This is probably the most comprehensive tutorial for the slitscan effect you’ll find online. The slit-scan or Time Displacement effect has gained some notoriety on YouTube because some reasonably well known YouTubers like KickThePJ and JamieVsTheUniverse used it in their videos triggering the request from many viewers for a tutorial. You can see the Slitscan effect in use, in this brilliant video by Muse:

First a little warning:  It might be unwise to attempt to do this effect if you’re running After Effects on a none too powerful laptop with unsupported graphics card. This effect is very render intensive, especially if you want a high resolution end result. You can try, and it’ll probably work but just be aware that you might face very long render times.

After doing extensive research and experimenting with the effect myself I found two ways to go about making a SlitScan video. I’ll describe the easiest one first. This method uses only two layers; your video and a gradient layer. The second method uses two free scripts that divide your video in a number of rows or columns. This method can also be used to produce a grid shaped Slitscan effect, by dividing your video into rows and columns at the same time. A look that has been used in some recent commercials.

HERE’S A VIDEO TUTORIAL FOR THE FIRST METHOD:

Here’s how to do it the easy way:

The First Method:

1. Drag your video onto the ‘New Comp’ icon. Set the Comp to 16 bpc by Alt + clicking once on the “8 bpc” indicator to the right of the ‘New Comp’ button in the project panel. This will help increase the resolution because it makes the gradient we’re going to use more fluent.

2. Make a new solid layer and put a gradient effect on that layer. (Effect > Generate > Ramp) The gradient must be linear and black and white. If your gradient starts at the top with black and is white at the bottom, the time-delay will start at the bottom progressing upwards. If you have white on top and black at the bottom it will start at the top progressing downwards. The gradient determines the spread of the delay and therefore the length of the ‘swirls’ so to speak. It doesn’t really affect the resolution too much. If the top is dark gray and the bottom light gray, for instance, you get less displacement and thus smaller swirls and curves. If you want much thicker slices you will need to lower the Max. Time Resolution or use the second method as described below.

3. Precompose the solid layer. (Ctrl+Shift+C, Move all attributes). Drag this layer beneath the video layer to position two and turn the visibility off by clicking the little eye on the left.

4. Put the ‘Time Displacement’ effect on the Video layer.

5. In the Time Displacement effect, set the ‘Displacement Layer’ to the Solid Precomp layer which holds the gradient (layer 2).

6. The Max Displacement Time influences how fast each slice follows the next one and therefore the look of the flow. I found that using a value between 3 and 5 seconds gives a nice look but it depends on the speed of the movement in your video. If the movement is very fast you should use a short Displacement Time to avoid the flow getting too long. The ‘Time Resolution’ setting regulates the resolution of the effect. It can be set to values between 0 and 3600. The higher you set this value, the longer it takes to render! Increasing this value will improve the resolution but only up to a point. Set it to a compromise where the value is as low as possible and the resolution as high as you can get it. To further improve the resolution, turn on frame-blending for the video layer (don’t set it to ‘pixelmotion’ though). The resolution will also improve if you use slow motion video, filmed at a frame-rate of 60-fps or higher. The footage in the Muse video is all slow motion footage. That’s how they got the resolution so perfect.

This is a video I did using method one. The color correction and diffuse effect was done later in Premiere Pro. If you have other effects applied to the video layer then you must pre-compose it before you apply the Time Displacement effect. These example videos do not have ‘frame-blending’ applied to them because I didn’t learn about how this helps the resolution until after I had published the videos for this tutorial.

Alternatives for the creative minded:

If you’re feeling adventurous, try putting a radial ramp on the SOLID LAYER, with black at the centre. The effect is really amazing looking. You get a sort of lens distortion but only the moving parts are distorted and the distortion is of course only built up out of different delays in time. You can also try putting animated Fractal Noise on the solid to get an even weirder effect. I tried this but it does get messy looking if you don’t watch it.  Turn up the scale of the fractal noise and up the contrast and animate it slowly by Alt-Clicking on the evolution stopwatch and typing: time*50. Fractal type = small bumps, Noise type = Linear, Contrast = 150 Brightness = 33 Scale = 480. Put a Fast Blur over the fractal noise effect to even out the gray which will make the effect look much better. Blurriness = 46.

