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Creating a Nebula: Part One of the Golden COW by Serge Hamad

COW Library : Adobe After Effects Tutorials : Serge Hamad : Creating a Nebula: Part One of the Golden COW by Serge Hamad
Creating a Nebula: Part One of the Golden COW by Serge Hamad

A CreativeCOW Adobe After Effects Tutorial

Creating a Nebula
Serge Hamad Serge Hamad,
New York City, New York, USA

© 2004 Serge Hamad and All rights reserved

Article Focus:
Many of you have seen Serge Hamad's various animations in the After Effects forum at CreativeCOW. In this 5-part tutorial, Serge demonstrates the steps involved in re-creating his "Golden COW." In part one, we create the nebula. You'll need Image Lounge from Red Giant Software. If you don't have it, download the demo.

Download Movie Project file: sit Project file: zip


Many of you asked for a tutorial on this one so here it is. I dissected this animation in several short and easy tutorials to make it as simple as possible for a beginner to follow the consecutive steps. I used many different third party plug-ins to create this animation but still I would like to you to pay attention to the compositing aspect and the idea behind some tricks that would allow you to successfully combine 2 & 3D in After Effects.

This first tutorial is about creating the strange nebula you see at the beginning of the movie (downloaded in the green bar above).

To work on this first one you will need Image Lounge from the Red Giant Software. If you don't own the plug-in, please download and install a demo first.

In the following tutorials you will learn some tricks using mainly the following third party plug-ins:

  • Image Lounge from Red Giant Software
  • 3D Stroke from Trapcode
  • Invigorator from Zaxwerks


Download the project files from the green bar above. You'll find the aep and a png. You may have to re-link the media.

-Start first by creating two new folders in the project window and naming them respectively “STILLS” and “Nebula_Comps” This will help us keep things “clean” in our Project Window.

-Now just highlight your STILLS folder in the footage window and hit (Ctrl+I) Command+I to import the Nebula.png. file from the Stills folder you downloaded.

This still was created in Photoshop using the KPT Fraxflame effect. The size of this file may slow your render if you are using an older system so please consider working with proxies. If you don't know how to use proxies, check the tutorial section here at the Cow.

-Highlight the Nebula_Comps folder and create a new composition (720 x 486) and twelve seconds in length. Name it Pre-Nebula.

-Save your project and name it “SciFi_1”


-Drop the imported Nebula.png to your TimeLine

-Switch the 3D icon for your layer.

-Hit (P) to reveal the position parameters in your TimeLine.

-Set an initial KeyFrame by clicking on the watch icon and set the Z-Axis to (940)

-Scrub your TimeLine to (09:17) and change the value to (-900) to make your layer disappear.

-Go back to the beginning of your TimeLine, select the Pen Tool in the Tools Palette window and draw a circular shape in the middle of your Nebula layer. This will eliminate the jump that occurs once the layer intersects with your virtual camera.

-Change your Mask Transfer Mode to Subtract then feather it nicely.

To fake a 3D perspective with these kinds of organic effects it is always recommended using several instances (Duplicated layers), transforming slightly some of their respective effect and animation property values then offsetting those layers in the Z-Axis; so let us do just that.

-Go to the beginning of your TimeLine, duplicate your Nebula layer (Ctrl+D) and hit (P) to change the Z-Axis value of your duplicate layer to (1066.0).

-Drop now your duplicate under the original layer.

-Duplicate your last layer and change the Z-Axis to (1257.0) for the duplicated layer that should be the bottom layer.

What you've done right now was positioning your duplicates backwards in Z Space vis-à-vis your first Nebula layer and ending their journey at about one second interval.

You could also go ahead and create even more layers if you want and offset them as we did, but for our example three layers should be enough to achieve the look we are after.

Note: You may now want to slightly alter the masks shapes of your duplicated layers so they don't look exactly the same.

Wavy Look -- Image Lounge Mirage

This plug-in as you guess can produce all kind of thermal distortions like heat waves, mirage, gas, smoke and more with a minimum of tweaking.

