Pro Tips, Tutorials

How to Place Text Behind a Moving Object in After Effects CC

Placing text behind moving objects in a video is a visually compelling way of revealing titles, credits, or other information in your productions. There are multiple ways you can achieve this effect — this method using Adobe After Effects CC involves masking, inversion, and keyframing. Here’s how to do it.


Step 1: Identify Your Video Clips

The key to creating successful and visually interesting scenes with text behind objects (or people) is choosing the right video clips. I recommend choosing a clip or filming a video where the object you want to place text behind has a clear path of movement and is the central focus of the video.

For this video, I chose a video clip of a ferry boat from the Pond5 library. This shot is perfect for this purpose, as it is the only moving object in the frame and it moves from left to right across the frame.

White Boat Sailing on the Blue Sea by MEDIAIMAG

Step 2: Create Your Text Layer

After you import your clip into your project panel, right click on the clip and create a new composition. Then, using the Horizontal Type tool, type out your text on your composition. Make sure that the text layer is on top of the video footage in your composition.

I chose the font “Futura PT” and made the text extra large (over 500px) to make it stand out behind the boat.

Step 3: Create Your Mask and Invert It

Next, draw a mask on the text layer — but instead of drawing a mask around the letters, we’re going to draw a mask around the boat itself and then invert it.

First, you need to scrub the current time indicator (CTI) to the point where your object is fully in frame (or in the center). Then turn off the text layer by selecting the eye icon. Now it will be easier to see the boat; press the “Z” key to zoom in to the boat’s outline.

Use the Pen tool (or press the “G” key on your keyboard) to carefully draw a mask around the boat’s outline. To draw a mask with the Pen tool, just click to create new points along the edge of your object. Press “H” to use the hand tool to move along the outline; to go back to the Pen tool to continue drawing the mask, press “G” again. (The “H” and “G” keys will be your best friends during this process.)

It’s important to note that the mask doesn’t have to be directly on the edge of your object. In fact, I recommend that you draw the mask a few pixels inside of the object’s outline.

To complete the mask, simply select the very first point you drew with the mask. Now turn the text layer back on by clicking the eye icon again.

From the text layer, press “M” to reveal the mask in your comp, then select the “invert” button so that the text is now behind the object.

Step 4: Animate the Mask Position

From the text layer, press “M” on your keyboard again to reveal the mask settings. Click on the stopwatch next to the Mask Path to set your first keyframe.

With the Mask Path selected, move the CTI to the very beginning of the composition. Using the selection tool, move the mask to reposition it to align with the outline of the boat. You will see that, after you move the mask, it creates a new keyframe at this new position in your comp.

You may need to press “Z” on your keyboard to zoom in to the comp, in order to better align the mask with the boat’s outline again. Now, when you play back the clip, the mask moves with the boat from the start to the second keyframe in your composition.

Move the CTI to the very end of the composition. Just like before, with the Mask Path selected, use the selection tool to click on the mask outline and move it to align with the outline of the boat again. Now there’s a third keyframe in the timeline.

Step 5: Refinement

Scrub back to the beginning of the composition and press the spacebar to play back the clip. You may notice there are moments where the mask doesn’t align perfectly with the boat outline. When you find those moments, simply move the mask into alignment to create a new keyframe.

Repeat this process for every frame where you find the mask is out of alignment with your moving object. Once that’s complete, you can apply the same techniques to multiple clips to produce an awesome opening title sequence.

Related Post Opening Title Sequence Trends and How to Replicate Them

Have any questions about this process or tips of your own to share? Let us know in the comments below!