After Effects Shapes and the Repeater

After Effects shapes offer an effect called the ‘repeater’ that let you create a grid, a mosaic, geometric patterns, a DNA double helix in only a few minutes. Let’s take a look.

Like many of my favorite After Effects tools and techniques this begins with something deceptively simple: one single shape. Start a new composition, I’d go with the predefined Web 320×240 comp. I like to create this without any other objects to fully appreciate your creation, then if you want to add some backdrop to provide offset or contrast, it’s easier to visualize once you’ve constructed your pattern.

Lets start with a simple rectangle and just to give our exercise a little head start, let it’s stroke have a little gradient glow. Create your rectangle, then click on the word ‘stroke’ on the toolbar next to the stroke and fill color icons. Choose linear gradient.

In the source area of your composition, across from the ‘Contents’ twirl down you see the ‘Add’ option which presents the shape specific effects. Choose ‘Repeater’. It’s important that you are on the ‘Contents’ selection and not the new rectangle you created. Directly under ‘Rectangle 1’ you will now see ‘Repeater 1’.

Under ‘Repeater 1’ open ‘Transform Repeater 1’ and on the position definition, reduce the ‘X’ value until your squares are close together. I used a value of twenty. Now, directly under ‘Repeater 1’ you see a ‘Copies’ option; this will set the number of boxes in your horizontal grid.

Create a second repeater under ‘Contents’ using the same ‘Add’ twirl down option. For Repeater 2, under transform adjust position only on this repeater set your ‘X’ value to 0 and ‘Y’ to 20. The copies option on this repeater will set the number of boxes on your vertical grid.

Adding these two repeaters one set for ‘X’, the other set for ‘Y’ creates your grid with spacing of 20 in each direction. A very simple way of viewing it is, you have set the spacing for your columns and rows each with these additions. Now set the number of copies, I chose 10 for first repeater and 5 for the second. This will create 10 columns and 5 rows.

You’ve done it! It will take longer to read through this portion of the exercise than to actually set it up! My favorite for some ‘instant results’ is to animate the work you’ve done so far. The copies value for the repeaters can be animated. Set the copy value for your columns and rows to 1 at the beginning of your timeline, then set the values to 10 and 5 at about 3 seconds. You will see your design magically unfurl creating this grid from your one single shape. Scrub your timeline, review the settings you’ve entered and it will be clear how you defined your mosaic grid using a single shape and the repeater effect.

The ‘one single shape’ is the next important concept here. I stated earlier that it is important your cursor is on the ‘contents’ descriptor when you add your repeaters. If your cursor is on the rectangle definition, the repeater will be category definitions under the rectangle. This was confusing for me at first but the difference is quite visible and you many want to try it just to appreciate the difference. When you apply the repeaters to the ‘contents’, any adjustment you do to the rectangle is propagated to the others. In a very real sense, they are all exact copies of the rectangle and if you rotate is 30 degrees, they will all rotate 30 degrees at the exact same time. Because your row and column repeater definition are both repeaters of the ‘contents’, this will be true for the entries grid.

If you rotate the original rectangle, every rectangle in your rows and columns will mimic. If you scale your original rectangle, all the rectangles will follow. This offers the simplicity to create synchronous shapes and rotations and opacity across your grid. If you change the shape of your single rectangle, all will follow. If the repeaters had been defined ‘under’ the rectangle instead of it’s parent, shape ‘contents’, rotating the triangle will rotate the entire shape at once, instead of rotating all the individual shapes. It is a profound difference, and definitely worth comparing and playing with a bit.

On my original definition I had to try the fun After Effects thing to do, and that is, add 3D. With the click of a button, you’ve added the ability to orient your entire mosaic in different directions, to fly like a magic carpet, to unfurl like a sample of new clothing for the princess. ‘Endless possibilities’ again comes to mind. This could be an advertisement, the single object could represent the finite detail of a complicated circuit that, only seconds later, becomes a thousand populating a circuit board destined for a NASA rocket.

All the settings we love to play with are still here. A perfect candidate would be opacity, letting this pattern unfurl in 3D space with accompanying visibility coming into existence at the same time. Any attribute you can animate for a shape, can be animated here only your simple work on a single object is instantly multiplied into many on your designer grid.