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pixels, motion, and scripting
david van brink // Wed 2007.12.26 12:48 // {after effects}

Swarm of Swarms

I saw the new movie of The Golden Compass a few days ago. I quite liked it. It suffered perhaps from squeezing almost every event from the book into the movie, without managing to transparently convey the layers and depth of Lyra’s self-discovery. But it gave awesome brass-gear-and-Zeppelin fetish work, so it all evens out.

One of the recurring ideas in the story is that everything is made of dust. Or Dust. All we are, you know, is dust in the (transdimensional) wind. And so on. So there were a lot of really nice sparkly particle effects. In a major production, I gather that you pull off this sort of effect with a lot of work: hand-written code, top-quality (expensive) plugins, and iterations with an art director who actually knows what looks good.

But I was curious how to pull off a rinky-dink imitation in a half hour with stock After Effects and no artistic guidance to speak of. One challenge of particle effects is their render time, especially if the particles interact. The approach I took was to have one particle layer with just a few particles, less than 100, which interact and repel each other, to “swarm”. Then add a second level of particle emission which uses the first layer as its “particle”. Particles squared, a swarm of swarms.

The result was ok. Some repetition is visible, and with a few more hours could be tweaked to look nicer. More colors and glinting, perhaps. Meanwhile, here’s the quickie.


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glennser // Fri 2008.02.1 19:247:24 pm

I was working on a job recently and we were able to get very close to the effect using Trapcode Form, I know you wanted to use stock AE and I admire that but this plugin get’s really close, there’s a preset for text turning to dust and all you need to do is tint it. Send me an email and I’ll give you a head’s up on where we used it so you can check it out.

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