Adding Texture In After Effects

The Secret of Blend Modes

One of the drawbacks to working entirely digitally is that it's easy for all of your content to end up looking similar. While a digital look isn't bad, it could become tired if everything in your animation is one solid color from digital coloring.

While there are lots of tricks to adding color and a more tactile feel in your digital animation, one of the easiest ways is blend modes within After Effects.

Blend modes is something After Effects shares with Photoshop, so if you're familiar with them within photoshop it's the same within AE.

Blend modes live in a drop-down menu in your timeline. When you create your project and add an element to your timeline, you'll see next to its name there is a drop down menu that says Normal. Above that will say Mode, and as I'm sure you've guessed by now, these are your blend modes.​

The way blend mode works is it combines the two layers using different parameters. We'll use a solid for the sake of example, a nice blue one how about. (Shortcut for new solid is Command Y) This guy will be our main background, so we will be putting all of our texture elements above him in our timeline.

Texture Options

For our textures, here are 149 free paper textures to choose from. I would suggest downloading a couple, so we can combine them to make a unique texture for our lesson.

I downloaded 3, and once I've brought them into AE I'll drag the first one to my timeline and make sure it's above my solid background layer.

When our texture is added we won't be able to see our nice blue solid, until we use blend modes of course. With the layer selected, you can use the drop down menu to select a type of blend mode or even easier use Shift + or Shift - to cycle through the modes.

You'll see as you go through the modes it is combing the texture and our blue background, it's as easy as that. Find one you like, and then add another texture to above that one, and repeat cycle through your blend modes until you get something that you find appealing. There's no right or wrong here so just pick whatever you think looks neat.

The blend modes I find myself using most often are multiply, soft light, screen, color burn, add and lighten. The more you use them you'll begin to find favorites that you can go back to. Two particularly helpful blend modes though are multiply and screen.

Multiply removes the light parts of an image and leaves the dark, and screen removes the dark parts and leaves the light. Where this comes in handy is easy background swapping, if you scan in a sketch onto your computer and want it on a colored background or something you can use multiply to remove the white without having to do any erasing and without losing any real quality of your image.

In animation where this comes in handy also is compositing together hand drawn animations. It's an old method that used to be done using light boxes but now you can simply bring your pencil tests in as movie files and apply a multiply blend mode to your background and instantly you have your character on top of your background!

It's that easy and very useful.

I'll leave you with an example of a pencil test from Disney's Beauty and the Beast, as well as an animation my friend Alex Horan did called Wolf Within that he animated in Flash and brought into After Effects and added texture in using this method.