively as these names are retained in After Effects and it makes it easier when we are working with multiple objects in the timeline.

The Hanks and DiCaprio characters are taken into Photoshop to add texture then they were imported into After Effects for animation

The stars, airplane and background are imported directly from Illustrator.

Create your project

1. Create a New project

Download it contains the audio file, an Illustrator file and the two After Effect character files. We will create the text and the lines in After Effects,

Save your new project as CatchMe.

Import your ‘’ file – choosing to Retain Layers Size, import the ‘Johnwilliams’ audio file.

Create a New Composition– duration: 18 secs, size: 1920×1080, frame rate: 25fps. Call this comp ‘Scene 1’

2. Create the background:

Drag the ‘’ and ‘’ files into the Layers panel.

Drag the John Williams audio file to the Layers panel

Animating the text

1. Add text layers:

Add two text layers:

  • ‘DreamWorks Pictures’ [Coolvetica, 90pt, off-black #262122]
  • ‘PRESENTS’ [Filmotype Western, 40pt, off-black #262122]

Make these timelines 8s in length

2. Create a descender

Create a new Shape layer: 

  • Use pen tool [off-black #262122, width: 13 px­] to draw a descending line from the ‘r’, call it it r-descender 

Add a trim path between 6 and 7 s.

  • Animate the start %value. Set the start% at 6s: 0% and at 7s:100%.
  • Drag the layer to end at 8s.

4. Draw ascenders
We need two more shape layers for ascender for the ‘k’ in ‘Dreamworks’ and the ‘t’ in Pictures. Shorten times to 8s

Call them k-ascender and t-ascender

The k-ascender is drawn in between 2-3 s. This time I am animating the end% because I drew the lines from the  bottom. Set end% at 2s: 0%, 3s:100%  5.12s: 100% 7s:0%.

Set the t-ascender end% at 3s: 0%, 4s:100%,  6.12s: 100% and 7s: 0% 

5. Fade out the night sky

We need a fade in the night sky going from night to day. First we create a new solid layer- (make it comp size) and colour off-black #262122

Call the layer ‘fade-out-night’

Animate the Opacity of this solid layer from 100% to 0% between 0 and 4s.

We also want to fade the stars in and out during this period.

Animate the Stars layer’s Opacity from 0% and 100% between 0 and 2s and then fade the stars back out 100%-0% between 3 and 4s.

Shorten the length of the stars and fade-out-night layers to end after last keyframe.

Rename the bottom layer to ‘stars-sparkle’ and set the blending mode to Dancing Dissolve. This gives a sparkle effect to the stars.

Duplicate the Stars layer – rename the top tayer to ‘stars-top’, set blending mode to Luminosity.

Adding text effects

1. Create an Iris wipe mask

We want an iris wipe to fade the ‘Pictures present’ in and out. We can do this manually by creating a track matte – we will duplicate and reuse this mask throughout the animation.

First precompose (select layers and control + click right-click > pre-compose) the ‘pictures’ and ‘presents’ text layers – call the pre-comp pictures-presents – this allows us to apply one track matte to both sets of text.

Create a new solid layer call it fade-out-text1, draw a circle inside it – this will create a mask – centre the anchor point (Ctrl+Option+Home) then set the  Feather (F) to around 43px.

Move the play-head to 7.12 and place the centre of the circle over the ‘t’ in ‘Picture’. Animate the Scale (S) of the circle setting the scale to 0%  at 3s then at 4.12s scale the circle up until it covers the ‘Pictures presents’ .

2. Add a track matte

Assign ‘fade-out-text1’ as an Alpha track matte to our ‘pictures-presets’ precomp.

Add a iris wipe fade out by reversing the animation between 5.12 and 612.

Then play around with the keyframe to time the animations to the music.

3. Apply Text effect

Finally we need to fadeout the ‘Dreamworks’ text. This time we will add Fade out slow text effect from our Effects and Presets panel to the ‘Dreamworks’ layer between 5:16- 6:08s.

We need to reverse the effect by making the Mode: Subtract and swap the keyframes around so it fades out from the right.


Adding Hanks to the Titles

To save time the Hanks character’s walk has been animated already and composed in a separate After Effects file.

