Fire and Smoke in After Effects (Part II)

By: Tiago Dias

Smoke - Part 2

Our Smoke already looks pretty cool, but we still can do better. We're going to use a mask and also a pretty impressive effect called Mesh Warp.

First let's put the Composition that we've done before into a new one, that can be done by going to the Project window, and dragging the Smoke 1 composition into the new composition button located at the bottom of the project window. Do a right-click in the Composition panel and select Composition Settings, rename it to FinalSmoke and confirm the change.

You'll now see the Smoke 1 composition in the FinalSmoke timeline. Ensure that the layer is selected, grab the Rectangular Mask Tool (shortcut: Q) and draw a mask about 3/4 of the comp bottom to top. Change the mask settings by selecting the layer and pressing the M key on your keyboard, twirl down the mask1 property and change these values:

  • Mask Feather: 260px, 260px
  • Mask Expansion: 20px

This will give our smoke layer a more soft effect on the edges, as well it will be faded out at the top of the composition window... with this technique you'll be able to place the smoke layer wherever you want without having any cutting edges.

Figure 8 – Masked Smoke

The next effect we will apply is the <Mesh Warp which can be found under Effects & Presets > Distort. Select the "SmokeLayer" Layer and apply the Mesh Warp effect to it by either dragging it from the Effects & Presets panel or by choosing Effects > Distort from the menu. Now these settings can't really be explained and shown step-by-step, it's more of a trial & error procedure to see how it reacts, and if you pushed the right vertexes around.

Figure 9 - The Mesh Warp effect window

I've used 5 Rows and 3 Columns with a Quality of 8. As you can see in the screenshot I've tried to narrow the smoke even more as well as tried to give a slight touch of a swirl.

Figure 10 – Mesh warp

It might look a bit grungy, but I think that this one does the job pretty well. With this last step our Smoke is now complete. If you do a test render by pressing the 0 key on your numerical keypad, you will see how the smoke flows up and twirls in the middle and a bit on the edges.

Hang on there, we're now moving to a nice effect, one that I love to implement on most of my projects. Fire!


Welcome to the second part of this tutorial where we are about to create some awesome fire using only the plugins which are already installed with After Effects 7.0 Pro.

  1. Let's start by creating a new composition named Fire with the same settings as before

    Figure 11 – Composition settings

  2. Drag the solid we created before from the project window in to the timeline and apply the CC Particle Systems II effect from the Effect & Presets > Simulation list.

    Again we're being confronted with a huge amount of settings, let us change the ones that fit our needs.

  3. Twirl down the properties and change the following values at the top of the properties list:
    • Birth Rate: 10.0
    • Longevity(sec): 1.5
  4. Twirl down the Producer properties and change the following values:
    • Producer: 104, 330
      We place the producer at the bottom to match the smoke composition
    • Radius X: 0
    • Radius Y: 7
      Depending on the producer fire first stretches at the height before it goes wide
  5. Twirl down the Physics properties and change the following values:
    • Animation: Jet Sideways
    • Velocity: 0.5
      Velocity of the particles flying
    • Inherit Velocity: -34%
      With this setting you are braking out the particles when they come out of the producer, that gives the fire a more opulent look
    • Gravity -0.6
      Since the firejet is looking downwards we change to a negative value so that the fire grows out of the producer
    • Air Resistance: 0.1
      Due to our car being out in the woods, meaning a lot of air around it, we don't need to change this value much,
      anyway play around with it to see what it does
    • Extra: 1.5
      This value is a riddle to me as well, anyway we're using it to widen the fire cone to the sides.

      Now you probably know why I've asked you to first play around with some real fire to see how it reacts.

  6. The last step with this effect is to change the look & feel of our single fire particles. If you look into the particle type dropdown you will find a bunch of already made presets, such as line, star, sphere, shaded sphere. With this effect you're not able to change the particles with your own designed version but that's not a problem in our case, we are going to change the particles so they match our needs.

    Particle World, Particle Playground or a 3rd party plugin like Trapcode particular gives you more freedom to control the design of the particles. My favourite Trapcode particular does a very nice and clean job when choosing your own textures for the particles

    • Particle Type: Shaded&Faded Sphere
    • Birth Size: 0.62
    • Death Size: 0.84
    • Size Variation: 100%
    • Opacity Map: Fade In & Out
    • Max Opacity: 21%
    • Color Map: Birth to Death
    • Birth Color: #E87607
    • Death Color: #000000

As you remember particles are supposed to grow, and that's why we are setting values on the Birth Size as also on the Death Size property, All the other values are up to you, I just thought this values are doing the job pretty well.

Figure 12 - Fire

Our fire still needs a bit of tweaking to get the final look we are searching for. Apply a Levels Effect from the Effect > Color Correction group and assign the following settings:

  • Input Black: 0.0
  • Input White: 103
  • Gamma: 0.67

Figure 13 – Level settings

If you drag the middle handle around, you'll see that the color of the fire gets more vivid and clear, but it's up to you to get the right color for your project, these settings I've made are supposed to fit best for our project.

As the last effect we're adding to this project, grab Leave Color from Effects > Color Correction.

This little helper removes a percentage of a color tone in our composition, in this case we are removing a bit of the red channel so we get a grayed out top when the particles are about to die.

Figure 14 - Leave Color settings

By now you should have a fire source like this one below, do a quick render to see the flames burn.

Figure 15 - Fire


Moving to the final steps of this project, we're about to add all the Compositions we've done into one Final Composition.
Create a new Composition named Final with the same settings as before. Import our old_car.psd file by right-clicking in the project window, After Effects will ask you how you would like to import the psd file. We're going with the layer option, since we don't have a need to import it as a composition or a merged layer.

Figure 16 - Import dialog box

Drag the old_car.psd, Smoke and Fire composition to the newly created Composition. Ensure that you have the following layer order:

  1. Car (psd)
  2. Smoke
  3. Fire

If you now do a quick render you will notice how our fire and smoke are moving up behind the car, that's why we've created an alpha channel out of the window and top of the car. Without this single image, our fire would look a bit lonely with the smoke.

When you open the source files you will notice that I've duplicated the smoke layer and the fire composition has a duplicated solid with the same settings as the basic Fire but with a few changed values to make it look different then the first fire we created.

From this moment on, I leave it up to you to perfect this technique and change it to your own needs. Don't forget to play around with all the settings mentioned. As soon as you are sure which value is doing what, I bet you can do some awesome fire actions.

The support files can be downloaded at the end of this article.

Approximate download size: 888k

Download Support Files

Back To .. (Part I)


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