After Effects is a fantastic tool that can animate a considerable range of styles and looks, a big problem with the software, however, is that if you don’t know how to do something, it is nearly impossible to figure it out without a bit of help.
When it comes to creating realistic clouds in After Effects, for example, it is challenging to know where to start. So, we’re going to walk you step by step through the method of creating an animated cloud, so you can get creative with how you use the effect in your compositions.
Part 1: How to Create & Animate Clouds in After Effects
The best thing about the method we’re going to show you is that there are lots of Expressions and Effects that can be used for other animation techniques. Once you learn the basics, you can apply these skills to your other projects.
Step 1: Creating Your Shape Mask
The first step to this incredible effect is to create your masked shape. You must get this step right as it will affect the rest of the process.
- Create a new composition, 30 seconds in duration and 1000×1000 px.
- Right-click on the composition timeline and select New > Solid. Hit OK to create the new layer.
- Grab the Eclipse tool and create an oval mask on the solid layer.
- In the timeline, select the solid layer and hit M on the keyboard to reveal the Mask properties.
- Change the Mask Feather to 90, and decrease the Mask Expansion, so there is plenty of space around the edge of the shape.
Step 2: Creating a Moving Cloud
At the moment, you have a feathered oval that doesn’t look much like a cloud. In this step, we will add the texture; you can adjust the settings to suit the style of cloud you want to create.
- Right-click on the solid layer and choose Effect > Distort > Turbulent Displace.
- In the Effects Control panel, change the Turbulent Displace Amount to 200 and the Size setting to 40.
- Click on the stopwatch while holding Alt on your keyboard.
- In the Expression box that appears on the timeline, type in Time*500.
- Right-click on the timeline and choose New > Adjustment Layer.
- Right-click on the adjustment layer and choose Effect > Distort > Turbulent Displace.
- In the Effects Control panel, adjust the Turbulent Displace Size settings to 40, and the Complexity to 10.
Step 3: Adding Controls for Multiple Clouds
Next, we’re going to add some expressions to help us create as many clouds as we want without having to start from scratch each time.
- Create a New Comp and call it 1.
- Drag your Cloud comp to the Comp 1 timeline.
- Right-click the layer and go to Time > Freeze Frame.
- While holding Alt on your keyboard, click the Time Remapping stopwatch.
- In the Expression box on the timeline type: thisComp.name
- Select the Cloud Comp layer and add another Turbulent Displace effect. Update the settings: Amount to 50, Size to 60, and Complexity to 10.
- Click on the Evolution stopwatch while holding Alt and type in Time*50
Step 4: Creating a Cloud Color
The cloud color will depend on your composition. While we will show you organic, fluffy white clouds, you can choose any color you want, from stormy grey to abstract neon pink.
- Right-click on the Cloud Comp and got to Effect > Noise and Grain > Turbulent Noise.
- Adjust the Brightness to 25.
- Create a new comp and call it Master Composition; size
- Drag and drop your Comp 1 to the timeline.
- In the project browser, select Comp 1 and hit Cmd+C or Ctrl+C, followed by Cmd+V or Ctrl+V.
- Drag your new Comp 2 to the Master Comp timeline to create a second cloud.
- Continue duplicating the comps for as many clouds as you need. Thanks to the handy code we added, each cloud will look different.
Step 5: Flying through clouds
We might have already shown you how to create a basic cloud, but let’s go a step further and create an effect of flying through them. Not only can this create a realistic overlay for your films, but it can be used as the basis for some excellent transitions.
- With 7 different Cloud comps added to your Master timeline, change all comps to 3D.
- Starting at the top, link each Comp layer to the one below, using the Pick Whip tool.
- Select all the layers and hit B on the keyboard.
- Right-click in the timeline and choose New > Camera and choose 28mm from the drop-down menu.
- Hit C on your keyboard and drag the media viewer to give you an angled view of your clouds.
- Select all your Cloud comps and drag the Z Position controls to spread your clouds out.
- Go through each Cloud comp layer and unlink it from the one below.
- Hit C on your keyboard and drag the media viewer to change the Camera view, so your clouds are central.
- Go through each layer and reposition it around the screen.
- Double click the Camera layer and change the Lens to 50mm.
- Select all of your cloud comps and hit S on your keyboard; adjust the Scale until you are happy with how the clouds fill the screen.
- Open the Camera dropdown in the Layers panel and create a keyframe at the start of your timeline for Rotation, Orientation, Point of Interest, and Position.
- Move your playhead along the timeline and create the second set of keyframes. Adjust the Camera Position and Rotation through the clouds.
Step 6: Adjusting the Opacity
You may notice that your clouds seem to jump off-screen as the camera approaches the 2D layer. If you want a more natural fade-out, you will need to adjust to opacity. Of course, you can keyframe each layer independently, but we’re going to show you a hand expression that you can use for a lot more than cloud effects.
- Open the Transform controls for the first Cloud comp and the Camera layer.
- Hold Alt on the keyboard and hit the Opacity Stopwatch for the Cloud comp.
- In the Expression box, enter the following code: a=
- Grab the Pick Whip tool alongside the Expression box and attach it to the Z position for that layer.
- Add /10 to the end of the Expression box code.
- Hit Return or Enter and continue typing in the Expression box: b=
- Grab the Expression Pick Whip and attach it to the Z position of the Camera layer.
- In the Expression box type /10 hit Enter or Return and type: a-b
- Your Expression should look similar to:
b=thiscomp.layer (“camera 1”).Transform.position/10
- Select the Opacity setting in the Layers panel and hit Cmd+C or Ctrl+C.
- Select all the Cloud comps without Opacity settings and hit Cmd+V or Ctrl+V to paste.
Part 2: 6 Great Cloud Templates & Resources for After Effects
1. Memory Clouds
Memory Clouds is the perfect slideshow template for personal and emotive digital albums. The project features 11 modular scenes, allowing you to create a beautiful and ethereal feeling for holiday, party, wedding, and memorable moment displays.
2. Storm Slideshow
The Stormy Slideshow is a speedy template of 9 media and 1 logo placeholder with a stunning storm cloud frame. With full-screen cinematic titles, this template is ideal for short showreels, trailers, and title sequences.
3. The Clouds Titles
The Cloud Titles is a beautiful and elegant title slideshow with stunning, continuous-tracking cloud background. The titles are animated with a magical particle effect, blending seamlessly with the cloudy style.
4. Bright Sky Intro
Immerse your media high in the sky with the magical embrace of fluffy clouds from the Bright Sky Intro. Fully customizable with lower thirds included, this is a fantastic cloud starter pack that every editor should have in their library.
5. Clouds Opener
The Clouds Opener is a cinematic-style opening sequence with epic sky backgrounds for your media and messaging. The overlap effect is simple but powerful, ideally used for performers’ headshots and portrait images.
6. Clouds Slideshow
This modern and elegantly designed After Effects photo slideshow offers a stylish home for your media with 12 placeholders for text, video, and images. Easy to customize, this powerful template is perfect for slideshows, presentations, opening credits, and so much more.
Creating animated clouds in After Effects isn’t without its challenges, but the looks you can create with custom effects allow endless creativity. If you don’t have the patience or spare time to make your effects from scratch, Motion Array has a massive library of templates and stock footage to explore.