CLASSROOM: How to Create a Harry Potter-Inspired Flashback in After Effects
Fantasy and sci-fi genre films are often at the forefront of new and exciting filmmaking techniques for portraying a different reality. While a lot of these techniques are unique to these genre films, sometimes we can take a new idea for something like a flashback sequence and give it our own spin.
In Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows: Part 2, we were treated to a scene which — spoilers — proceeds Snape’s death, and Harry takes a vial of Snape’s tears to the Pensieve to review his former nemesis’s memories. One of the takeaway effects from this sequence is the ink drop transition, which became a hot effect to try and replicate.
However, one of my favourite elements from the sequence is how they display the memories. A tried-and-true device for flashbacks is to use a bloom or glow to represent the past; however, in this sequence, due to how Harry is viewing the memories (in the Pensieve’s water), there is an organic movement to the footage that the filmmakers added in post-production.
After some analysis, it looks similar to a moving-water effect. There are three methods (that I can think of) at work here: skewing, rotation, and digital zoom. Although the last two are used sparingly, it’s primarily the skewing of the footage that gives the sequence its unique, watery feel.
Recently, after watching the sequence, I combed through my After Effects effect library searching for the distortion tool that would give me the same effect, as I assumed it surely wouldn’t be as easy as animating the skew, but, well, it is.
Image credit: Premium Beat