Learn how to create this familiar sci-fi effect that’s popping up everywhere in television shows, music videos, and movies.

Top image via Cinecom.net.

Taylor Swift’s new video features many similar themes, shots, and VFX work with recent sci-fi forays like Ghost in the Shell. One of the DIY looks you can recreate yourself without a budget like Swift’s is a robotic eye. It’s easy to pull off in After Effects, and Cinecom brings us a stellar video tutorial on exactly how to do it. Let’s check it out.

Make sure you light your subject as so that you can see the light reflected in their eyes. This will create a good contrast point, as well as preventing movement from blocking the light.  Another way they prevented interference with the light is to make sure the actor did not blink, which is only impractical if you’re using the effect for longer scenes.

How to Create Mechanized Eyes in Adobe After Effects — Light Subject

So in order to create the effect, you must first motion track the eyes of your actor. To do this, open up the Window tab, then hit Tracker.  Make sure to select the clip, then hit Track Motion. Next, scale and drag the tracking point and place it on the actor’s eye, right on the reflected light. Then enlarge the tracker to fit around the area of movement to track. Hit the Play button to see if the tracker follows the correct path. If it doesn’t, just hit reset and try again.

How to Create Mechanized Eyes in Adobe After Effects — Motion Tracker

Once you’ve set the tracker, assign this information to a new layer (Layer > New > Null Object). This will now appear on your Tracker Window, allowing you to assign names if you are working with multiple tracking points. So hit Edit Target, then choose Null1, hit Ok, then hit Apply. Now the Null Object will move with your actor’s eyes.

How to Create Mechanized Eyes in Adobe After Effects — Null Object

Drag and drop whichever elements you want from the Interface pack into your composition. Scale them to fit your actor’s eyes, then take the Whip tool from the element layers and drag it to the Null Object layer. That takes care of the tracking portion of the tutorial. Now let’s see how to customize the appearance of the elements.


How to Create Mechanized Eyes in Adobe After Effects — Whip Tool

First, change the Blend Modes of the two clips to Linear Light. This just blends the element in with the natural color of the original shot. Then, you’ll need to edit the elements to fit the natural shape of the eye. So more likely than not, you’ll not be working with eyes that are not perfect circles. So take the outside circle clip, select the Pen tool, draw a mask around the entire shape of the eye. This will appear in the layer you’ve selected (the outside circle). Then you’ll need to track this mask with the eye. So, right-click on the mask, and hit Track Mask.

The tutorial for Taylor Swift’s video also features the use of the Corruption pack. You can use glitches in various way, and they are generally pretty simple to apply to your workflow.


Had any luck with this sci-fi effect in your own work? Let us know in the comments.