Home / Articles / Adobe Creative Suite / Motion Graphics with Adobe Creative Suite 5 Studio Techniques: Designing Backgrounds

Motion Graphics with Adobe Creative Suite 5 Studio Techniques: Designing Backgrounds

  • Book Excerpt is provided courtesy of Adobe Press.
  • Date: Dec 6, 2010.

Article Description

The use of backgrounds (whether static or dynamic) is essential to good motion graphics design. Fortunately, certain features in After Effects and Photoshop can be combined to create some fantastic "wallpaper." In this excerpt from Motion Graphics with Adobe Creative Suite 5 Studio Techniques, Richard Harrington and Ian Robinson show you how.

Animating Graphic Textures

You've already learned how to create looping backgrounds using After Effects; however, things are going to get better with a little teamwork. By combining the power of Photoshop and After Effects, you can create even more customized looping backgrounds. Because Photoshop is a rich graphics tool, much more variety can be had in the final result.

Let's explore two very different techniques that both produce excellent results:

  • Seamless patterns. By using seamless patterns and the Offset command, looping backgrounds are a snap.
  • Gentle fade. Knowing how to bury a transition can make looping a texture easy.

The Offset Technique

You'll first use seamless patterns and the Offset command to create a background. This underused technique wraps an image around your document. In other words, pixels push from one side and reappear on the opposite side. Depending on the desired movement of your background, you can offset horizontally, vertically, or both.

The technique is fairly straightforward and is easy to use. To begin, let's create two seamless patterns in Photoshop.

Building the First Pattern

The use of seamless patterns is a great way to make a repeating texture. There are many ways to go about creating a specialized texture; we prefer the simplest route. It is best to offset several simple layers than one complex layer. This will introduce more motion into the animated background.

  1. Launch Photoshop and create a new document sized for video. For this example, choose the Film & Video > HDV/HDTV 720p preset (Figure 7.14).
    Figure 7.14

    Figure 7.14 Stick with the Photoshop document presets to ensure properly sized video files.

  2. Load the Default colors of black and white by pressing the D key, and then run the Clouds filter (Filter > Render > Clouds).

    Now the cloud pattern needs to be offset. This filter pushes an image off the screen and rewraps the pixel data to the other side of the image.

  3. Offset the image 600 pixels horizontally (Filter > Other > Offset). Be sure to specify that you want the pixels to wrap around the edge. If you want to move the background vertically, you must offset vertically. If you want to move the background diagonally, offset horizontally and vertically.
  4. If visible, blend away the seams. Use the Spot Healing Brush (J) with soft edges. If needed, you can follow up with the Clone Stamp tool.
  5. Repeat the Offset filter by pressing Command+F (Ctrl+F) to check for seams. Clone or heal as needed. Repeat until the seams are invisible (Figure 7.15).
    Figure 7.15

    Figure 7.15 Check the pattern with the Offset filter to look for any seams.

  6. Save the layer as a TIFF file that After Effects will recognize.

Building the Second Pattern

To create a sense of movement, two textures must be moved across each other. You now have a simple background that can be looped. To complement this simple element, you can build additional textures or objects. Here is one additional recipe for another layer:

  1. Create another new document sized with the Film & Video > HDV/HDTV 720p preset.
  2. Make a radial gradient fill layer from black to white (Figure 7.16) or draw a radial gradient (flatten the image if necessary).
    Figure 7.16

    Figure 7.16 Be sure the gradient stays centered on the screen (an easy way to do this is to use the Gradient fill layer).

  3. Run the following filters (in this order).
    • Run the Twirl filter set to 400 pixels eight times (Filter > Distort > Twirl).
    • Run the Motion Blur (Filter > Blur > Motion Blur) at a -90° angle and a distance of approximately 350 pixels.
    • Run the Maximum filter set to 30 pixels to smooth out the texture (Filter > Other > Maximum) (Figure 7.17).
      Figure 7.17

      Figure 7.17 This pattern is designed to be offset horizontally because both edges fade to black.

  4. Save the layer as a TIFF file that After Effects will recognize.

Animating in After Effects

Once the textures are built, you can animate them in After Effects. By employing a few simple technologies (blending modes, scaling, the Offset filter, and color mapping) natural, organic motion can be achieved.