AN OTHER AWESOME APPLICATION for this effect, especially for suspenseful shots or  horror scenes is to use this on a zoom in shot, filmed from a Dolly Track. The camera rolls slowly towards a person standing stationary in the centre of the shot. Put a radial ramp on the solid layer with the black centre at the position of the persons head. Now the edges of the image will start to move off screen first, progressing inward as the camera rolls forward. Sort of like a ‘Vertigo Zoom’.  This looks really, really awesome!!!

Checkout this short test video I made using some dolly shot I had in my library:

(Watch this one Full Screen and at 720p to get the feel of the effect.)

TIPS FOR FILMING IN RELATION TO THIS EFFECT:

It’s best, when you do this, to make sure your dolly track lies completely horizontal, so you won’t get any roll on the Z-axis in the movement, which WAS the case here as you can see and I think it detracts from the look of the shot.  Beware of branches or other objects that are directly in front or close to the sides of your camera lens. These will move at a relatively higher speed than the background of your video and therefore appear much more distorted. But maybe you want that look, it’s up to you. It’s always a good idea, when filming for SlitScan effects, to use a high frame-rate. That way you can experiment with the playback speed and achieve a high resolution at the same time.

All I can say is experiment to your hearts content ^___^

That concludes the first method.

The Second Method.

The second method involves two scripts that you can download for free on AEScripts.com.

With this method you get distinct rows (and columns if you wish)  It also has the option to displace your footage in a grid pattern as I will explain.

Here are the links to those two scripts:

http://aescripts.com/sequencelayers/

http://aescripts.com/splitimage/

They are ‘name your own price’ so if you proceed to check out you can enter  0.00 for the price and you get them for free although of course it would be nice if you could donate a bit more than that to show you appreciation.

To install the scripts you have to drag the script files into the Script folder. Path:

C: > Program Files > Adobe > Adobe After Effects CS* > Support Files > Scripts

If you drag them into the ‘ScriptUI Panels’ folder (inside the Scripts folder) then you can attach the script as a separate panel to your workspace in After Effects and have them ready to use at all times.

Here’s a breakdown of the effect:

1. Import a video-clip that was shot with a stationary camera, mounted on a tripod. (The background must not move).

2. Make a new comp in After Effects and make the length about twice the length of your video.

3. Drag the video into the comp. Make sure the layer is selected and choose the ‘split image’ script from your ‘window’ option in the menu bar. You will find it at the bottom.

4. For ‘columns‘ enter ’1′ and for ‘rows‘ enter the number of horizontal slices you want. 40 is usually a good number to choose. Make sure the footage (or video) is selected in the timeline aswell as in the project window or you may get an error message when you click ‘execute’. The maximum number of Rows you can choose is dependent on the power of your computer. On my old laptop the script would fail if I entered a number higher than 100. On my new computer I can go higher. An other problem is that above a certain number the bottom part of your video will not be displayed and show black. This happened for me when I entered a number higher than 130 rows.

-If you want displacement in a GRID shaped pattern then enter a higher number for the ‘columns’ parameter. Experiment with this until you get the look you’re after.

5. After you confirm those choices the script produces a new comp which pops up in the project window. Double click the comp to enter it. You will see that it’s filled with the same number of layers as the number of  ’rows’ you chose.

Select all the layers (Ctrl+A) and to offset them, activate the ‘sequence layers’ script. Choose ‘frames‘ for the offset and enter a number between about 1 and 10. If you enter a negative number, the offset will start at the top. A positive number makes the offset start at the bottom. The faster the movement in your video is, the lower the number of frames should be, otherwise your swirls will get very long. This also applies if  you have a high number of rows (say over 90). In that case choose 1 or 2 as frame offset value. Note that the layers are offset using the Current Time Indicator as a starting point so be sure you have the CTI at frame 0.

