A Beginner’s Guide to Creating 2D Explosion Effects in After Effects

After Effects 13/07/2022 3 min read

While on your After Effects journey, creating explosions will almost certainly come up. Whether you’re making an action-packed short film or some quirky text-based motion graphics, explosions can have a huge range of uses and plenty of ways to be designed, too. In this tutorial, we’ll look at one way to create a 2D explosion in After Effects from scratch, and how you can combine it with elements from the Motion Array library to bring it to life even further. The best thing about this tutorial is that it is made entirely within After Effects without any plugins required, so let’s dive in.

Part 1: How to Create an Explosion in After Effects From Scratch

  1. In a 1920×1080 composition, create a new solid. It doesn’t really matter what the color is, as we can change this later.
  2. Go to Effect > Simulation > Particle Systems 2.
  3. Move the playhead to the beginning of the timeline. Now we’ll jump into the effects controls of Particle Systems 2 and fiddle around with most of them:
  4. Add a keyframe for Birth Rate, and set it to 0.
  5. Set the Longevity to 3.5.
  6. Set Radius X to 0 and Radius Y to 0.
  7. In the Physics section, add a keyframe to Velocity and set it to 0.
  8. Set Gravity to 0,
  9. Add a keyframe to Resistance and change it to 4.7.
  10. Set Direction to 0.
  11. Within Particle, set the Particle Type to Lens Convex.
  12. Set the Birth Size to 0 and add a keyframe.
  13. Set the Death Size to 0 and add a keyframe.
  14. Set Size Variation to 100%.
  15. Set Max Opacity to 100%.
  16. Set Random seed to 430.
  17. Now it’s time to add the animations. Move 4 frames along the timeline and press U to bring up only parameters you’ve changed with keyframes.
  18. Set the Birthrate to 22.
  19. Set the Velocity to 3.1.
  20. Set the Resistance to 199.
  21. Set the Birth Size to 0.58.
  22. Now move another 2 frames, so the playhead is 6 frames in. Set the Birth Rate to 0 and Easy Ease it by right-clicking on the keyframe and selecting Easy Ease.
  23. On the second Resistance keyframe, right-click and select Easy Ease In.

From these settings, you’ll get a pretty good sense of what it looks like as the particles explode into life and then fade away into nothing. You can play around with these settings to create different effects. Try tweaking the Longevity, random seed and Velocity values to explore different types of explosions. You can even change the Particle Type to play around with different shapes.

To refine the explosion further, we can add some extra elements and colors.

  1. To change the colors, go to Generate > Fill.
  2. Add a keyframe to Color and change it over 18 frames to the desired end color, so it starts as one color and shifts to another. For example, a bright flash of orange before fading to gray.
  3. To refine the color, we can go to Stylize > Glow.
  4. Set the Glow Threshold to 10%.
  5. Set the Radius to 100.
  6. Set the Glow Intensity to 0.6, and add a keyframe. Fade it to 0 over time.
  7. To add some extra layers, duplicate the layer and change the random seed of the new layer to change the shape of the explosion.
  8. Reduce the scale of the new layer, so it’s smaller than the first, and move it to the top of the stack on the timeline.
  9. Change the color to a lighter shade.
  10. Duplicate it again, drag it to the top of the stack again and scale it down even smaller, so you have three layers.
  11. Change the random seed to another random number to change the shape. Try removing the glow effect to give a flatter, more 2D layer.
  12. Add motion blur to all layers to get a realistic sense of movement.
  13. Feel free to experiment with timings, sizes, and colors of layers to create a truly unique 2D explosion in After Effects.

Part 2: How to Use Motion Array Elements to Enhance Your Explosion Effect

Once you have created your explosion animation from scratch, enhance it by looking into the Motion Array library and adding more elements. For example, you might want to add some more realistic smoke from an element filmed against a green screen. Or you might want to add an explosion sound effect to make it feel more immersive. To do this, find an explosion sound effect you like the sound of in the Motion Array library, and download it.

  1. Import the sound effect into your After Effects project.
  2. Drag the audio clip onto your timeline.
  3. Move it left or right to line up with the visual of the explosion.

When you’re happy with it, export the final project as either an explosion on a solid background or with a transparent background that you can then overlay onto other footage.

The fun thing about animating explosions is the versatility of the effect. Whether you’re making a simple 2D animation or a realistic explosion for an action film, there’s plenty you can do. You can find further inspiration in our other guides. For example, why not add some dynamism to your branding with exploding logos? Or maybe you want to dip into the Motion Array library to use some pre-existing cartoon explosions packs? The choice depends on your project, so get stuck in and have fun.

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