To start, create a new project and import the two graphics you just created. Drag both graphics on the new composition icon located at the bottom of the Project panel. A dialog box appears asking you for specifics on the new comp. Choose to create a Single Composition and use a duration between 15:00 and 30:00. Set the composition size to match your source graphics (in this case you'll use HDTV 720p and a frame rate of 24p).

  1. Select both layers in the Timeline and press Command+D (Ctrl+D) to duplicate them. Working with multiple copies of the same layer will create the illusion of depth (similar to the Perlin noise you read about earlier).
  2. Rearrange your Timeline so you have a 1/2/1/2 stack (Figure 7.18). Then turn off the visibility icon for the top three layers.
    Figure 7.18

    Figure 7.18 Using multiple copies creates the illusion of depth without a big increase in render time.

  3. Select the bottom layer and apply the Offset effect (Effect > Distort > Offset).

    The Offset effect is very simple to use once you understand it. You choose to keyframe how much the center of a layer is offset (using the Shift Center To property). Add a keyframe at the start of the layer for the default position; you can leave this keyframe unmodified.

  4. Go to the end of the layer and add a second keyframe for the Shift Center To property.

    Double-click on the keyframe to adjust its value. Change its measurement Units to % of composition. The keyframe currently reads 50% for both the X- and Y-axis. By adding a full 100%, the image will complete one full offset cycle. For this example, enter a value of 250% in the X-axis field to move two full cycles (Figure 7.19). Activate RAM preview to see your results. You should now have two full rotations.

    Figure 7.19

    Figure 7.19 By choosing the % of composition method, you can avoid doing math in your head. Just add a whole number for each rotation. In other words, 50% + 1 rotation = 150%; 2 rotations = 250%.

  5. Activate Layer #3 and repeat the offset technique described in steps 3 and 4. Add a keyframe at the start of the layer for the default position and then at the end of the layer for three reverse rotations (–350%, 50%).
  6. Adjust the blending mode and/or opacity of Layer #3 to achieve a soft look. In the example project, we used Overlay mode.
  7. Activate Layer #2 and scale to 200% (it's okay in this case to scale up, because we just have a soft texture.)
  8. Select Layer #4 and press U to see all the keyframes.

    Move your playhead to the start of the composition, and then click the word Offset for Layer #4. Copy the keyframes by pressing Command+C (Ctrl+C). Select Layer #2 and paste the offset keyframes.

  9. Adjust the blending mode and/or opacity of Layer #2 to achieve a soft look. In the example project, we used Multiply mode.
  10. Activate Layer #1 and scale to 200%.
  11. Select Layer #3 and press U to see all the keyframes.

    Move your playhead to the start of the composition, and then click the word Offset for Layer #3. Copy the keyframes by pressing Command+C (Ctrl+C). Select Layer #1 and paste the offset keyframes.

  12. Adjust the blending mode and/or opacity of Layer #1 (remember Shift++ and Shift+- also work in After Effects to cycle blending/transfer modes). In the example project, we used Soft Light mode at 70% opacity.
  13. Add an adjustment layer at the top of your stack (Layer > New > Adjustment Layer).

    Apply a colorization effect, such as Colorama, CC Toner, or Tint. In the example, we chose Colorama with the Output Cycle set to the Ramp Red preset (Figure 7.20). You can also experiment with other effects on the adjustment layer, such as glows, blurs, or third-party effects.

    Figure 7.20

    Figure 7.20 You can use a Levels effect to clamp the Output Black or White points to keep the backdrop from becoming too bright.

  14. Make sure all your quality switches are set to Best Quality, and render at the proper settings for your nonlinear editing or motion graphics application.

The Stitch in Time Technique

The second animating technique we'll show you is deceptively simple but produces great results. By using blending modes and a well-placed dissolve, it's possible to create a looping background. This technique is very versatile and will work with virtually any source layers. For this technique, you'll take three or more gradients made in Photoshop and blend them together using After Effects. These gradients can be grayscale photos, filtered layers, or preexisting files.

Preparing Textures with Photoshop

For this technique to work, you'll want to use a group of oversized grayscale textures (Figure 7.21). You could scale and filter in After Effects, but that is the slower method. Instead of scaling up and manipulating color and tone across time, you can process the images once they are in Photoshop and speed up rendering times.