6. The layers are comp length but of course they contain a video that is half that length. If you want to start your video with a black screen and have the slices come on sequentially, you should select all layers and drag them to the right (offset in timeline) until the first layer starts at frame 0 in the comp.

7. Move the CTI to where you want your video to end. Put the cursor on the gray workspace bar above the layers in the timeline. Right click your mouse and choose ‘Trim comp to work-area’. This will make sure you don’t render out more then you need. Go to the ‘add to render queue’ option under ‘composition’ and render out your video. Add any other effects you want to apply, to this rendered out video to save you hours of render time. Like I said before, adding color correction etc. to this slit scan effect will increase the render time greatly!

8. Make sure you turn off the audio for all but one layer in your comp, otherwise you will get a mishmash of audio-delays which will sound like… well you can fill that in yourself but you get the idea. Turn off the audio and leave it on for the layer that synchronises the best with the end result.

Finally, for the grid shaped Slitscan effect, you obviously enter a higher number for the ‘Columns’ parameter. For a 720p composition I find Rows = 6 and Columns = 10 a nice look. Once you are inside the Comp that the ‘Split Image‘ script produced you can change the Layer Order to get a more random look. The squares in your video will all start at different times and look very chaotic until in the end they all form the complete picture (if the subject in your video stands still at the end of the clip). You can do some very cool looking things with this variant of the Slitscan effect. Make sure you do the randomizing of the layer order before you apply the ‘Sequence Layers’ script. You can of course also randomize the effect by offsetting random layers in time by dragging them left or right after you applied the ‘Sequence Layers’ script. That’s up to you. For the Offset value in the ‘Sequence Layers’ script I advise a value of -4.

And that’s all there is to it really. These scripts make this a very easy to do effect with a very powerful visual impact.

Here’s a video I made with the second method, using the scripts. It has 40 rows and the delay between each row is 4 frames:

Finally I want to show you a video I made in which I combined the techniques I describe above. This video makes use of the time displacement method but using different gradients. The first effect at the corner was done using a horizontal ramp. The black started about one third from the left, at the point where I stand, ending in white to the right hand side. I discovered this ‘merging’ of the mirror image when I applied the effect in post production so I went out to that location again to re-shoot that scene but this time I made a gesture as if I’m embracing someone. I thought that really brought the effect to life. The second effect, in the forest, was done using a radial ramp instead of a linear one. I had black at the centre and the centre point was located just above my head. You can see that as the effect runs out of footage, the movement of the trees stops sequentially until it reaches the centre point and the whole video freezes. The color correction was done with Magic Bullet Looks and was designed by myself. I saved the looks as  presets which are available on request. The light flashes were done with VideoCoPilot’s Optical Flares plugin. The flashes were applied in After Effects but the color grading was done in Premiere Pro to save render-time and to make sure all the effects and footage had the same color scheme. As you may know, color correction or grading should always be the last step in your editing process.

I hope you found this tutorial useful and if you did, please leave a comment. I always appreciate feedback!

My youtube channel is http://www.youtube.com/EdEditz

You can follow me on Twitter: http://twitter.com/Eddykins

P.S.

I was honoured to see that, inspired by this tutorial, Toolfarm has done a very in depth article on the slit-scan effect, comparing different plugins with each other etc. Here’s a link to this article; a ‘must read’ for all who are interested in this effect:

Toolfarm SlitScan Article

More information on how the Time Displacement effect influences pixels can be found in this article from the Help section of the Adobe Website:

Time Displacement explained

Finally, as a little treat, here’s a free app for Android Smart Phone for making SlitScan Pictures (not video). This will also demonstrate how Slitscan for photography works.

Slit-Scan App for Android

If you would like to share any videos you made with the help of this tutorial then please do message me on youtube or attach your video to one of mine as a video response. I’d really love to see them!

Thank you!!