How to Create Atmospheric Smoke Effects in After Effects (+Templates)

After Effects 10/05/2022 4 min read

Smoke effects are a fantastic way to create depth and style in your compositions. After Effects has the tools you need to create smoke, fog, and clouds from scratch, with the powerful Fractal Noise effect. In this tutorial, we’ll walk you through step-by-step how to build an After Effects smoke layer, add it to your clips and adjust the color. Let’s jump in!

Part 1: Easily Learn to Create Smoke & Fog in After Effects

Smoke and fog effects look complicated but are super easy to create. The Fractal Noise effect is a handy tool, and once you understand how it works, it can be used for several creative effects.

Step 1: Create a Basic Smoke Effect

The first step is to create the smoke; this can be a little tricky as you need to be precise with the expressions you use; why not bookmark this page so you can copy them at any time.

  1. Create a New Composition by hitting Cmd+N or Ctrl+N and call it Smoke.
  2. Go to Layer > New > Solid, then name the layer Background; set the color to Black.
  3. Select the layer and hit Cmd+D or Ctrl+D on the keyboard to duplicate it.
  4. Hit Enter on the keyboard and type Fractal Noise and press Enter again to rename the layer.
  5. Select the Fractal Noise layer and go to Effects > Noise and Grain > Fractal Noise.
  6. In the Effects Control panel, change the Contrast to 75.
  7. Under Transform, select the Uniform Scaling checkbox, then adjust the Width to 400 and the Height to 250.
  8. Set the Evolution to 100, then hold Alt on the keyboard and click on the Evolution stopwatch.
  9. In the Expression box type Time*150.
  10. Go to the offset Turbulence setting, hold Alt and click the stopwatch.
  11. In the Expression box type [value[0]+time*100,value[1]-time*20] 
  12. Play around with the expression values to change the direction and speed of your smoke.
  13. Adjust the Complexity setting to create a look to your smoke.
  14. Select the Fractal Noise layer and, hit T on your keyboard, adjust the Opacity to 25.

Pro Tip: Save your Smoke Layer project as a template and import it any time you need it for composition.

Step 2: Add a Mask

The Fractal Noise effect creates a blanket of smoke across the screen; if you want to give it more direction or limit the spread, you’ll need to use a Mask.

  1. Right-click on the layer you’re using, then choose Mask > New Mask.
  2. Move the corners of the mask box to match the movement of your smoke.
  3. In the Layers panel, drop down the Mask settings and increase the Feather value until the edge of the mask is hidden.

Step 3: Create Fog and Clouds

Creating fog, clouds, or mystical-style smoke all use the Fractal Noise effect; in fact, changing between the types is all done with one click.

  1. Select your Fractal Noise layer and go to the Effects Control panel.
  2. Under the Fractal Type setting, choose a new type from the drop-down menu – use Cloudy to create a foggy look.
  3. Play around with the different fractal types to find what suits your footage best. You might need to adjust a few other settings to create the look you want.

Step 4: Add Footage to Composition

Smoke effects are fantastic for title sequences and transitions, but you can also use them in your shots. If you are looking to get into visual effects and compositing, learning how to use Fractal Noise is a significant first step.

  1. Drag your video clip to the timeline under the Fractal Noise layer.
  2. Adjust the Opacity of your Fractal Noise to suit your image.
  3. In the Effects Control panel, explore the Blend Mode options for the Fractal layer to see how they look.

Step 5: Adjust the Color

Colors can be used to change the context of your smoke, taking it from a natural white to a creepy green or magical pink. If you use your smoke layer as a composite effect, you’ll want to adjust the color to match your grading.

  1. In the Effects panel, search for Tint and add it to your Fractal Noise layer.
  2. Make sure the Tint is below your Fractal Noise effect in the Effects Control panel.
  3. Click on the Color option for Map to White; choose a New Color, and hit OK.
  4. Adjust the Amount to Tint setting to create the desired tone.

Part 2: 4 Cool Smoke Templates & Resources for After Effects

If you’re in need of a quicker way to create smoke for your projects, Motion Array has plenty of superb templates and plugins you can download today!

1. Smoke Titles

The Smoke Titles pack includes a massive 72 text presets with a beautiful drifting smoke design. The set consists of various generic title transitions, including fade up, fade down, and tracking with magical smoke effects for a unique twist.

Download Smoke Titles Now

2. Cinema Smoke Titles

The Cinema Smoke Titles project includes 20 title placeholders with cool feathered wipe transitions. The dark smoky backgrounds engulf the titles as they drift from the screen, ideal for opening title sequences.

Download Cinema Smoke Titles Now

3. Ink Smoke Transitions

The Ink Smoke Transitions pack includes 10 fantastic effects to pull your viewer from shot to shot. The plume of smokey ink drops spread across the screen, reviewing your next slip; ideal for opening title sequences, showreels, and slideshows.

Download Ink Smoke Transitions Now

4. Ink Smoke Transitions Pack 2

As you might have guessed, the Ink Smoke Transitions pack 2 is a follow-up pack containing 10 more beautifully rendered transitional effects. The designs have a watery-like impact, warping your footage slightly as the smoke fills the screen.

Download Ink Smoke Transitions Pack 2 Now

Whether you’re using your After Effects smoke effects to create spooky title sequences or building a realistic fire composition, Fractal Noise is a fantastic and versatile tool. Now you know how to make smoke in After Effects, why not find out how to create fire.