After Effects tutorial: 3D particle effects for title sequences

Chris Moran shows how to apply magical 3D effects to titles

Animator and designer Chris Moran works at The Neighbourhood, a creative studio in Manchester. Here, he recreates one of his favourite projects to show you how to create stunning title sequences in After Effects. The tutorial looks at some of the effects he used in the production of titles for the BBC show The Magicians.

He shows how you can add more life to 2D graphics, giving them a sense of a deep, rich, magical 3D environment. Additionally, just a few steps are needed for the CC Particle effect to create floating, glowing orbs for the camera to pass through. This effect is also capable of exploding custom graphics icons.

Chris notes that After Effects has many built-in presets that can be invaluable when you need to generate some quick background graphics. “You can get a lot of mileage by combining simple effects,” he explains. Being able to take advantage of the ‘smoke and mirrors’ of good timing and clever reveals is also key to achieving good results.

Time to complete

1-2 hours


After Effects CS5 or later

Project Files

Files for this tutorial are downloadable from here


Fire up After Effects and create a new composition. Use the HDTV 1080 25 preset and set the Duration to 100fps. I find it helpful to set up a folder structure before I bring in any assets. Try to be as organised as possible as it really helps if the project grows into a monster.


Create a new Solid layer (Cmd/Ctrl + Y) called ‘Curtain’. Type Curtain in the search box in the Effects and Presets panel and drag the Curtain preset onto your solid. This applies a preset consisting of Fractal Noise with a distorted scale and Tritone effects. Change the Tritone effect to colours of your choice; I chose golden hues to match the magic and circus themes of the programme.

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To give the impression of a shimmering draped curtain, click on the stopwatch for the Evolution parameter at frame 0 to create the first keyframe, then go to frame 100 and type 180 to make the second. This gives the ‘curtain’ a billowy look. Create the layer 3D by clicking on the small cube symbol next to the layer’s name.


Create a new Camera and Null layer (both of which are found in Layer > New). Make the Null object a 3D layer, then grab the Camera’s pick whip and drag it onto the Null layer to parent its Position. This makes it easier to animate the camera. Select the Null layer and rename it ‘Camera_Control’.


To add visual interest, create a solid layer above the curtains. Add a 4-Color Gradient effect and set the blending mode to Color, adjusting the colours to suit the look you are trying to achieve. Create another solid layer above this and add a Ramp effect, with the Ramp shape set to Radial. Set the blending mode to Multiply to give the effect of a stage light from above.

Select the ‘Camera_Control’ layer, move the current time indicator to 45 frames and set a keyframe for the position. Go back to frame 0 and change the Z value to -1400. Select the second keyframe and hit Shift + F9 to give the move some Ease In. Scale up and push the ‘Curtain’ layer along the Z-axis to compensate for the new camera move.

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Import Cloud_1.jpg and put it into the timeline above the Ramp effect. Make the layer 3D and set its blending mode to Screen. Position the layer so that the camera just passes over the top of the cloud. Duplicate the layer (Cmd/Ctrl + D), and then move and rotate further copies throughout the 3D space.


To give the clouds more life go to Effect > Distort > Turbulent Displace. Alt-click on the Evolution parameter and replace the expression with time*20. This adds a gentle distortion throughout the animation. It also adds a little more time to RAM previews, so you should use it sparingly.


To make the explosion of clubs, first create a new Solid layer and name it ‘Clubs_Explosion’. Go to Effects > Simulation > CC Particle World. Import Club.png and bring it into your comp. Click the Eye button to hide this layer. Go back to your ‘Clubs_Explosion’ layer and, under the Particle drop-down menu, change the Particle Type to Textured QuadPolygon. Then under Texture > Texture Layer select the ‘Club.png’ layer.

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Under Producer, set the Radius to 0.100, 0.100, 0. This makes a small area for where the particles are spawned. At frame 24, add keyframes for the Birth Rate, and over the space of three frames set a keyframe for 0, 10, then back to 0. This creates an initial explosion of graphics and then turns it off. Set the blending mode to Multiply and enable Motion Blur on the layer.


Create a new Black layer and add a Lens Flare effect. Set the Blending mode to Add and move the Flare Center to the middle of the comp. Add three keyframes in the Flare Brightness parameter so it flashes as the clubs explode. Now we can use the flash of light and explosion of clubs to reveal the spiral.


Import Spiral.png and drag it into your comp. Make the layer 3D and move across to frame 24, setting a keyframe for the scale at 50%. Set another keyframe at frame 26 and press F9 to help the motion Ease In.

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For this reveal, you can use the flash of the lens flare and explosion of the card symbols as a cue to simply wipe on the layer with a transition effect. Import the file Magicians.png and move to frame 22 on the timeline. Go to Effect > Transition > Linear Wipe. Change the Wipe Angle to -90 and add a keyframe for Transition completion at 100%, then 0% at frame 31. Set the Feather to 100 to give a softer reveal.


To create some glittering orbs, first create a new layer. Go to Effect > Simulation > CC Particle World. Next, go to Particle type and change it from Line to Faded Sphere. In the Physics tab change the Velocity to 0, and in the Producer tab set the X and Y Radius to 3. Set the blending mode to Add.


The Opacity Map settings are set to fade in and out by default, but you can add a little more life to this by drawing in some jagged peaks to the curve to make the particle flicker slightly. I’ve also adjusted the colours so there isn’t such a big shift of hue between Birth and Death. Also add a Glow Effect to the particle layer.

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To add some stage lights you’ll need to create a new solid. Then go to Effect > Noise & Grain > Fractal Noise. Uncheck Uniform Scaling and increase the Scale Height to about 2000. Set the blending mode to Add/Screen. Make the layer 3D, then rotate and move it to the corners of the composition. As a final touch, I added more texture with some glow, grain and vignette effects.


Chris Moran is a designer and animator at Manchester creative studio The Neighbourhood. He joined the team in 2008 and has since worked on projects for the likes of Sony PlayStation and the BBC.