After Effects – Playing with Particles

In the last half hour of our class today, we were shown a bit about how to make particles in After Effects with a few simple steps. First, we needed to create a new composition (as we’ve always done) and add a shape to it (the colour really didn’t matter).

Much like in a previous lesson, we then had to add a gradient to the layer, by going to Layer > Layer Styles > Gradient Overlay. We could then go into the gradient overlay settings and change a variety of things: we wanted a radial overlay and to edit the colours of the gradient to whatever we wanted – I decided I liked the combination of blue and orange.


After this, we were ready to start choosing what kind of effects we wanted to see. The steps to this were so easy, since really it was just about navigating to the right menu.



As seen here, there are a number of simulations (or particles) that come built into After Effects. I decided to play with a few, namely bubbles, shatter, star burst, and foam. There are so many more I plan to look at again in a later post, but for now I’ll show what I thought were some of the best visual effects with my colour combination.



Star Burst


I really do love this effect – it reminds me of what you might see if you were travelling through hyperspace in a movie. I think it really shows off the potential effects that you could add to movie clips, game animations, or reverse it to have the particles zoom in into a word/logo. I think I would like to try something like that, where the layer underneath is actually some text rather than a solid object. Looking at this looped gif is almost hypnotic, so it quickly became one of my favourite simulations.



I thought this effect was really need and there were so many options in the menu – while I chose to show the default bricks, there were other things like glass, puzzle pieces, even egg shapes that could do the same animation. I really liked the look of the brick in wireframe, so I chose not to show the render for this one. It actually reminded me of something you would have seen in a game that was Tron or “in the Matrix”. Perhaps because it has an almost neon-like quality that I loved the animation.



This effect was so close to becoming my favourite, since I just love the look and the colours; every detail is great, right down to the wobble of the bubbles as they’re blown outwards. There were a few settings that I actually fiddled with the achieve this look:



Here you can see a quick snapshot of the effects menu. I decided that this had to be seen in its rendered format, but that I wanted to change the texture of the water as well as the bubble orientation. I changed a few other options, but I felt that raising the numbers caused the effect to look too busy.

Overall, I think this sort of particle effect worked perfectly with a gradient colour scheme. You could go from clear bubbles to coloured, or simple have the gradient move from dark to light as the cluster of bubbles move outwards.



While one would have thought that the above particles were the bubbles simulation, the actual bubbles one has now become one of my favourite visuals out of all the ones I toyed with. There is something ethereal about the effect I created, reminding me of fireflies in the night or something you would have seen in a science fiction film.


Again, I played a lot more with the options of this effect:


I wanted to have more bubbles on the screen and then sped them up – I also slightly changed the wobble of them, so it felt busier. The best part I found was the shading type, which I changed from fade inwards (so they still looked like semi-transparent bubbles) to fade outwards. This gave them an out-of-focus look which caused the effect to go from, for example, bubbles rising in water to what could be embers jumping up from a fire or (as I said already) particles in an ethereal forest.

I definitely want to play with this effect a lot more, as I’m sure there are so many other uses I could have come up with given enough time. It’s one effect I would love to incorporate in a VFX project I do in the future.

Overall opinion of the particles in AE

I feel that this is one of the best things we’ve learned so far in After Effects, since we could create all sorts of animations/footage with these new tools. I can see why products such as Red Giant’s trapcode software is so good – while the built-in options in After Effects are useful, so much more couldĀ be done if one could utilise specially designed, external particle emitter software. From now on, I’ll be sure to look around closely at footage and games to spot what sort of particle effects are being used. It’s likely I’ll recognise a lot more of them in the future, thanks to this quick task.


Posted in VFX

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