Figure 7.21

Figure 7.21 Build up your own texture library so you can experiment with creating different animated patterns. These and additional textures are available from www.thepluginsite.com.

Here's a few ways to put Photoshop to use:

  • Take advantage of Photoshop's excellent scaling abilities. By enlarging the gradients in Photoshop, you'll only need to scale down in After Effects.
  • Use Photoshop's Nearest Neighbor scaling method to resize your images. You can access it in the Image Size dialog box (Image > Image Size) from the Resample Image menu.
  • Soften any artifacts using the Median filter (Filter > Noise > Median). A low value of 5–10 pixels should be sufficient.
  • Defocus textures with the Lens Blur filter (Filter > Blur > Lens Blur). Adjust the filter to taste, but favor an out-of-focus image. Click OK when you're satisfied.
  • Remove any color from the texture using a Black & White adjustment layer. Be sure to flatten your final results.

Creating Motion with After Effects

Now that your assets are ready, you can animate the layers in After Effects to create movement. The process is very easy; you'll just use basic Transform properties like Anchor Point, Scale, and Rotation. The technique demonstrated can be used to create simple or complex flowing grayscale images. The goal is to combine multiple images in one composition and then map color to them to achieve a finished background.

Building the Composition

Start by creating a new project or adding the newly created textures to an existing project. Drag three or four graphics on the new composition icon located at the bottom of the Composition panel. A dialog box appears asking you for specifics on the new composition. Choose to create a Single Composition and a duration between 18:00 and 33:00. Set the composition size to match your source graphics (in this case you'll use HDTV 720p and a frame rate of 24p). The extra 3:00 will be used to create the overlap zone, so be sure to pad your initial duration.

Disable the visibility for all but the bottom layer. Select the bottom layer and press S for scale. Then hold down the Shift key and press R for Rotation and A for Anchor Point. By using Anchor Point instead of Position you'll get better results (especially when rotation is involved). Turn on the stopwatch icons for all three properties. Choose random values for the start keyframes. Move the current time indicator to the end of the composition and set different values. All you're trying to accomplish is movement (just be sure that the image always fills the entire screen with no visible gaps at the edges) (Figure 7.22). The goal is to create varied motion with keyframes and then blend the layers together. Be sure to keep experimenting as you design.

Figure 7.22

Figure 7.22 By zooming your canvas to a lower magnification, it's easier to see the edges for each layer. You can also change the label colors to make it easier to see each layer.

Invoke a RAM preview to see your results. The image looks pretty simple so far; it's just a sliding and scaling gray texture. But add a few more of these textures and motion will really start to take shape.

Activate the next layer and repeat the animation technique. Try to achieve a different motion path (thus creating "visual interference"). Try moving the texture in a different direction and at a different speed than the first layer. When you're satisfied, adjust the blending mode and/or opacity of the second layer to achieve a soft look. We favor modes like Overlay, Multiply, Soft Light, and Add.

Continue to animate your remaining layers:

  • Keep the movement speed relatively slow. Most backgrounds should appear soft and flowing.
  • Feel free to duplicate an existing layer and apply slightly different keyframe values. This often creates a natural drift.
  • You can reverse the keyframes on a layer by using the reverse keyframe assistant (Animation > Keyframe Assistant > Time-Reverse Keyframes).
  • Be sure to try different blending modes. You can select a layer and use the shortcut Shift+= to cycle through modes. Try out several options because different layers blend to produce dramatic variations.
  • Use your RAM preview to see your results as you build the composition.
  • Do not add color or blur effects yet.

Creating the Loop

Once you have a flowing background, its time to make it loop. To do this, you'll need to create a split and a fade. Highlight all your layers and create a precomposition by choosing Layer > Pre-compose and name it Pattern Pre-comp (Figure 7.23). This nests all the layers into an intermediate composition.

Figure 7.23

Figure 7.23 The Pre-compose command nests multiple layers into a new composition. This makes them easier to work with as a group.

Next, you need to shorten the main composition by 3:00 (the overlap you created earlier). Access your composition settings by pressing Command+K (Ctrl+K) and shorten the composition by 3:00. In other words, change the duration from 33:00 to 30:00.