Basically it is using a fractal noise that you can influence with the help of different properties to shape the distortion of your choice.

Note the following:
-The Velocity and Mutation Rate properties are for speed adjustments.
-The Scale property is for the waves’ size. The higher you set the value the more waves you get.
-The Detail controls how much high-frequency distortion is visible.
-The Aspect Ratio allows you to stretch the distortion field. Negative values will stretch vertically and the positive values, guess what…
-All Field properties deal with the edges. You can use them to feather and blend the edges of your effect as well as accentuate or reduce the distortion to taste.

Some effects in the Image Lounge set use what’s called the Custom Control. You can use it in your Composition window for the following:

-The top node lets you adjust the Length as well as rotate the distortion field.
-The right and left nodes let you adjust the width.
-The Producer Point is located at the intersection of the Custom Control.

Dragging those nodes to adjust them to an object like a flame, a car exhaust etc… makes it easier to control the placement.

Custom Control:

-Start by selecting all layers in your TimeLine and applying the IL Mirage effect.
-Select only your top layer and click on the Solo to hide the other layer.

From to

-In your Effect Control window make sure IL Mirage is highlighted.
The first thing to do is to set the Producer Point at the bottom for instance of your comp and alter the Field Length & Width so the effect covers your entire Composition view.

Why the Comp view and not the entire layer?

You don't need to cover your entire Layers in this example as we animated them to start at a certain scale and then grow in size. Fitting the Field

Length & Width to the entire layer size would just increase your render time.

-Now change the following values to get a smooth wavy look:

Top layer: Middle layer:
Deselect the solo icon for your first
layer and work on your second
layer adjusting the Mirage effect
parameters to taste.
Here are the values I used for the
middle layer

Bottom layer:

Texturing -- Image Lounge Color Map

We will use this effect to color our nebula.

For those who are familiar to Colorama, this effect will be easy to understand.

The following steps are visualized through a movie I've prepared:
Click here to load the movie

-Apply the IL Color Map effect to your Top layer.
-Start by deselecting the Premultiply Colors box.
-Select for the Color Map 1 the Fire preset.
-Select for Color Map 2 the Black to Red preset.
-Blend now Map 1 with Map two to about 50%
-Select a Marker in the Color Map 1 and change its color.
-Decrease the transparency of the new color.
-Move the Marker now to a new location until you are satisfied with the result.

I tried to keep the basic of working with this great plug-in as easy as possible.

I am sure that if you spend few minutes playing with it you would achieve great results.

-Now go ahead and repeat the procedure with the bottom layer choosing different presets and colors. If you want you could open the project you downloaded to see my settings.

I did not apply the Color Map effect to the middle layer and I also changed its Transfer Mode to Screen.

Extra Steps

-It's about time to go nuts now! Select your top layer and cycle through the different Transfer Modes (Shift++).

-Once you are satisfied with the way your nebula looks like, highlight your Nebula_Comps folder in the footage window, create a new 30s long comp and name it “Nebula”.

-Drag and drop your Pre-Nebula comp inside of this new comp.

-Add the Optic Compensation effect (Effect>Distort>Optic…) to increase the 3D perspective.

-Check the Reverse Lens Distortion box.

-KeyFrame the FOV value to (0.0) or higher if you want at the beginning.

-Scrub your TimeLine to (11:07) and change the value to about (160.0).

Preview your work and add right before the final render a Light Layer with a cone angle of about (115 degrees) and the color of your choice.

I would advise you to render a QT movie with the Animation codec set to Best and Millions Of Colors + to render an alpha as you will need the transparency channel if you want to follow the next project.

PS: It is not forbidden to play with Shine during this tutorial but please don't kill the texture of your layers.
Stay tuned for more.

Part Two: Creating Planets & Auras

Part Three: Creating Shockwaves

Please visit our forums and view other articles at if you found this page from a direct link.

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