Take a look at how the walking is constructed from five separate keyframes (contact, down, passpoint, up and contact). In each keyframe, the body parts are positioned slightly differently, when this is looped it gives the effect of walking.

Import hanks-fig-walking.aep into your After Effects file, it will appear in the Project Panel.Open the ‘hanks-fig-walking’ folder and drag the hanks-walking composition into the Layers panel.

Ctrl-Click the clip to bring up context menu, select Delete all Markers.

You’ll see the clip is only 21 frames long. We’ll need to loop this clip to get the character to move across the screen.

Loop Hanks walking

1. Enable time-remapping

Select the Hanks-walking layer and right-click select Time > Enable time-remapping

Open the Expression window for the Hanks-walking layer –  Alt + Click/ Option + Click on stopwatch

Replace ‘timeRemap’ by this loop expression: loopOut("cycle") and move the keyframe back one frame to 20f

2. Animate Hanks walking

Now we are going to move the hanks-walking composition across the screen by animating the position property.

Now hanks-walking comp to run between 4.14 and 7.12s.

Start by moving the character off screen and finishing just beside the K-ascender Not too close as there needs to be room for P ascender as well

3. Add individual body part comps

We need to finish the animation by transitioning the character into a standing position.

As our walking character is pre-composed we need to animate inidvidual body parts.

Drag the individual hanks’ body part compositions e.g [hanks-left-calf] onto the Layers panel of the main scene1 composition,

Start the timeline for these elements at 7.12.

As they are 21s comps we need to enable Time Remapping and loop the clips by adding loopOut("cycle") to the Expression window as we did for the Hanks-walking comp

Reposition the body parts to overlap the hanks-walking comp – this helps us to align the elements and create a smoother transistion.

 4. Animate initividual body parts.

Once the body parts are aligned start the body part clips at 7.13  and drag their duration out to 18s

The key to character animation is rotating limbs around realistic joints eg anchor points 

Use the Pan Behind tool [Y] to position hanks body parts’ anchor points on joint positions, the hank-left-thighs’ anchor points should be positioned at the hip, calves at the knee etc.

We need to animate the position and rotation of these objects- so click the stopwatch on the Position and Rotation layers for each Hanks body part comp.

Move the body parts gradually over the next second, to 8.13s,  to transition the figure into a looking up position 
Straighten the legs and move the torso and head to angle upwards.

Adding the Second set of titles

1. Add new text layers

3 text layers: “A”, “AND” “PRODUCTIONS” in Filmotype Western, 40pt, off-black #262122 

2 text layers: “Kemp Company” and “Splendid Pictures” in Coolvetica  90pt, off-black #262122 

Drag down guides to align the text as in the screen grab.

2. Create the ascenders

We need to create 3 new shape layers – using the pen tool set to the stroke to the same colour as the font, #262122 and width: 13 px.

Draw the line for the K , p and the r from the bottom  for k, r ascenders and p descenders. Name the layers accordingly.

Drag the timelines of the strokes and words to start at 7 s.

We want to add a trim paths to our r and k ascenders and p descender –add a trim path to each layer and click the stopwatch to animate end values

For K- ascender, move playhead to 7:15s, set end% to 0%. At 8.14 and change end% to 100%  

For r-ascender, move playhead to 8s set end% to 0%, at 9s set end% to 100%. For the animation out – set end% at 14:10s:100% and at 15:10s: 0%

For p-descender move playhead to 9s set end%: 0%, at 10s end%: 100%. For the animation out – set end% at 14s: 100% and at 15s:0%

3. Fading in the text 


Add Slow Fade On text effect to ‘Kemp Company’ between 6:12 and 8: 12s and ‘Splendid Pictures’ between 8 and 9.12s

4. Add an Iris wipe

We can now pre-compose all these text layers to add a Iris wipe fade as before.

Select the text layers, right-click > pre-compose and rename ‘titles2’ .

Duplicate the ‘fade-out text’ mask layer, call it ‘fade-out-text2’ and place above the ‘titles2’ layer.

Reposition the mask centre below the ‘m’ in kemp and scale up  until the mask sits over all the text – between 8 and 9:10 seconds.

Scale back down to fade out between 14:06 and 15:03 s

Set the Track Matte on the ‘titles2’ layer to ‘fade-out-text-2’

Add aeroplanes

1. Animate the plane

Create a new composition – call it ‘airplane-fly’.

