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Free Fire Effect: How to Create Realistic Fire in After Effects


Got a burning desire to add a fire effect to your next After Effects project? We’ve got you covered.

Creating realistic simulated fire in After Effects is one of the most challenging tasks for any VFX artist. There are a lot of areas in which After Effects soars — motion graphics, tracking, 2D animation — but physics simulations is not one of them.

The best option for creating realistic fire effects is using expensive software like Houdini or Fume FX for Maya. The other option is to use pre-rendered fire footage which works in some cases, but it isn’t very versatile and can also be quite expensive.

You’ve probably been looking around for good fire tutorials online, but honestly, other than a few tutorials from Andrew Kramer, there aren’t a lot of native-effects tutorials for creating good fire effects.

In this RocketStock exclusive, we’ll show you how to create realistic fire effects in AE using native plugins and a free After Effects effect preset. Here’s what the end result will look like:

After Effects Fire Example

If you want to make this effect yourself, I highly encourage you to follow along with the following step-by-step tutorial below so you can get a good grasp on how this technique is accomplished. The effect is fairly simple, but the results can be amazing.

Here’s a link to the free After Effects fire effect preset. All of the instructions for using and distributing the effect are included in the download. If you have any more questions about using the effect, we’d be happy to answer them in the comments below.

How to Create Fire in After Effects

Step 1: Create a New Layer

The fire effect will work with any type of layer in After Effects — solid, shape, footage, vector, text, etc. Create a new layer in the shape in which you want the fire effect to work. If it’s text, simply create text. If you are wanting to create a campfire style effect, create a small triangle using the mask tool on a solid.

Fire in After Effects Step 1

For this tutorial, we’re going to give a shout out to Johnny Cash and create a ring of fire. In order to do so, simply select the Ellipse Tool (Q) and adjust the style settings so that fill is set to transparent and the stroke is set to 35 (or however thick you want the ring to be).

Step 2: Apply the Free Fire Effect

Fire in After Effects Step 2

If you’ve already installed the free fire effect for After Effects, type Fire by RocketStock in your effects and presets browser. You should see the preset pop up. Simply drag the effect to your desired layer.

Step 3: Adjust the Settings

Fire in After Effects Step 3

You should immediately see a fire effect begin to form. However, depending on your desired use, you will probably want to adjust the effect to match your needs. This is where the five sliders come into play. In your effect panel you should see the effect settings along with five sliders. Here’s what it looks like:

After Effects Fire Settings

Each of the five sliders has a very unique function. Here’s a quick breakdown:

  1. Flame Height: Changes the distance the flames come off of the affected object.
  2. Fractal Size: Changes the size of the fire ‘wisps.’
  3. Fire Density: Changes the thickness of the fire.
  4. Flicker Speed: Changes the speed of the fire.
  5. Random Seed: Changes the way the fire looks.

You can also change the tint of the fire by adding a Hue/Saturation effect to the layer and rotating the wheel.

Step 4: Set Blending Mode to ‘Screen’ or ‘Add’

Fire in After Effects Step 4

By default, your fire effect will have a little black mixed in. You will want to change the layer transfer mode to ‘Screen’ or ‘Add’ depending on your needs. I tend to like screen better, as color information is better retained. But Add can create good results if you want your fire to be a little more blown out.

Step 5: Layer and Stylize

Fire in After Effects Step 5

Like a real fire, good fire in After Effects isn’t on a single layer. Instead, you’ll get better results if you create multiple layers with different degrees of density, height, and speed. You could also play around with different colors, glow effects, and blurs to give your fire just a little extra added realism.

In the following example, we simply dropped in a flare from Optical Flares over our ring-of-fire composition and set the transfer mode to add. The result is a pretty cool sun effect.

Sun Fire Effect in After Effects

Tips for Creating Realistic Fire in After Effects

If you’re still having a hard time making your fire look realistic, here are a few things we learned about using this technique:

  1. Realistic fire needs to be layered on more than one layer.
  2. Fire is almost always blown-out (too bright for a camera to capture color detail).
  3. The tips of the fire wiggle faster than the bottom.
  4. Fire is never yellow.
  5. Fire has a color gradient from top to bottom.
  6. Good fire takes time.
  7. Fire always has heat waves (See below).
  8. Less smoke is better than more.

This After Effects fire effect is perfect for creating campfire style fires rather than explosions — though I’m sure we’ll cover explosions in a future tutorial. This technique is by no means perfect, but if you’re looking for a low-cost and low-time-commitment alternative to 3D particle-based fire simulations, this is the best technique I’ve found yet.

The following is an example of a non-traditional way to use the Fire by RocketStock effect to create ‘energy’ style fire by changing the fire tint color and applying a ‘CC Glass’ effect to the entire composition.

Energy Ball in After Effects

If you want to take your fire to the next level, check out PremiumBeat’s previously mentioned How to Create Heat Waves tutorial.