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3D Calligraphy Techniques

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Had a couple of enquiries about this project from a year or so ago, thought I'd bung a quick walkthrough together.


The idea is to get embossed/debossed/engraved lettering to write onto 3D surfaces without compromising the precise strokes and pacing of the type. I tried about half a dozen techniques before finishing on this one, which seemed to do the trick, especially with extreme contrast in stroke widths. It's not tricky but does assume basic C4D knowledge, and is quite time consuming in the setup phase - but you do get payback with a very flexible, lightweight file when it comes to animate.




The starting point is to get the lettering properly digitised in Illustrator, with outline paths, and a centre line for the sweep.




I then pulled the file into C4D, and split the paths into sections to sweep, and a wider mask around the outside to hide any overflow.




You still need to tweak the sweeps, to get the rough scale of the strokes right, so you'll end up with a sweep scale a bit like this, to follow the thick/thin pen lines as the sweep follows the path around from 0-100%.




The key trick in the whole technique is to then separate the outlines and centre line, use the outlines as a mask and put the sweep behind the mask. That way you can build the strokes up using a succession of sweeps, but keep the precise type lines because the mask clips off any overflow.




When viewed through a front-facing 2D camera, you get this:




which you can render with motion blur, to get something like this:




Once you've got these sweeps in place it's just a case of rendering out the sweeps as high-res, 32-bit image sequences, and using these as layered textures to drive material displacement. You can then start getting fancy, adding a little edge noise & blur, clipping the levels to get flat surfaces, using the texture to massage the reflectivity/spec etc so the embossed regions show sufficient contrast to become legible.


Add some camera moves, you end up with this:



You need quite clean geometry and sub-pixel displacement of course.


Any other details needed, or questions, fire away and I may or may not reply ^_^ Cheers! C

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Nice work, thanks for sharing.

Did you go in and draw the centerlines for sweeping by hand? I am by no means illustrator savvy and would probably do it manually, please enlighten if there's a quicker way.

I think the sweep type behind the mask looks pretty cool by itself.

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awesome stuff. but im curious, is there no easier way to animate the 2d mask in after effects?


There probably is - AE has so many arcane corners that I've barely peeked into, maybe some fancy shape layer paths setting would work, with trim paths doing the animating? Can shape layers have variable width strokes? But the advantage for me of using C4D was that I could give the movement some pen-like fluid flicks and flourishes, animating the sweep without messing with AE's horrid curve editor; and also retain control of the stroke tip, using the cap settings to shape how wide/pointy the stroke became. Fiddly setup, but solid and flexible.

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