Drag down ‘the airplane/’ object into the Layers panel.

Position the airplane off the screen in the bottom left-hand corner.

Animate the airplane position moving through a diagonal line between 0-6s, 

2. Duplicate the plane

Drag the ‘airplane-fly’ comp down into the main timeline.

We are going to duplicate this plane 5 times so we have a number of planes taking off from behind the black lines between 10 and 16 s – scale and flip and move the plane to create variation.

Once we are happy with the animated plane, we can precomp the layers into one composition layer called ‘airplanes’ to tidy them away.

Adding the pilot DiCaprio

There is a composition of pilot DiCaprio walking already made. It’s in a separate After Effects file called ‘decaprio-fig-walking.aep

1. Import DiCaprio figure animation 

Import this ‘decaprio-fig-walking.aep, it will appear in your Project Panel 

Drag it down to the Layers panel, Control + Click the clip in the timeline to view the context menu – and select Markers > Delete all Markers

Move the starting point of the clip to 11:12s

Press S to scale the figure down to 30% and position him beside the r-descender

2. Loop the walking

Note how our clip is very short. This is because it’s less than a second in length.

If we want to loop our clip we need to time remap the layer to get the character’s walk looping

Option + Command + T or Control/Command + Click to get the layer context menu and select Enable Time Remapping under Time

Alt-Click or or Option-Click the stopwatch to open up the Expression window.

Replace ‘timeRemap’ expression by this loop expression: loopOut("cycle")

3. Mask the figure:

You can now extend the clip to 16s 

We animate the ‘dicap-walking’ figure moving off screen by animating the x position property by 1000px until the pilot figure is off screen

As he is appearing from behind the r ascender  line – we need to add a simple mask or trackmatte. 

Create a new shape layer – call this pilot-mask. In this layer, use the shape tool to draw a rectangle running from the vertical r descender off screen – make it 300x 1000 so we can use it on the K ascender as well.

Make the mask the same duration as the your pilot clip

Set the track-matte property on the pilot-dicap-walking layer to alpha-matte – shape1 later,

Now precomp the layers into a composition and call it ‘pilot-walking’

4. Animate Hanks to look after DiCaprio

We also need to animate Hanks moving his head and torso to look after Dicaprio’s pilot.

Animate the Position andRotation of Hank’s head and torso between 11.22 and 12.22

Add more pilots

We need to add several other pilots appearing from behind the ascenders

Duplicate (Ctrl/Cmd +D) the 'pilot-1' layer in the layers panel.  

Rename it pilot-2 and drag it to start at the 13s.

Then we have another pilot come out from behind the k ascender. Duplicate pilot-2 and call it pilot 3.

Pilot-3 appears from behind the K ascender so move the pilot layer  over to beside the K ascender. Drag the timeline  to start at 15 and then duplicate and stagger the vertical position and appearance of two more pilots from  behind the k.

Final title sequence

1. Add text

Our next titles require 3 text layers:

A (Filmotype Western,  40px, #262122)

Parkes/ MacDonald (Coolvetia Bold 90px #262122)

PRODUCTION (Filmotype Western 40px #262122)

2. Add a mask

Precomp these layers so we can add a mask. Call it Title3, drag the timeline to begin at 13s

Then we are going to reveal the text with the mask.

Ctrl + D to duplicate  ‘fade-out-text’ mask layer call it ‘fade-in-text3′, drag it so its duration is as same as the title3 layer.

Select fade-in-text3 layer –press U to reveal  key frames. Reposition the mask to center it over the text and reverse the scale so it is going from 0 to 100%.

Set the title3 layer Track Matte to ‘fade-in-text3’ 

3. Animate the ascenders for P l, d

We duplicate the previous r-ascender layer x 3 – for the p, l d

Call them  p2- , l- and d- decenders, move them across to align with the letters

Edit the  trim-path keyframes  End% of these new layers:

For p2-descender set the end% at 14.23s: 0%   and at 15.23s: 100%

For l-descender, set the end% at 15:12s: 0% and at 16:12s: 100%

Co-ordinate the l and the d ascending. For d-descender, set the end% at 16:05: 0% and at 17.05s: 100%

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