All Broken Up

I get asked a lot of questions about Particles in After Effects 7. Particle generators can be a little hard to get your head wrapped around at first, so I recommend “CC Particle Systems II” as a good jumping-off point. It’s one of the first particle generators ever developed for AE, and while it’s not as feature-rich as Particle Playrground, or other third-party particle generators, it’s an easy one to learn, and you can apply the knowledge to more complex incarnations. The “CC” stands for Cycore – these are the 60 additional Cycore Effects that come included with AE7 on a separate installer on the AE or Production Studio installer disks.

Start by adding a new solid layer to your AE comp (Layer>New>Solid) and make it the size of your comp. Then apply CC Particle Systems II (found in the Simulation category in the Effect menu). Do a RAM preview and you’ll see a pretty basic fireworks effect.

particles_01.jpg
The Particle Systems II effect controls and the default results in the Comp viewer.

The basic concept with a particle generator is that a particle is born, it does something over time, and then it dies.

At first, all the controls in the Effect Controls panel will be twirled up (i.e. hidden). Click on the triangles next to Producer, Physics, and Particle to reveal their respective controls. Most of these are pretty self explanatory (Velocity, Gravity, etc). The first place to start is to decide what kind of particle you want to generate. Pull down the Particle Type pulldown menu and try each of the selections to see what they look like.

A pretty common application of a particle generator is to create fire & smoke. So to start off, select Shaded&Faded Sphere from the Particle Type pulldown. Then change your Birth & Death color to something more resembling fire. When the particles are born, we want them to be an orangey red. When they die, we want them to be pretty close to black.

Then start from the top of the screencap below and change the settings one by one. Each time you change something, do a RAM preview, or just hit the spacebar, to see the results of your changes. This will give you a basic idea of the influence of each of the controls.

particles_02.jpg

So once you’re about where I am in the screencap above, you should have something pretty close to fire & smoke. To give it some extra punch, apply Levels (Effects>Color Correction>Levels) and adjust the sliders on the histogram as I have them below (again paying close attention to the visible results in the comp as you make the adjustments).

particles_03.jpg

If you started with a blank comp, your background will most likely be black. Change the background color to white (Composition>Background Color) and do a RAM preview to see the results.

particles_04.jpg

You should be seeing something pretty darn close to the screencap above. The next place to go would be to animate the Producer Position – try setting an initial keyframe at frame 0 and then moving it around the comp over time to see what happens.