A magic ball effect, i’d been aiming to one of these for some time. Hopefully i’ll be able to get a tonne more done in the future, including some more elaborate effects. At the moment it’s the old text tutorial, but i’ll be video-ising it as soon as i can.
After playing in Adobe After Effects with fractal noise for a while I eventually developed this plasma energy ball effect that I liked. Generally this is a simple effect that focuses around fractal noise plus a few adjustments, a clip of the ball in action can be seen below as well as a screenshot and a tutorial.
Required: Adobe After Effects
Optional: Trapcode’s particular and shine plugins
Open up your copy of Adobe After Effects.
Make a new composition; Composition > New Composition. When creating this effect I worked in 800×600, and then scaled down the final result in the render queue to 400×300, as shown in the downloadable clip above.
In your new composition create a new black solid; Layer > New > Solid: Set the colour to black, click Make Comp Size and accept. Duplicate this layer in your timeline (cntrl+D/cmd+D) and set the new layer’s transfer mode to ‘add’. Now find the Elliptical Mask tool from your toolbox (hit tab to bring it up) and create a circular mask on your composition. Place it in the middle of your composition and make it a nice size, you can look at mine for guidance. From the layer options in the timeline, click the twirly, go to masks > mask 1 > feather, and set the feather to around 100, although this will depend on the size of your mask. Under ‘noise and grain’ in effects choose Fractal Noise. For the whole of this effect I kept fractal type as basic, but you can experiment with different type to create different interesting effects; try experimenting with what you like.
Match the settings as shown:
Notice that the stopwatch next to Evolution is on, this will set keyframes for the evolution of the noise. If you move this timer up and down you’ll notice the noise changing in your display. Basically, what we want to do is set keyframes throughout the comp to keep the evolution changing, depending on how fast you want the effect to be will depend on where you set your evolution keyframes. For my effect, I set a keyframe at the beginning of the comp to 0 x +0.0, and then one at 3 seconds to 4 x +0.0. Now between 0 and 3 seconds the evolution will go through 4 revolutions. Duplicate this whole layer. From here it’s really your choice if you want to change the evolution for this layer or keep it the same as the other layer; these two layers are going to ‘overlap’ each other opacity-wise to make the ball swirl and warp more.
Now we need to set keyframes for opacity for both ball layers. Twirl down the options on the layer and set the stopwatch next to opacity to set keyframes for both layers. At 00:00:00 set one layer to 100% opacity and the other to 0%. About a half second on from this point set another keyframe for both layers, and reverse the opacities. That is to say, what was 100% should now be 0% and vice versa for the other layer. Keep going in this manner for the duration of the comp. If it’s particularly long you could just do a few seconds worth and then play the comp over again, while blending one in with the other and having the second played at a different rotation so that it doesn’t look the same over and over again.
Duplicate one layer again, it doesn’t particularly matter which. What we’re going to do here is enhance the ball effect in the middle of the clip. For my clip above I have this fade out with the same evolution as one of the layers. You may prefer to have it more constant and not fade, this is simply a matter of changing the evolution and opacity. Twirl down the options for this layer, it should also be placed above the previous two layers in your timeline, and scale it down to around 25% (mine in particular was 27%), and make sure it’s placed nicely in the middle of the ball effect.
We’re done with this composition, you should have 4 black solid layers, 3 set to add transfer mode and one to normal. We want to bring this composition into a new composition to flatten the layers down. Do this by dragging the comp from the project window over the composition button positioned along the bottom of the project window (third from the left). This will open the composition in a new comp with all the appropriate settings of the original.
In this comp, create a new black solid layer, make comp size and leave it at the bottom of the timeline, below your ball composition layer. At this point I wanted to enhance the glow drop-off, so i duplicated the ball layer and brightened it by reducing the input white from the ‘levels’ effect under Adjust > Levels in effects. Then I applied a blur, this should be pretty high, a gaussian blur will work but fast blur is perfectly viable also. At least 100 or so to smooth out the blur. Place this layer above your other ball comp layer. Set it’s transfer mode to add. You may want to reduce it’s opacity for this layer, mine is at 70%.
At this point I created a new adjustment layer. Adjustment layers can be found under Layer > New > Adjustment Layer. Essentially what adjustment layers do is affect everything below them in the timeline. So place this one at the top above all the other layers, and go to Adjust > Colour Balance under effects. For my green I used:
60 Green shadows
40 Green midtones
50 Green highlights
Check preserve luminosity.
I also applied a fast blur to this layer of 2.0, so as to blur slightly everything below it to make a nicer, smoother gradient of colour and drop-off.
We’re almost done. The only thing left is to create the particle system. This is where trapcode’s particular and shine come in and are really optional, but it can help to sell the effect, although the particle system would be simple also to create in After Effect’s own particle playground that ships with out of the box versions of After Effects. If you’d like to try out particular or shine you can download free trials of them at trapcode.com
Create a new black solid. Find your trapcode particular plugin from the effects menu. I set the emitter to 400 particles/sec, the velocity to 200, direction outwards, emitter type box. Under particle, set the life to whatever means the particles die before they leave the ball (preview your composition to check), on mine its 0.4 seconds. Particle type: glow sphere. Be sure to turn motion blur on, beyond that leave the settings as default. Now apply ‘shine’, ray length at about 2, and adjust the colour as you like. For my green I used one of the defaults, ‘chemistry’.
And you’re done. Just set that last layer in the middle of the two ball comps, so it should be third from the top.