How to Create Animated Sun Rays in Adobe After Effects from Scratch

After Effects 25/01/2022 4 min read

After Effects is an incredible piece of kit, allowing you to create complex and stylized animations. One big problem with the software is, with so many tools, it can be challenging to work out how to create a particular effect. In this tutorial, we’re going to show you how to make simple animated sun rays, but pay attention as these simple techniques can be used in a vast range of effects.

Part 1: How to Create an Animated Sun

As with most animated compositions, the process starts with a couple of shape layers. You can import your shapes from Photoshop or Illustrator, but for this tutorial, we’re building them directly in After Effects.

Step 1: Create the Sun Ray

The first step is to build a single animated sunray. We’re going to use expressions for our animation instead of keyframes, as we are looking to create a constant motion.

  1. Grab the Circle tool and create a shape for the center of your sun in the media viewer.
  2. Right-click the layer in the Layers panel, then rename it.
  3. At the Bottom of the Media viewer, click the Grid icon followed by your preferred grid format.
  4. Select the Line tool, then draw a straight horizontal line from the center of your sun outwards to create your first ray. Hold Shift while you draw your line to ensure it is straight.
  5. Open the Line settings and delete the Fill settings.
  6. In the Stroke menu, play around with the Width and Color to create your large ray look.
  7. Under the Dashes menu, hit the + button twice.
  8. Adjust the Dash setting to 100 and the Gap value to 50.
  9. On your keyboard, hold the Alt key, then click the Offset stopwatch.
  10. In the Expression box, type time*-150.

Step 2: Repeat the Sun Ray

The animated sun ray can be duplicated and repositioned, but it is much easier to use the Repeater tool. The Repeater effect can be used in many ways to duplicate layers, allowing you only to animate a single element.

  1. In the Layer panel, go to the Add menu for your Ray layer and choose Repeater.
  2. Adjust the Copies setting to 6, and the X Position value to 0.
  3. Adjust the Rotation setting to 60.
  4. Select the Ray layer and hit Cmd+D or Ctrl+D to duplicate your layer.
  5. For the new Ray layer, change the Stroke to 10, and adjust the Color to create your short ray look.
  6. In the Media viewer, grab the end of the path and shorten the line.
  7. In the Stroke menu, add 2 more dashes and adjust the settings, so the first Dash 1 is 70 and Dash 2 is 30. Both Gap settings should be 50.
  8. Change the Offset Expression from 150 to 250 and adjust the Rotation for the whole layer to 30.
  9. Finally, move the 2 Ray layers to the bottom of the stack.

Step 3: Animate the Sun

The final step is to add Rotation animation to your whole sun graphic. We’re going to use the Pick Whip, which allows you to attach one layer to another at the anchor point. 

  1. Select both Ray layers and Pick Whip them to the main sun layer.
  2. Open the sun layer Transform settings and find Rotation.
  3. Hold Shift and click the Rotation stopwatch.
  4. In the Expression box type time*10 (you can play around with the time setting to create different rotational speeds).

Part 2: 4 Main Tips for Learning Animation in After Effects

By following step-by-step tutorials like this one, you can learn to create a particular animation while picking up vital techniques. Motion Array has hundreds of tutorials for everything from Cinematic Title Text to Retro Video Effects. Check out our top tips for learning animation techniques.

Play with the Settings

Don’t be afraid to play about with all the settings in an After Effects tutorial to create new effects and looks. While it’s usually a good idea to follow a tutorial precisely to ensure you’ll reach the desired result, you can always go back and play around with the values you’ve used.

Save Test Projects

When trying new things in After Effects, it is a fantastic idea to save your project and create a library for later use. For example, you can use title effects you build across multiple projects. Creating a library of prebuilt effects is a great way to practice your animation skills and can become super handy at a later time.

Always Push Yourself

Learning new software is always a challenge, especially when there are so many tools and effects to use. It is essential, especially when you begin your animating journey, to push yourself each time to create new and unique compositions. Find tutorials and guides that will teach you new styles, skills, and techniques each time.

Join a Community

Tutorials and guides are a fantastic starting point, but they can only get you so far, and sometimes you may experience problems that need some human help. There are hundreds of support groups for After Effects animators on social media and platforms like Reddit. Being a part of a network or community of animators allows you to share tips, ideas, and troubleshooting methods, as well as receive feedback and support for your work.

In this tutorial, we’ve created a simple animated sun icon. But we’ve also looked at expressions, the pick whip, repeaters, and stroke values, all incredible techniques you can use across a huge range of project types. If you’re looking to learn more about expressions, check out this awesome cheatsheet of codes.

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