Young to old AGEING TRANSITION effect tutorial | After Effects

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This was an effect we had wanted to try for a long time – the ‘ageing transition’ or morph or timelapse that can be seen in films such as Titanic (drawing scene) and Saving Private Ryan (ending) to link an old actor with a younger actor playing the same character in a flashback. See the effect on its own here:

Normally this effect would be done using two actors. Steven Spielberg used Matt Damon and Harrison Young, and James Cameron used Kate Winslet and Gloria Stewart. Cameron did it using a zoom in on Rose’s eye, and Spielberg put it in the middle of a camera move which starts in the ruined town and ends in the war graves cemetery, We emulated this move with our camera on a slider and added digital scenery to represent the war zone and war memorial. We were actually planning on doing the same thing using two actors, and we wanted to use a grandfather and grandson that we know, but due to Covid restrictions we couldn’t make it happen. So we experimented with latex prosthetics and make up instead, to age me for the older version!

See how we aged me using latex prosthetics and old age makeup here:

The morph effect itself was done using Adobe After effects. Now, the easiest way to do this effect would of course be to do it on a tripod with a locked-off camera, but we wanted to copy what Steven Spielberg had done and put it in the middle of a moving shot. And so we set up our slider for the camera to move along, and the plan was the camera would move along the first half of the rail, then we would lock it off with some weights, then swap out the young character with the old character and then do the second half of the camera move with the other character. We put some tape marks on the floor in front of the camera so that the young character and the old character could both stand on the same position. I stood on the tape marks dressed as the young character and the shot here was roughly keeping the character in the centre of the frame and doing a nice slow slide along the first half of the slider, where we got the operator to count 10 seconds and I tried to stay very still and not blink. I now had to transform into the old character and then we shot the old character on day two. This time the operator began by counting to 10 and I stood very still, and then we did the slow camera move off to the right. For both characters I stood on exactly the same spot and looked at exactly the same mark.

In After Effects we lined up the young take on top of the old take at the point where we were doing the 10 seconds of no movement. With the young take opacity turned down to 50%, now we could see both takes at the same time. So now we could add some manual position keyframes to the young take, and start shuffling it around to line up the face over the old take. Specifically, we were going for the eyes here because I think that most people would normally be looking at the eyes in the face. And if the eyes line up, then you probably won’t notice if other things don’t. Now comes the main part of the editing and that is to add the Mesh Warp effect to both layers. We can add a keyframe under Distortion Mesh, at the beginning and the end of the section where we want the change to happen. Now we want the young clip to change into something that looks like the old clip over time. So if we leave the first key frame as it is, we can go to the end one and begin to move things around. So now we can distort the young face to line up with the old one, by pushing and pulling these corners of the squares around. Then we can do the same process with the old clip, but in reverse. Set two key frames, one at the beginning and one at the end, and this time, we’re going to leave the ending one alone, and now we can distort the beginning of the old image to look like the young one. So once you’ve changed everything on both layers, you can now keyframe the opacity on the young clip to start at 100% and end up at zero. This will slowly reveal the older clip underneath. And that is basically how we did our morph effect.

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Duration: 00:09:41

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