After Effects - Natural Lighting VFX Using Mattes

User avatarDecember 16, 2011 by Surfaced Studio

Welcome to my first After Effects tutorial!

A while ago I created this visual effect of making fire with your hands:

Fire Hands - VFX Short Film

When you create your videos, many different situations might require you to add visual lighting effects in post production for things like gun muzzle flashes, lightning strikes, explosions, artificial light sources and more. However, many YouTube videos I've seen use a rather unsightly technique of placing a masked orange or white circle over the footage and setting the blending mode to additive... not a very elegant or convincing effect.

Fortunately, you do not need to put in much additional work to make your visual lighting effect look a lot more convincing. By using a simple matte layer, you can make your effect look more organic and blend much better into your footage :)

The Basic Effect

Here is a still frame from my visual effect video
Making Fire With Your Hands:

In After Effects, I have set up 2 layers: one for the base footage called 'Footatge Comp' and one for the fire element called 'Fire Comp', placed on top and positioned and scaled so that the flame sits nicely on my thumb. The fire element is a stock footage element from the
Video Copilot's Action Essentials 2 collection.

Now that we have the basic footage set up, let's add an organic lighting effect to the fire element :)

Create a new solid layer, name it something like 'FireShine' and give it an orange-yellow colour to match the colour of the flame. Using the masking tool, draw a circle on the FireShine layer and position it so that the centre of the circle is exactly over the fire. Add a fairly large amount of feathering to the mask to have the light fade off gradually.

The lighting of the candle is way too strong, so reduce the transparency of the FireShine layer down to around 35%. Change the blending mode to 'additive'. Voila, you are done!

Ok ok... just kidding :D While this visual lighting effect might not look all bad, let's make a small modifications to our fire shine to make it sit much more naturally in the scene rather than on top of it :)

User avatar
5 Years Ago
How to create lighting effect in dim light or in night time for muzzle flashes ??
User avatar
@ Gideon,
5 Years Ago
You can use this technique no matter what the lighting situation is. You may just have to adjust the brightness of your lighting layer and the details of the masks.
User avatar
4 Years Ago
Can you please make a video tutorial on this? Pweeeasssee?
User avatar
@ Inhaledcloud0,
4 Years Ago
I am using this very technique in my Muzzle flash and Explosion tutorials so go check those out!
User avatar
4 Years Ago
how did u made fire sparks at first plz give me the websute
User avatar
3 Years Ago
Nice tutorial but is there away we can download your video so we can practice on after effect just like videocopilot
User avatar
@ John,
3 Years Ago
Hi, thank you! All my videos are available for free on YouTube, I don't have them as downloads per-se anywhere

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