Drag to the center duration of the composition. There's no need to be precise; just move about halfway down the Timeline. You can now split the layer in half, thus creating a loop point.

  1. Select the layer and press Shift+Command+D (Shift+Ctrl+D) to split the layer (Figure 7.24).
    Figure 7.24

    Figure 7.24 Splitting a layer allows for overlapping (which creates the loop).

  2. Now you must overlap the layers. With Layer #1 active, jump to the start of the composition by pressing the Home key. Press the left bracket key ([) to move the layer's In point.
  3. Select Layer #2, and then press the End key. Press the right bracket key (]) to move the layer's In point.
  4. Activate Layer #1 and press O to jump to the layer's Out point. Press T for opacity, activate the stopwatch, and set a keyframe for 0% opacity.
  5. Drag backwards three seconds and set a key frame for 100% opacity. This creates a gentle dissolve at the overlap point (Figure 7.25).
    Figure 7.25

    Figure 7.25 Carefully place your opacity keyframes to create a fade between the two layers.

RAM preview the composition to see the seamless animation. Now that you have a loop, you can further stylize it. We recommend the use of adjustment layers and any of the techniques you've learned so far. We usually start with a blur effect (such as Fast Blur or CC Radial Fast Blur). We then apply a colorization effect, such as Colorama, Tint, or CC Toner (Figure 7.26). Once you've stylized the composition, you can render it at the proper settings for your nonlinear editing, multimedia, or motion graphics application.

Figure 7.26

Figure 7.26 Stylize the background to add color and de-focus.

4. Designing with Brainstorm | Next Section Previous Section

Adobe Press Promotional Mailings & Special Offers

I would like to receive exclusive offers and hear about products from Adobe Press and its family of brands. I can unsubscribe at any time.


Pearson Education, Inc., 221 River Street, Hoboken, New Jersey 07030, (Pearson) presents this site to provide information about Adobe Press products and services that can be purchased through this site.

This privacy notice provides an overview of our commitment to privacy and describes how we collect, protect, use and share personal information collected through this site. Please note that other Pearson websites and online products and services have their own separate privacy policies.

Collection and Use of Information

To conduct business and deliver products and services, Pearson collects and uses personal information in several ways in connection with this site, including:

Questions and Inquiries

For inquiries and questions, we collect the inquiry or question, together with name, contact details (email address, phone number and mailing address) and any other additional information voluntarily submitted to us through a Contact Us form or an email. We use this information to address the inquiry and respond to the question.

Online Store

For orders and purchases placed through our online store on this site, we collect order details, name, institution name and address (if applicable), email address, phone number, shipping and billing addresses, credit/debit card information, shipping options and any instructions. We use this information to complete transactions, fulfill orders, communicate with individuals placing orders or visiting the online store, and for related purposes.


Pearson may offer opportunities to provide feedback or participate in surveys, including surveys evaluating Pearson products, services or sites. Participation is voluntary. Pearson collects information requested in the survey questions and uses the information to evaluate, support, maintain and improve products, services or sites; develop new products and services; conduct educational research; and for other purposes specified in the survey.

Contests and Drawings

Occasionally, we may sponsor a contest or drawing. Participation is optional. Pearson collects name, contact information and other information specified on the entry form for the contest or drawing to conduct the contest or drawing. Pearson may collect additional personal information from the winners of a contest or drawing in order to award the prize and for tax reporting purposes, as required by law.


If you have elected to receive email newsletters or promotional mailings and special offers but want to unsubscribe, simply email ask@peachpit.com.

Service Announcements

On rare occasions it is necessary to send out a strictly service related announcement. For instance, if our service is temporarily suspended for maintenance we might send users an email. Generally, users may not opt-out of these communications, though they can deactivate their account information. However, these communications are not promotional in nature.

Customer Service

We communicate with users on a regular basis to provide requested services and in regard to issues relating to their account we reply via email or phone in accordance with the users' wishes when a user submits their information through our Contact Us form.

Other Collection and Use of Information

Application and System Logs

Pearson automatically collects log data to help ensure the delivery, availability and security of this site. Log data may include technical information about how a user or visitor connected to this site, such as browser type, type of computer/device, operating system, internet service provider and IP address. We use this information for support purposes and to monitor the health of the site, identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents and appropriately scale computing resources.

