Add VFX in After Effects

How to Add VFX in After Effects [Beginner’s Guide]

Table of contents

Are you having a hard time working out how to add VFX in After Effects? Well, you’re in luck! In this article, we give you a quick step-by-step guide.

So regardless of your skill level, whether you’re an aspiring VFX artist or just looking to brush up on your basic AE knowledge – this guide will help you. 👍

Get free VFX templates, video assets, music, and sound effects at ProductionCrate. Everything you need to take your project to the next level. 🙌

Let’s explore how to add VFX in After Effects. But first…

What Are VFX?

VFX scene with explosions and fire

Visual Effects or VFX are created by placing several video elements on top of each other to add, change or enhance a film. VFX often involves the integration between actual footage and manipulated imagery to create realistic looking environments.

Confused? it just means you can create cool stuff like explosions or fire without having to endanger your cast and crew. 🧨👌

What is After Effects?

Adobe After Effects is post-production software that helps you to create effects by adding and blending multiple layers of video.

While there are various types of animation software that you can use After Effects is by far one of the easiest tools to use. It offers you the easiest options for compositing, motion graphics and video editing. The results are pretty darn impressive and the possibilities are limitless.

Now, let’s get started with how to add VFX in After Effects.

How To Add VFX in After Effects

Firstly, there are various free After Effects templates available as well as free VFX assets from ProductionCrate that you can play with.

However, we are going to show you something pretty simple – how to add snow to your videos. Follow these 7 easy steps.

1. Import Footage

import footage

The first step is to import all the media you need to create your visual effect – footage, photos, or graphics. You can simply drag and drop your media files into the After Effects projects tab or go to File > Import and select your media.

2. Create A Composition

Next, you need to create a composition. Think of a composition as the editing workspace for your clip. It will contain your footage and whatever effects you are applying to it. You don’t need a different composition for each video but we recommend it to keep your workspace cleaner and easier to work with.

Drag and drop your footage into this tab to create a new one. You can also go to Composition > Create New Composition but dragging and dropping will create one automatically based on your video’s parameters.

After Effects create new composition

Once you’ve done that you’ll see that you now have a new composition. You can then rename it to whatever you want to stay organized.

rename composition

3. Import Effects

Since this is a snow compositing tutorial we’ll need some snow effects. You can either shoot your own, create some with a particle plugin or simply use stock assets. We recommend stock assets for speed, simplicity, and a variety of options.

VFX snow assets

Import your snow effect by dragging and dropping it into your project window.

4. Add To Timeline

add snow layer to After Effects timeline

Now drag and drop it into your composition timeline and make sure it is above your footage layer.

If your snow is pre-keyed (has a transparent background) you will already see it working. However, if your effect has a black background then you just need to change your blending mode to Screen.

In addition to this, if you are using loopable snow effects like we are, make sure you set your footage to loop. There are many ways to do this but here is a free script.

5. Add Masks

Now let’s make it more realistic. You can add depth to your snow effect by adding in a fake haze to your shot.

Create a solid that matches the colour of the lighter clouds. You can do this by hitting Ctrl > Y or Layer > New > Solid then select the eye-dropper icon and pick the lighter cloud color and hit OK.

create new solid layer

Now you should have a greyish solid (or whatever color your clouds are). Make sure that a new solid is selected in your composition and drag it beneath your snow layer but still above your footage layer. With your solid still selected hit G to select your pen tool.

Now simply draw these cloud-like circular shapes. Make sure to close the shape by selecting the first point again when you’re done drawing to close it. You should have something like this.

Add mask

It’s not too pretty but you’re actually almost done! With your Solid Layer selected hit M to show those masks you just drew. You’ll see them appear in the dropdown.

mask layer After Effects panel

6. Feather

We now have three masks (one for each of those circular shapes we drew). We just need to feather them out.

Select all your masks by holding Ctrl and clicking each one. Once you have them all selected hit F to bring up the feathering options. This will help soften those hard edges.

With your masks all still selected increase the feathering amount (for example we went with 158 for this project).

Feather mask

You can move your mask points around to better fit your horizon and even adjust the color with the Fill effect which you can find in your Effects window. It has the same eyedropper tool we used before.

With your solid layer selected hit T to bring up your opacity options (each layer has this). Drop your opacity down to whatever looks good. We went with 30% opacity.

The results – the further the footage is the higher the opacity. This helps to add volume to the snow. 👍

increase z axis

The snow will seem like a cloud (as if it is too far off to be seen by the camera). Mask out the foreground to ensure it doesn’t sit behind this fog to add additional depth to your scene.

For beginners, you should be done at this point and can move on to exporting. However, if you want to try something a bit more advanced keep reading.

7. Additional Tweaks (Advanced)

Download a background snow effect (these tend to be wider shots showing off more particles). Place the “snow background” behind the foreground and the “slow snow falling” in front.

This will make the subject look like they are sandwiched between the two snow assets (making them appear as part of the scene). Here’s what the layering should look like.

animation composite

To make the dark halos surrounding the snowflakes invisible you can use a screen transfer mode to put in the snow effects.

And that’s it! you should be pretty much done by this point. 🎉

8. Export the Composition

export composition in After Effects

Now it’s time to export your composition into a finished video file. Here are 4 quick steps.

  1. Composition > Add to Render Queue or File > Export > Add to Render Queue
  2. Double-check that the Render Settings are on Best.
  3. Go through the output module and change the settings you need for your project (or pick from presets like YouTube, Vimeo, etc).
  4. Navigate to Output To and choose the folder or hard drive where you want to save your video.

And there! You have successfully added VFX in After Effects.

Wrapping Up – Add VFX in After Effects

To sum up, learning After Effects can take some time however the best way is to get stuck in. Try experimenting with adding different VFX and assets and you’ll start to get the hang of it.

The great thing about VFX is there’s always something new and exciting to learn. Also, check out our article on After Effects plugins which will save you some time. 😉

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