After Effects: Light trails

2 minute read

We're currently putting a few ideas together for a project which involves some motion graphics in the way of light trails over live footage. To get a feel for this and to hopefully 'spark' (sorry) the interest of the client, I thought I'd spend a bit of time in After Effects learning a bit of the particle simulation feature.

After some initial research it seems there are a couple of different plugins that would come in very useful, the most popular one being Trapcode Particular, but for now I thought I'd see what I could do just with After Effects without the help of any plugins.

The below animation was created using the Simulation > CC Particle Systems II to form a light trail moving along a path which I plotted over a background image. I went on to start masking out the glow where the light disappeared around corners etc. It's a bit rough around the edges, but it's a start.

Light trails

I've revisited my work on light trails animations in After Effects. I have tried a different seen and used a couple of different effects on top of the CC Particle Systems II; such as Glow and Colorize. As you can see in the gif below I've been thinking about how the light trail would interact with the surrounding scene. I added reflection on the water and a glow on the underside of the bridge as it passes beneath it. It will be a considerable step up to get this working with live action film rather than still images.

Brooklyn Bridge

Sifting through tutorials for creating light trails in After Effects I'd heard a lot about Trapcode Particular. So I thought I'd give the demo a whirl - It's pretty good, you have more control over the appearance of the light trail although the settings can be a bit overwhelming. The best thing for me, though, is that you can plot the movement along a z-axis as well as x and y. This saves a lot of time where I would have been messing about with scale along the path etc. Again I've paid some attention to how the light would be reacting with the surrounding scene too.


Also, as you can see I've tried it out over some live footage. Ignore the big white cross that pops up, it's due to the fact I'm using the free trial version of Trapcode Particular.

Written by Matt Boyle (Lead Designer). Read more in Insights by Matt or check our their socials Twitter, Instagram