Web Analytics

Pearson may use third party web trend analytical services, including Google Analytics, to collect visitor information, such as IP addresses, browser types, referring pages, pages visited and time spent on a particular site. While these analytical services collect and report information on an anonymous basis, they may use cookies to gather web trend information. The information gathered may enable Pearson (but not the third party web trend services) to link information with application and system log data. Pearson uses this information for system administration and to identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents, appropriately scale computing resources and otherwise support and deliver this site and its services.

Cookies and Related Technologies

This site uses cookies and similar technologies to personalize content, measure traffic patterns, control security, track use and access of information on this site, and provide interest-based messages and advertising. Users can manage and block the use of cookies through their browser. Disabling or blocking certain cookies may limit the functionality of this site.

Do Not Track

This site currently does not respond to Do Not Track signals.


Pearson uses appropriate physical, administrative and technical security measures to protect personal information from unauthorized access, use and disclosure.


This site is not directed to children under the age of 13.


Pearson may send or direct marketing communications to users, provided that

  • Pearson will not use personal information collected or processed as a K-12 school service provider for the purpose of directed or targeted advertising.
  • Such marketing is consistent with applicable law and Pearson's legal obligations.
  • Pearson will not knowingly direct or send marketing communications to an individual who has expressed a preference not to receive marketing.
  • Where required by applicable law, express or implied consent to marketing exists and has not been withdrawn.

Pearson may provide personal information to a third party service provider on a restricted basis to provide marketing solely on behalf of Pearson or an affiliate or customer for whom Pearson is a service provider. Marketing preferences may be changed at any time.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user's personally identifiable information changes (such as your postal address or email address), we provide a way to correct or update that user's personal data provided to us. This can be done on the Account page. If a user no longer desires our service and desires to delete his or her account, please contact us at customer-service@informit.com and we will process the deletion of a user's account.


Users can always make an informed choice as to whether they should proceed with certain services offered by Adobe Press. If you choose to remove yourself from our mailing list(s) simply visit the following page and uncheck any communication you no longer want to receive: www.adobepress.com/u.aspx.

Sale of Personal Information

Pearson does not rent or sell personal information in exchange for any payment of money.

While Pearson does not sell personal information, as defined in Nevada law, Nevada residents may email a request for no sale of their personal information to NevadaDesignatedRequest@pearson.com.

Supplemental Privacy Statement for California Residents

California residents should read our Supplemental privacy statement for California residents in conjunction with this Privacy Notice. The Supplemental privacy statement for California residents explains Pearson's commitment to comply with California law and applies to personal information of California residents collected in connection with this site and the Services.

Sharing and Disclosure

Pearson may disclose personal information, as follows:

  • As required by law.
  • With the consent of the individual (or their parent, if the individual is a minor)
  • In response to a subpoena, court order or legal process, to the extent permitted or required by law
  • To protect the security and safety of individuals, data, assets and systems, consistent with applicable law
  • In connection the sale, joint venture or other transfer of some or all of its company or assets, subject to the provisions of this Privacy Notice
  • To investigate or address actual or suspected fraud or other illegal activities
  • To exercise its legal rights, including enforcement of the Terms of Use for this site or another contract
  • To affiliated Pearson companies and other companies and organizations who perform work for Pearson and are obligated to protect the privacy of personal information consistent with this Privacy Notice
  • To a school, organization, company or government agency, where Pearson collects or processes the personal information in a school setting or on behalf of such organization, company or government agency.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that we are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of each and every web site that collects Personal Information. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this web site.

Requests and Contact

Please contact us about this Privacy Notice or if you have any requests or questions relating to the privacy of your personal information.

Changes to this Privacy Notice

We may revise this Privacy Notice through an updated posting. We will identify the effective date of the revision in the posting. Often, updates are made to provide greater clarity or to comply with changes in regulatory requirements. If the updates involve material changes to the collection, protection, use or disclosure of Personal Information, Pearson will provide notice of the change through a conspicuous notice on this site or other appropriate way. Continued use of the site after the effective date of a posted revision evidences acceptance. Please contact us if you have questions or concerns about the Privacy Notice or any objection to any revisions.

Last Update: November 17, 2020