There’s no need for drones. Just use these tutorials to create stylized clouds in After Effects for your next VFX project.

After Effects shines when it comes to creating and manipulating fractal designs. Fractals can be used to create a lot of things in After Effects — most notably clouds. Instead of downloading cloud footage, use the following tutorials to easily create realistic clouds in After Effects.

1. Creating Flying Clouds With Particular

Created By: Ignace Aleya

When it comes to creating particles in After Effects, Trapcode Particular is the best plugin there is. While it may not be included in After Effects by default, it’s an essential plugin if you want to take your design skills to the next level. This tutorial by Ignace Aleya shows us how to create realistic animated clouds using the plugin. If you don’t have Trapcode Particular, you can download a free trial from Trapcode’s website.


2. Creating Flat Clouds With Particular

Created By: James Uy

Similar to the tutorial seen above, this tutorial from James Uy shows us how to take create a flat-style cloud effect. This technique is perfect if you are trying to create a rising camera effect or simply want your clouds to appear as a flat layer across the sky.


3. Flying Through Clouds

Created By: TutorialGrid

After Effects is a 2.5D program. Meaning that, while you may not be able to model in 3D, you can certainly simulate 3D using 2D layers in 3D space. This clip from TutorialGrid shows us how to composite cloud images in 3D space to create a cool flying effect. You’ll notice how blending modes can be used to composite white pixels over the background. This is a perfect technique when you’re working with clouds, as they are almost always bright white.


4. Using Clouds as Displacement Maps

Created by: mrdodobird

One very interesting technique we came across online is this ‘hack’ for simulating depth using cloud textures and displacement maps. The technique basically uses luminance to offset the image in 3D space, but because clouds are so distant and contrasted, this technique really does give the illusion of depth.


5. Parallaxing Clouds

Created By: pixelking

In what’s probably a response to the tutorial above by mrdodobird, pixelking shows us how to create a cool parallaxing effect with clouds that doesn’t manipulate the ground. This technique essentially breaks the frame in half along the horizon line and keyframes a displacement map that manipulates the clouds only.


6. Compositing Cloud Images (Harry Potter Style)

Created By: Andy Besbrode

In this tutorial created by Andy Besbrode, we take a look at how to use reference images to create highly stylized cloud backgrounds in After Effects. This technique was inspired by the Harry Potter intro credits. The biggest thing to remember when doing this technique is that you need the rights to the cloud images you use for your backgrounds. Just make sure that you get your cloud reference images from a credible stock photography provider.


Bonus: Animated Cloud Stills with Liquify Effect

Created By: Andrew Kramer

This technique from Andrew Kramer shows us how to create a moving cloud or fog effect using the liquify effect in After Effects. The tutorial, while specific, is a great example of a creative way to use the built-in effects in After Effects. Video Copilot doesn’t allow users to embed their videos, so if you click the image below, it will direct you to the tutorial on Video Copilot’s website.

Animated Volcano Export

Know of any other fun ways to create or manipulate clouds in After Effects? Share your thoughts in the comments below.