How To Create Animated Steam In After Effects


Hey everyone, this is Owen with Motion Array and in this tutorial I’ll show you how to turn your cold coffee into steaming hot coffee all inside of After Effects. No microwave required. I’ll also cover how to create the noisy texture you can see in the shadows of this animation. Alright, let’s get started. 

How To Create Animated Steam In After Effects

This text has been transcribed from the video for optimal reading

Start by importing your design into After Effects. Then create a new composition that’s 1920x1080 29.97. Bring the design layers into the new composition. We’ll start by creating the noisy shadows. Create a new solid (Layer > New > Solid) and make it comp size and black. Draw a mask where you want the shadow to be and increase the feather on it (don’t worry about it being exact yet). Switch the blending mode of the shadow to Dissolve. Apply a Tint effect (Effect > Color Correction > Tint) and change the black value to whatever color you want it to be. Duplicate the layer you want to apply the shadow to and drag the shadow layer just below the duplicate. Change the shadow’s track matte to Alpha Matte. This will contain the shadow’s visibility to the layer above it. You can tweak your shadow’s mask and feather further if you need to. Repeat this process until you’re finished with the design. 

Now we’ll move on to the steam animation. Create a new shape layer (Layer > New > Shape Layer) and use the add button to add a rectangle and a fill. In the rectangle path options change the roundness to 50. Change the fill to a warm white. Change the name of the shape layer to “Steam 1”. Set a keyframe for the rectangle path’s size and position at frame 0. It’s important that you are keyframing the rectangle path’s size and position and not the layer’s scale and position. Move the playhead to frame 45 (1;15) and scale up the rectangle path’s size to 350 only in X. Move the playhead to frame 90 (3;00) and change the rectangle path’s size to 0, 50. Then change the rectangle path’s X position so that the steam is drifting (whichever direction you like). Duplicate the “Steam 1” layer and pull up the duplicate’s keyframes (U reveals the selected layer’s keyframes). Change the keyframe for the size at frame 45 and the X position keyframe at frame 90 to make this steam cloud unique. The key here is that you want them to separate from each other as they shrink to nothing. Create a new null (Layer > New > Null Object) and name it “Steam Control”. Parent both steam layers to the “Steam Control” null. Set a keyframe on position for the “Steam Control” layer at frame 0. Move the playhead to frame 15 and change the Y position value to 90 less. In my case it’s 450 (540-90=450) but if you have a different comp size or moved your null before parenting then yours might be different. Option (or ALT) click on the stop watch to pull up the expression text bar. Type in “loopOut(“continue”)” and click out of the expression text bar. This will keep the null moving at this pace for as long as it exists in the timeline. Duplicate one of the steam layers and pull up the position of the new layer. Make sure you’re looking at the LAYER’s position and not the rectangle path’s. Add 90 to the Y position of the duplicated steam layer (it should be “Steam 3”). Change the keyframe for the rectangle path’s size at frame 45 and the rectangle path’s X position at frame 90 to make this steam cloud unique. Offset the layer so that it’s first keyframes are at frame 15 and then drag the layer handle back to 0. Now you should have 2 rows of steam with offset animations. Repeat this process until you have 8 or so rows of steam making sure to offset each subsequent row by an additional 15 frames in time and 90 pixels in Y position. 

Once you’re done with creating the steam clouds select all the steam layers AND the “Steam Control” null and precompose them (Layer > Pre-compose). Name the precomp “Steam” and hit okay. Apply a Gaussian Blur (Effect > Blur & Sharpen > Gaussian Blur) to the “Steam” precomp and make the bluriness 20. Then apply a Levels (Effect > Color Correction > Levels). Inside of levels, change the channel to Alpha and then bring in the left arrow and right arrows so that they are close in the middle. In your comp you should see the blur going away as you do this. This is what gives you the “sticky” look. If the speed of the steam is too fast or too slow for you (it was for me) you can apply a Timewarp (Effect > Time > Timewarp). By default it makes the footage half speed (Speed value set to 50) but you can adjust to taste. Just be sure to drag the timewarp effect above the blur and levels. 

One thing to note here is that this effect isn’t just relegated to steam. It can be used for smoke or clouds, or even splitting cells! So be creative and see what you can come up with!

Well, that concludes this tutorial. I hope you found it helpful, if you did, please give us a thumbs up and if you’d like to see more tutorials please go ahead and subscribe because we’re making new ones all the time.  I hope you guys found it helpful.  If you did, we’ve got lots of other tutorials for Premiere ProAfter Effects, and filmmaking in general!   

Thanks for watching and see you in the next video.

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