How To Make A Particular Particle Effect In After Effects

At JMX2, we recent completed a fun project that let us spend a lot of time in After Effects working with the particle generator called Particular. The project was to create 2 synchronized ad banners. In the 1st banner at the top of the page, photos in picture frames slid out of their frames while dissolving into pixel-like particles then followed a predetermined motion path into a phone, in the 2nd banner, where they regrouped into showing the original photo.

The Original Project

You can see what we ultimately delivered to our client here:

How did we do it?

Jon and I talked about a variety of ways of executing this animation. We built a pure Flash version of the particles for a version that had tight K size limiations, but when we were given the opportunity to build a richer version, we put on our After Effects hats and got to work. We chose to Particular as our particle engine because it’s flexibility and power. You can download a demo version for free at the Red Giant site.

We won’t post the files made for clients, but I’ve put a small demo movie together, complete with all the source files, for you to get a understanding of how cool and powerful Particular is.

The Example

Here’s a final output of the example file I’ve posted. I’ve taken a still shot of Mario and had him explode into a cloud of mushroom shapes based on the colors that Mario is created with. Near the end of the explosion, I’ve had more of the mushrooms use their original color.

Download a ZIP file of full package for this After Effects project here. If you don’t have Particular installed on your machine already, but sure to download it as well from the Red Giant site.

Getting the Particular project going

I’ll outline the basic steps of this project, but the best thing for you to do is to download the file and experiment.

1. Start by making a new composition 320x240 pixels, Square pixels, 30 frames per second. I made the duration 7 seconds, but try making yours 10 seconds. You can always trim it later if you want, which is how I ended up at 7 seconds.

2. Next, import the assets to your project: Mario, the Mushroom and the background graphic. (I’ve used a flickr image by freshyill in my project for Mario, the Mushroom and the background image.)

3. Although the sample file has a few more layers than I’m describing here, you can start with just a Mario layer and a Mushroom. Drag those 2 graphics from your Project window to your composition.

4. Next create a solid (Layer>New>Solid). I made mine black. The important thing is to be sure it’s the size of your canvas. It should automatically be added to your composition. If it’s not, add it above the other layers.

5. You don’t actually want to see the mushroom layer, so turn the “eyeball” off so it’s invisible.

6. Now, go to your effects pallete and look for the Particular effect. Drag it onto the solid that you made.

7. You should now have a white starburst-like particle effect in your comp.

Now we’re ready to have some fun.

8. Click on your solid layer and open the Effects Controls for that layer. If your Effects Controls panel isn’t open, highlight the solid layer and press “e” on your keyboard to reveal the effects that are applied to that layer. Double click the effect that shows up, in this case Particular, and the Effects Controls panel should show up on your screen.

9. From here, I’ll just give you some examples of settings I’ve chosen because making work is really a matter of experimentation.

Below are some key settings I’ve chosen.

Key settings in the SuperGeekery After Effect Particular project.

10. I’ve changed the Emitter Type from it’s default to “Layer” which activates the following option called “Layer”.

11. In that setting, I’ve chosen the Mario layer, but Mario must be a 3-D layer for this to work. If you forget to turn Mario into a 3-D layer, the program will alert you though. What this setting does is make Mario the starting point for our particular effect. Layer RGB Usage is another option that was activated by choosing “Layer” in the Emitter Type. Set it to RGB- Particle Color. Now our particles are based on the colors in Mario.

12. In the “Particle” area change the “Particle Type” to “Custom Fill”. Now twirl down the “Custom” options a couple lines below that. Here there is another “Layer” option. Select the Mushroom layer this time. What you’ve just done is make the particles mushrooms instead of circles.

More experimenting.

In my example, I wanted the mushrooms to always be upright, so I elimated all the rotation properties of the particle emitter. I also wanted the particles to change over time to be made out of their original color, so I added the solid to the timeline a 2nd time to get more particles that were just made of the mushrooms in their original color. As I ramped down the Mario-colored mushrooms, I ramped up the original-colored ones. I put in a 3-D camera and the background image to give it a bit of depth.


In the example i showed you from JMX2 project, I also took the particles and made them follow motion paths. (The video was later incorporated into Flash as well.) These motion paths are “Lights” in the 3D space After Effects creates. When you’ve got 3D cameras moving around following multiple 3D motion paths for your particles, it starts to get pretty complex, but Particular handles it like a champ. I don’t think it crashed my machine once.
Now go have some fun! If you do something cool, please send me a link.

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