Adobe After Effects is one of the most often used video editing programs on the market, and this is in part because of its ability to produce almost any effect a filmmaker desires. If you have ever wondered how filmmakers manage to have characters shoot electricity out of their fingers or throw lightning bolts, the answer is that someone used a program like After Effects to add the electrical discharges to the footage in postwork.
Before you can create an electricity effect in After Effects, you need to set up the project first. Start After Effects. Then click on "File" and select "New Project." In the New Composition dialog, use whatever size settings you like and click "OK." Rename the composition "Lightning 1." Go to "Layers" and select "New" and then "Solid." Make it black so that the electricity will clearly stand out against it. This is also the layer where you will create the effect. Right-click on the solid layer and set the transfer mode to "Screen."
Your next step is to make the actual electrical discharge. Select the solid layer. In the menu, select "Effects," then "Generate" and click "Lightning." You will see a blue arch on the screen. Move the end points where you want them. There are many controls in the Effects Control panel for controlling or altering the effect.
For an electrifying lightning effect, make the following changes to the settings: set "Start XY" to "Random," "End XY" to "Random," "Segments" to 15, "Amplitude" to 15, "Detail Level" to 4, "Detail Amplitude" to .2, "Branching" to .2, "Rebranching" to .1, "Branch Amplitude" to 20, "Branch Segements" to .5, "Branch Segments 2" to 4, "Speed" to 10, "Stability" to .3, "Width" to 10, "Width 2" to .2, "Core Width" to 3, "Outside Color" to black, "Inside Color" to white, and "Random Seed" between 1 and 25.
Select the "Solid" and hit Ctrl+D twice to make two copies of the layer. Select each of the new layers and change the "Random Seed" and the "End Point" XY. This creates more variation in the effect between the the various layers, making the electricity more realistic.
Refining the Effect
The following steps will make the electricity less sharp and stylized, again making it more realistic. Go to the Project panel and add your current composition to a new one. Name the new composition "Glow." Select "Layer," then "New" and click "Adjustment Layer." Again set the transfer mode to "Screen." Then go to "Effects," click "Blur Sharpen" and apply the "Fast Blur." In the Effects Controls panel, make sure that "Repeat Edge Pixel" is on. Now "Duplicate" your layers so that you have five "Adjustment" layers.
Make a new "Adjustment" layer. Select "Effects," and then "Stylize" and click "Glow." In the Effects Control panel, set the "Glow Threshold" to about 50 percent and the "Glow Radius" to about 15.
These next steps add color to the electricity and produce a two-color variation across it. Back in your main composition box, add the "Glow" composition to another and name it "Color." You now a a simple glow effect around your electricity. Create another "Adjustment" layer with the transfer mode set to "Screen." Duplicate this layer. Then select "Effects," then "Color Correction" and click "Color Balance." Apply the same effect to the other adjustment layer. For the first layer, go to the Effects Controls panel and turn on "Preserve Luminosity." Also set the "Highlight Blue Balance" to 100. Do the same for the second adjustment layer, but also set the "Highlight Green Balance" to 50. Change the "Transfer Modes" for both layers to "Normal."
Preview the animation and save your work.
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