Week 12

Effects in After Effects

As the software’s name suggests, After Effects includes a lot of effects… much more than we have time to explore in this course. Some of these effects are better suited for live action video footage, some are specifically for text (see the week 13 page), but others present easy ways of adding some interest to your character animations.

Here area few examples of traditional character animations that have been enhanced with After Effects:

  • Senjo by Tamerlan BEKMURZAYEV Camille BOZEC Antoine CARRE Ada HERNAEZ Pauline MAUVIERE Alexandra PETIT, 2019
  • Cravings by Kim Mcmahon, 2019

Seeing the Effects panel

Change the workspace to have a better view of the effects panel:

  • Go to Window > Workspace and select Effects

The effects are organized into folders. This page from Adobe provides a detailed overview of all the effects. Each effect has its own set of properties which can be adjusted in the effects control panel (where the project panel is usually located). You can also change the effect over the course of the animation (when the effect appears/disappears, changes etc.) with keyframes within the timeline.

Adding a lens flare effect

A lens flare evokes the quality of a real camera and can add depth to your animation. In order to apply a lens flare effect to your entire composition:

  • Go to Layer > New > Adjustment Layer
  • Rename the new layer lens flare 
  • In the timeline, position the new adjustment layer below the camera and above the other layers.
  • In the effects panel, enter the Generate  folder and drag and drop the Lens Flare effect onto the adjustment layer in the timeline.
  • Look at and edit the options in the Effects Control panel (i.e: position of the flare)

Adding a brush stroke effect

If your animate character has very smooth lines, adding a brush strokes effect can give your animation a more hand-drawn/organic feel:

  • In the effects panel, enter the Stylize  folder and drag and drop the Brush Strokes effect onto the .swf layer that contains the character’s strokes.
  • Look at and edit the options in the Effects Control panel (i.e: brush size)

Creating a vignette

A vignette can focus the viewer’s attention on a detail or the center of the action. In this case, we won’t be using an effect but a masked solid layer:

  • In your composition, create a new solid above your footage by going to Layer > New > Solid *Keyboard shortcut: Cmd + Y. This solid will become your vignette – so keep that in mind when setting the solid color (you can also always change the color of the solid after it has been created by dragging a Fill effect onto it). Make sure the solid is the same size as your composition by clicking the Make Comp Size button. 
  • Next, click and hold on the Shape tool in the toolbar and select the Ellipse tool (or whatever shape you want your vignette to be).
  • Double click on the Ellipse tool. It will automatically create a mask vignette that is the size of your composition.
  • Next, in the Mask settings on the solid layer, click the drop down box that says Add and select Subtract instead.  
  • If you wish to resize or reshape the vignette, click on the red points to adjust the shape to your liking.
  • Last, adjust the Mask Opacity *Keyboard shortcut: T and the Mask Feathering *Keyboard shortcut: F until the vignette is semitransparent and has the look you desire.

Creating a particle effect

You may want to add particles around your character or in the background (i.e: to suggest an explosion, bubbles floating around etc.)

  • In your composition, create a new solid above your footage by going to Layer > New > Solid *Keyboard shortcut: Cmd + Y.  Set its color to black. 
  • Rename the new layer particles.
  • In the timeline, position the new layer where you want it to be (i.e: between the character and the background).
  • In the Effects search panel, find the CC Particle World effect (inside the Simulation folder) and rag onto the new solid.
  • The Particles are generated from a central point call the Producer. You can click and drag it around your composition to place it where you’d like the particles to emanate from.
  • The particles can take on a lot of different shapes, colors and types of motion. Play around with the options in the effects control panel.

Creating a smoke effect

It is fairly easy to create a smoke layer in After Effects – you could apply it to the entire composition or constrain it to a small area, have it last for the entirety of the animation, or just a portion of it.

  • In your composition, create a new solid above your footage by going to Layer > New > Solid *Keyboard shortcut: Cmd + Y.  Set its color to a light grey (i.e: #BDBDBD)
  • Rename the new layer smoke.
  • In the Effects search panel, find the Fractal Noise effect (in the Noise and Grain folder) and drag and drop it onto the new solid.
  • Place your Time Indicator to the beginning of the layer.
  • In the Effects control panel, click on the Evolution stopwatch.
  • Go to the last frame of the layer and change the value of the Evolution setting. If you preview your animation, you will notice that the fractal noise pattern shifts overtime, creating a smoke like effect.
  • You could decrease the opacity of the entire layer and have it cover the entire composition to evoke fog, but if you wish to constrain it to a certain area, you will need to apply a Mask to it:
    • Make sure the smoke layer is selected
    • Select one of your shape tools (i.e: ellipse) or the pen tool to draw the shape you want the smoke to be constrained to.
    • Toggle  the layer’s Masks and Mask 1 tabs and increase the value of  Mask Feather. 
    • Look at the other Mask properties: it’s shape, opacity and scale could also change overtime.

Final project – step 7: adding an effect to the walk cycle


Add at least 2 effects to your walk cycle. Pick from the ones explained above or find something else that will enhance your animation online and/or by exploring the effects panel.


Use the following composition settings: 24fps, width: 1920px | height: 1080px. Save your .aep file and export your animation to Quicktime (review rendering instructions on the week9 page). Upload your animation to Vimeo or Youtube.


Create a new post on your Open Lab portfolio. Your post should include a link to your Vimeo or Youtube video as well as a short description (what did you add/change from the previous version. Reflections on your process, challenges, goals etc. are also welcome).

This assignment is due next week. Submit the following files on the following platforms:

  • Blackboard: .aep file and all .swf and .ai files imported into it and a link to your Open Lab post.
  • Open Lab discussion board: Reply to the “Final Project: step-6:effects” discussion post with a link to your Open Lab post

This is part of the final project. It will be taken into account in the final grade for the project (see full grading rubric here).