In this After Effects video tutorial, learn how you can create a military drone-inspired look. With free project file and assets!

In this tutorial, we are going to create an aerial military target display from scratch, with no third-party plugins. (You’ve probably seen footage like this before in nearly every action movie or modern military film.) To create this look, we will cover several general tips-and-tricks in After Effects: how to add customized tracker points to a scene, how to create a digital loading effect, and how to add different levels of optical distortions.

Let’s get started!

(Make sure you download the project file for this tutorial, which includes drone footage, as well as other goodies like HUD overlays, camera static, and some custom sound FX.)

Download the Project File

Camera Tracking

Tutorial: Create a Military Drone Look in After Effects — Camera Tracking

First, in order to add digital tracker marks to our footage, we need to camera-track the footage in After Effects. Under the Window setting, select Tracker to launch the Tracker panel, then select Track Camera.

Digital Trackers

Tutorial: Create a Military Drone Look in After Effects — Digital Trackers

Next, to separate the tracker markers from our footage, we need to duplicate the original footage twice. Then pre-compose those two copies into one composition named Trackers. Inside the Trackers comp, on the top footage copy, activate Render Track Points on the 3D Camera Tracker effect. Then set the blending mode for that clip to Difference. You can then add extra effects on top with an adjustment layer to customize the look.

Black and White with Digital Scan-lines

Tutorial: Create a Military Drone Look in After Effects — Scan Lines

Now, we can give the footage a digital transmission vibe. Add an adjustment layer and apply the Tint effect to quickly convert the footage to black and white. Then, you can place one of the Scan-lines image assets at the top of the layer stack and set the blending mode to Overlay. (You can also quickly create your own scan-lines using the Venetian Blinds effect.)

Digital Zoom

Tutorial: Create a Military Drone Look in After Effects — Digital Zoom

You can easily add a digital zoom overlay on top of your footage using the Transform effect. Apply it to an adjustment layer above your footage, scale down the adjustment layer, then increase the Scale setting on the Transform effect. The result is a nice camera-parallax look.

HUD Overlays

Tutorial: Create a Military Drone Look in After Effects — HUD Overlays

There are many HUD overlays included in the project file, but you can also create your own targets and HUD overlays using masks and the Stroke effect. You can even create effective map-like grids using the Grid effect.  (Compositing tip: You’ll definitely want to apply a Gaussian Blur on top of the asset overlays to help blend them in with the scan-lines.)

Extra Effects to Use

Tutorial: Create a Military Drone Look in After Effects — Extra Effects

A few other effects I recommend using are Optics Compensation, CC Block Load, and Invert. Optics Compensation is great for creating an optical camera lens distortion appearance on your footage. CC Block Load is perfect for creating quick loading screens and adding extra movement to HUD elements as the appear on screen. Finally, use Invert (located under the Channel effects) to imitate a FLIR thermal camera look.

Interested in the tracks we used to make this video.

Looking for more After Effects tutorials? Check these out.