After Effects — December 10, 2011 8:27 pm

What can Adobe After Effects do?

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Many 3D artists and animators spend countless hours on their creation through modeling, applying materials & textures, getting the lighting just right, and finally spending hours, days, or even weeks on the final render. Then what do they do? They zip it up and send it to a client or post it on youtube to show off their work as-is. But there’s an added step that can turn a great animation into one that’s amazing. That extra step is the addition of special effects such as animated titles, sound, lighting, particles, and video composition. Adding some or all of these elements will add “wow” factor to your final product.

Special Effects

After Effects, as the name implies, is excellent for adding special effects to a rendered animation. It is particularly good at light and particle based effects such as lightning, glowing orbs, light & dust trails, and other effects of that nature.

A "ball of light" effect created in Adobe After Effects by

The above ball of light effect was created by the gurus at who offer a tutorial on how to recreate this effect yourself. Not only does After Effects have the ability to create the ball of light shown, but it also tracks the camera and casts light on the road in the scene as well. Pretty cool stuff. There are hundreds of other effects possible as well, many built-in natively to the software, and others possible through 3rd party addons.

Professional Quality Motion Graphics

After Effects also excels in the design and application of professional quality motion graphics such as those used during intro animations, titles, and graphic overlays. The layout and animation tools are specifically designed for this sort of work and the results look much more professional than a simple static title created in photoshop with an alpha channel background. There are tons of animation sequences/effects that can be applied to the text/graphics using built-in tools, and it is relatively easy to modify these or create your own.

Motion graphics overlay created in After Effects by "usmanrafi" at Videohive.

The above snapshot is an example of motion graphics overlaid on video created by usmanrafi at This particular example is worthy of a professional news broadcast, however simpler graphics could be used for such things as captions or narratives.


This one is an example of using motion graphics in After Effects to create a TRON style movie opening/title. There is a tutorial for creating this particular intro at aetuts+.


After effects has a very powerful particles system that can be used to create many different kinds of visual effects. One of the most common is the creation of video backdrops. This produces an interesting effect while not distracting from the main content. Particles can also be used for explosion effects, string, light rays, and even smoke.

Interesting particle backdrop created in After Effects by Andrew Kramer.

The above screen capture is from an exploding title introduction by Andrew Kramer, but also includes a separate particle system to create the background for a nice effect. The entire tutorial can be found at

Using After Effects Particles to create realistic smoke trails by Andrew Kramer.

Particles can also be used to create smoke in After Effects, much the same way as in 3D rendering software. This above example, also from a tutorial by Andrew Kramer, shows how realistic smoke trails can be made.

Camera Tracking

Camera tracking is a technique used to combine real video footage with rendered material, and have the computer generated objects move and cast shadows realistically in the scene as the camera is moved. The best way to understand is through example.

Lighting & Compositing

Raw video and 3D renders can often look quite dull without adding special effects through compositing such as motion blur, lens flare, etc. or by adjusting the default lighting. After Effects includes tools to do these sorts of things and much more. Compositing is also used for example to combine footage that was shot in front of a green screen with another background.

Lighting & compositing effects create this awesome fairytale environment, by Harry Frank.

The above forrest scene was created by Harry Frank, a well known and respected graphics professional. He has created a tutorial for this scene, which uses various After Effects lighting effects, blur, dust, and some other tricks to create this beautiful scene. Compositing can take an otherwise ordinary clip and turn it into something fantastic, much like color correction can produce amazing results from still photography.


After Effects is not designed to be a fully featured sound effects platform, however it does offer some rudimentary tools for adding music, voice, or other sound effects to your video. It is astonishing how simply adding a quiet background music track to a video can enhance its appeal. The tools are basic and essentially consist of a mixer, bass/treble, reverb, modulator, etc.

See Also



  • R.-3:05- And so now what we want to do is we’re just gonna hit E to extrude, and let’s right-click, and then hit S and scale in just a llttie bit, and then we’re gonna hit E to extrude again, and this time we’re gonna scale it out, way out, and actually let’s hit Alt-S to scale along the normals, that way they kind of shrink as they go out as well. We’ll take it out to about right there (3:27) and then we’re gonna hit E to extrude again, and once more do Alt-S and then hit left click once more, which will just shrink all those faces down. Then, on these faces, we can go ahead and hit W and Smooth if we want. (3:46) Maybe adjust these a llttie bit. There we go, and so now we have a kind of cool effect going on, but I’m actually going to step back and undo that a llttie bit, because what I’d really like to have is for it to be more of kinda tentacles that start thickest at the bottom, then get thinner, and thinner, so we have a nice taper on it, so now I’m just going to select those again, extrude out, lemme smooth it a few times, fix any weird faces, one more time, just kinda tweaking it until we get what we like. And that looks pretty good, so now we have just a spiky ball. (4:20)There ya go!

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