After Effects CC Hair for flowing grass

For a recent DVD I was producing I couldn’t quite find a template that I was happy with and also wanted to create something relevant to the project. Using After Effects I created this fantasy scene from local photos and the After Effects plugin CC Hair to create the grass!

UPDATE 15/06/2013:
Although this not a formal tutorial, I have included a project file for After Effects version CS5, CS5.5 & CS6 which will enable you to look in more detail at how I have created the various HairGrass layers. This can be download from here.

This started life as a question I had about how the grass was done in one of the pre-bundled templates within Adobe Encore. I started thinking around this and there are a few ways it could be done. Drawing blades of grass using shape layers and animate (great tutorial at DesignerToday for this method), or use Trapcode particular to create it (great tutorial at aetuts for that ), or perhaps using the inbuilt after effects plugin, CC Hair, which I couldn’t find a tutorial for!

So having looked at the two methods, both of which are excellent, I just wanted a fairly quick and simple solution as this was for a DVD motion menu for a very low volume number of disks (~30). Initially, CC Hair just had a screen full of uninspiring short lines. I changed the length and it started to look a little better

CC Hair

By changing the colour to green, adding a wavy feather mask and moving the layer down, I ended up with the beginnings of something that resembled grass.
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But this was all very static and the grass is all pointing very uniform, with no movement and no real variation. The power of CC Hair is locked up in the noise setting and the map layer property. By adding an amount of noise, the blades of grass start to take a more organic look (60% noise added). In order to get the grass to blow around in the wind, this has to be faked somewhat. I created a new comp and added a fractal noise layer that evolved over time. Click the movie below.
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This is then used as another noise layer but rather than just statically bend the ‘grass’ is effectively animates it. The Map Strength and softness then need to be tweaked to get the correct look.

In order to add even more movement I added a CC slant that gently oscillates back and forth the whole layer, then added another two layers of CC Hair placed at different Z positions (this is a 3D comp) to add some depth and more randomness to it.

For the other parts of this comp it comprises of three photos, a particular layer and a 4 colour gradient as depicted below. The main hill picture is one of a local hill (which is significant in the context of this particular project), with the sky masked out and feathered.
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Next I added a cloud layer taken from another still. This cloud layer was enlarged so that the whole layer can drift (very slowly) from right to left and I also added a turbulent displace just to distort slightly the clouds over time.
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Next a fairy tale type castle was added, again masked out with a nicely feathered mask.
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I used a 4 colour gradient to added a mixture of green / yellow hues to underneath where the grass will go. With the picture below it is heavily feather because I wanted fill for behind the grass but also allow a little of the natural texture beneath to come through (so as not to make it so perfect).
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Now with the three layers of hair (or rather grass), staggered at different Z-Depths, and thinning out and blurring the one nearest the camera, this completes the foreground elements. Then with a simple particle layer, and a layer or two of birds (tutorial / project can be found at CreativeCow), a lens flare using the VideoCopilot Optical Flares plugin, this completes the look.
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I was surprised how effective this turned out to be, I wasn’t actually expecting it to look quite as good as it turned out (considering it was for a quick DVD motion menu) and with a little more tweaking, it’s not far off from an establishing long shot for a fantasy type film (I dream!!).

Always worth taking a bit of time to experiment on something that is not so critical and you my be surprised with the results.

P.S. The soundtrack on the video is original and I used Reason for this. It wasn’t the soundtrack used on the DVD, I put this one together for the web based version just because I could!!

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