Want to add a bit of patriotic flare to their videos? Here’s how to create stylish and convincing waving flag animations in After Effects.

From various sports teams to regional and national holidays (July 4th for Americans, for example), there are many reasons to create a flag animation for a video.

Creating a realistic flag animation is something that I’ve had to do quite a bit of in my career. Whether you’re working in a news graphics department, or just have a general need for flag animations for various social media accounts and explainer videos,  this is a problem that you want to know how to solve quickly.

Knowing these techniques will pay off in other areas as well, as the plugins and method used will be useful for many other looks and needs as well.


Using A Displacement Map

In the above video, Ignace Aleya does a great job of explaining what is perhaps my favorite way to do this effect. It provides one of the more realistic looks, and is by far the most customizable and professional looking of any of these looks.

The core idea is to create a displacement map yourself. To do this, you’ll need to create a new comp, and a new solid. On the new solid, add a fractal noise effect. Here you can customize the look of the waving of the flag. The darker and lighter areas (the contrast) of the fractal noise is what will ultimately displace your flag. First, you’ll add a time expression to the evolution of your fractal noise (I like time*15 for the most natural look). Then you’ll need to animate the noise position over time. I think adding position keyframes and slowly moving the noise to the right and slightly down looks the best.

3 Ways to Make a Waving Flag Animation in After Effects — Fractal Noise

Then, turn off uniform scaling, and scale the width and height until you get something that has the look of a flag slowly waving in the wind.

Drop your flag layer and displacement map layer in the same comp, then drop the displacement map effect onto your map layer. Next, set the displacement map comp as the displacement layer. Now you can customize the effect and the amount of displacement.

3 Ways to Make a Waving Flag Animation in After Effects — Displacement Map

If you want to add realistic looking shadows, you can duplicate your displacement map layer, drop it on top of your flag layer, and set it to multiply.


Using The Wave Warp Effect

This method is going to be your preferred route if you’re going for a more cartoonish or illustrated look. This will be good when working with vector-based flag files. This is also a good choice for explainer videos or animated cartoon-style videos.

To use this effect, it’s quite simple. You take your vector object and simply add the wave warp effect on top of it. Now you’ll have some customization options that you can play around with.

To get a more natural look you might want to add keyframes to the wave height parameter, and also changing the angle of the waves can give a more random and natural look.


Using Basic Distort Tools

3 Ways to Make a Waving Flag Animation in After Effects — Distort Tools

There are also a number of other tools from the distort tab inside of After Effects that you can use to create hand animated flag waving looks and effects. This is definitely a bit more of a DIY route in terms of the animation, but you can play with a mesh warp effect to get a wavy look. This effect adds a grid on top of your object, where each cross section of the grid can be warped and animated.

You can also play around with the CC Bend It or Liquify tool in the distort section. These will require a whole lot of customization, but it’s a good way to get your hands dirty and learn some animation techniques on your own.


Looking for more After Effects tips and tricks? Check these out.