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78 Technique   

After Effects CS3 or later

Create light trail effects

Wyld Stallyons’ Chris Sayer and James Wignall shed light on the creation of illuminated trails using After Effects and Trapcode Particular From Apple’s silhouette iPod adverts to the Tron sequel, everybody loves light streaks and, thanks to After Effects, they’re pretty easy to create using the Trapcode Particular plug-in, the fully working demo version of which is on this issue’s CD. After Effects ships with CC Particle World, which is a decent enough 3D particle generator but it doesn’t have the flexibility or power of Trapcode’s plug-in, which is one of the best particle systems on any platform, not just After Effects. Most particle systems work in broadly the same way: an emitter in 3D space ejects particles and subjects those particles to a variety of forces, such as gravity and air turbulence. The user can control the type of particle, its velocity, rotation, spawn rate, degree of randomness and more. This often produces ‘fuzzy phenomena’ such as fire, smoke, meteor tails, and more abstract imagery such as light trails. The number of options in Particular can be daunting, but most controls are obvious or have real-world correlations. By experimenting, you’ll soon get the hang of this amazing plug-in.

James Wignall and Chris Sayer Both directors/ animators at Wyld Stallyons, Chris and James have a wealth of notable work and clients under their belts. Chris was Director of Animation on BBC funded The Snow Queen. James, as Mutanthands, has

worked with the likes of MTV, Sony and Nickelodeon. See more at www. and www.mutant On the disc The files for this tutorial can be located at DiscContents\ Resources\Light

Computer Arts July 2009

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Time needed 1 hour Skills Basic Trapcode Particular Linking movement with expressions Pre-comping

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On the disc

Find your fully-wo rking Trapcode Particu lar on this issue’s dis Demo c



In After Effects, we create a new composition (Ctrl/Cmd+N) and name it ‘Render’. Double-click the composition and add a camera into the scene (Layer>New Camera). Select ‘35mm’ from the Preset menu.

03 02

Now we make a new solid (Layer>New Solid) and call it ‘Particular’. Add the Trapcode Particular (the demo’s on the CD) effect to the layer you’ve just created (Effects>Trapcode>Particular).



Next we click on the ‘Particle’ layer and open Particular’s settings (E). We change ‘Time Sampling’ to ‘RandomStill Frame’, set Size to 25 and Opacity to 35, and place Opacity over Life. Under Emitter, change the Particles/sec to 500 and Emitter Type to ‘Point’. Alt/Opt+click both position layers to add an expression, and with the Pick Whip select the Movement position.

Once you have finished playing with the Fractal Noise settings to get something similar to the screen-grab above, drag the ‘Particle’ composition into the ‘Render’ composition (this is also known as pre-comping). Create a null object (Layer>New>Null Object), name it ‘Movement’, and make it a 3D layer by checking the 3D cube box.

ART163.tut_ae 79

Now we add another new composition (Ctrl/Cmd+N) at 100x100px and call it ‘Particle’. Also, add a new solid (Ctrl/Cmd +Y) and apply Fractal Noise (Effects>Noise & Grain> Fractal Noise). Next, we create another white solid (Ctrl/Cmd+Y) under the one we’ve just created, and set the TrkMat to ‘LumaMatte’.

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In pictures: a rk of the career and wo iters wr ue niq ch Te r ou

Wyld Stallyons

Work by both the studio and Mutanthands


Okay, let’s see how it’s shaping up! Click on your Movement layer, then click the little stopwatch next to Position to add a keyframe. Scrub along the timeline a second or two, then move the box to add another keyframe. How is it looking?


In order to get a nice trail, we’ll need to tweak the Physics settings. It can take a while before you get the right combination of settings to achieve the look you’re after. We found the best way of getting that nice, wavey look was by playing with the Turbulence Field options, such as Affect Size and Affect Position. Established & Sons ads – July 2007 Created by Mutanthands while at Mainframe. “We could do whatever we liked as long as it linked back to the product somehow,” Wignall recalls. UK Jewish Film Festival trailer – October 2008 Wyld Stallyons wrote, designed and animated this trailer for the festival, which was shown in London cinemas given an enthusiastic reception at its premier in Leicester Square.


If you need the trail to be longer, you can adjust the Life[Sec] option, under Particle. Now all that’s left to do is animate the Movement layer and play with a camera (Layer>New>Camera) to make it all feel dynamic and energetic!


You can change the colour of the streaks by clicking the Color box under the Particle settings. To get nice white highlights, you will need to change the Blending Mode to ‘Add’ from the drop-down menu.

The perfect finish Once you’ve finished the legwork of animating your project, there are a few small things you can do to help seal the deal. Add some adjustment layers for a bit of noise (Filter>Noise & Grain), add a vignette or, if you’re feeling adventurous, a bit of colour correction!


You can use this tutorial as a foundation, applying it to your own projects and ideas. It can be used to write on text in a fun and stylish way, to trail lights to cars or, as in our case, to pay homage to Tron! Above all else, the most important thing is to just have fun with it.

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Five ident – October 2008 DixonBaxi briefed Wyld Stallyons to create an ident for Five’s rebrand. Given free reign, the Wyld Stallyons team were inspired by ‘80s video artist Zbigniew Rybczy. The Blizzards video – November 2008 For this music video for Irish band The Blizzards, Wyld Stallyons combined backgrounds built in Cinema 4D with characters animated in After Effects. ‘Tranquillity’ – January 2009 A Mutanthands contribution to Psst! Pass It On. “I decided to do something I’ve always wanted to do – anime!” says Wignall. “It was a good excuse to do an Akira-style dome explosion!”

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Computer Arts July 2009 Technique 78 Skills Basic Trapcode Particular Linking movement with expressions Pre-comping T...

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