Dynamic Particle Shadows in AE

In a recent post, I rendered a fluid particle system and faked the shadow by duplicating the render and adding a blur. But, then I started thinking… what about a particle system that is more defined, like dropping balls? The blur-method would not work. So then I had more questions…

How could you create a dynamic shadow, that lines up correctly with your particles AND appears only when the particle is close to the surface? What about making the shadow look like Global Illumination? What if you went back in time and ran into yourself from the PAST!?

Eventually I though of a solution and it seems to work pretty well. Specifically if you think of a code word that only you know, it would be easy to prove YOU were from the future.

As for the particle shadows, I think it is worth sharing in detail so stay tuned for a video demonstration.

Watch Sample Video

NOTE: This sample video was rendered in After Effects with Particular using a 3D ball element as the particle texture. The ball was created in 3D Max, but you can make your own reflective orb in AE as shown in the Glass Orbs tutorial.

July 2nd, 2010 @ 1:43 am
Wow nice work

AWESOME I love your projects
July 2nd, 2010 @ 1:47 am
Was the HDRI reflection done in 3d software as well...they seem to be moving...do they?
July 2nd, 2010 @ 1:48 am
As always nice work... Looks cool
james reid
July 2nd, 2010 @ 1:49 am
Someones been watching family guy. Looks good any chance of a breakdown?
July 2nd, 2010 @ 1:52 am
Hey, look! some of them has disappeared!
July 2nd, 2010 @ 1:53 am
Hey whats up. Adrew
My name is maxwell I live in Brazil and would ask his opinion a
where I live are few resources in video productions
I'm now learning to make films, thanks to your tutorials
I already know many things I thank you for the tutorials
more what I want to ask is to what factor or rather I should follow
what kind of designer Faculty should I follow to get up in
productions after effects?
Andrew Thanks for strength
(And I beg for you to do a tutorial with magic wand)

Thank maxwell
July 2nd, 2010 @ 1:54 am
nice one ..........andrew
July 2nd, 2010 @ 1:54 am
This looks SWEET! I can't believe you can do so many things with after effects. :)
July 2nd, 2010 @ 1:55 am
@tjump, they don't "disappear". Actually textured particles are depth-sorted tot he camera, so when the camera moves to the side some particles that are close together are resorted if one becomes closer to the camera.

If you look closely, the particles just moves behind one another.
July 2nd, 2010 @ 1:58 am
Wow, you're gonna teach us how to make this ?
July 2nd, 2010 @ 2:00 am
Can you also make the object trigger an audio file when it touches the floor? makes it even more realistic
July 2nd, 2010 @ 2:07 am
That's awesome!

Hey, can I request a tutorial about something I want to do in AE but I don't know how?

I need to create dark clouds on a city like those clouds cover it from the sun causing the day become night, do you understand me?

I think it might be done with a picture of a city and then the clouds over it in AE but I still don't how to do it.

Can you help me Mr. Kramer?

I'm from BRAZIL.

You help me a lot with your tutorials. It's like a school to me.

Thank you very much.
July 2nd, 2010 @ 2:08 am
This sample video could actually NOT be played on the iPhone where im using twitter! :(
July 2nd, 2010 @ 2:15 am
@Andrew Kramer, thanks, I understood. That was a joke :)

in fact, it`s a great idea.
July 2nd, 2010 @ 2:22 am
Awesome one. I like the quality of output even though the physics was not much reality. Post a tutorial on this please.
Mark L
July 2nd, 2010 @ 2:27 am
that's an amazing solution. are we going to be able to C4D mograph 2 style animations right in side AE - not at home at the moment but look forward to giving this technique a spin. Do the balls have collision detection - can't remember what the options are for collision events inside Particular...look forward to some particle tuts soon.
July 2nd, 2010 @ 2:33 am
Brilliant, you make yoda look like a beginner ;-)
July 2nd, 2010 @ 2:36 am
Hmm, the example is not particularly impressed, but the presence of shadows in the particles makes them more interesting, let's see how you wiggle out in tutorial, Andrew. And do not dare to poke there method to create these sprite balls! ;D
July 2nd, 2010 @ 2:37 am
Hey Andrew, is there any way to contact with you ?=) would be cool if you can mail me, thx. Just want to talk about few stuffs not connected with tutorials.

Great stuff ;)
Zackery Zounes
July 2nd, 2010 @ 2:37 am
Looks awesome. Then again, I can only expect the best from Andrew Kramer. I also can believe you posted this at 1:45 AM!!!
God Almighty
July 2nd, 2010 @ 2:48 am
Hear me my people.. All hail Andrew Kramer!
July 2nd, 2010 @ 3:04 am
Andre's first tutorial: Basic Sky Replacement
David Blast
July 2nd, 2010 @ 3:07 am
Another mind-boggling blog from Andrew. Even IF I found a really cool code word, how would I be sure that the me from the past wouldn't be able to think of it, and thus confuse which one of us is from the future?

And the sample was really cool too.
July 2nd, 2010 @ 3:10 am
BAZINGA! That would be the codeword. Right?
July 2nd, 2010 @ 3:11 am
Hey, when is the 3D glass tutorial coming out?
July 2nd, 2010 @ 3:23 am
On a serious note. While the particles are in mid-air the shadow (bottomhalf) of the balls would be much lighter. So as the shadows fade on to the floorplane, they also fade on to the particles. I'd say a seperate shadowpass from 3DS Max and fade it on?

On the other hand, I don't see preachers telling God to changes the 10 commandments so I'm not sure why im doing this. Maybe I'm not?!

July 2nd, 2010 @ 3:32 am
Thanks to you. I'm going to movie school with AE traning. You just inspired me. Don't know how to write it in ENG but your tutorials are perfect. I'm smiling to the monitor sometimes and telling to my self.. " Yay.. This is freakin' awesome
July 2nd, 2010 @ 3:57 am
I wonder how you let the reflection displace correctly.
And I am really happy that even AK has problems by the automatic depthsort of particular. At some point I thought its only my version which messes it up:( The jumpiness in the depthsort is the only weak thing inside Particular - if they could get rid of it it would be perfect
July 2nd, 2010 @ 4:01 am
Nice work, you always
July 2nd, 2010 @ 4:02 am
makes great videos, sorry for the break
July 2nd, 2010 @ 4:08 am
Thanks master, your'e great.
July 2nd, 2010 @ 4:09 am
But some of them disappeared
July 2nd, 2010 @ 4:12 am
Great job!

The bounce on the orbs is a bit unnatural. Is there a way to slightly randomize the bounce there (I think the orb "look" heavy or filled with sand)
July 2nd, 2010 @ 4:16 am
Nice work as always.

But some balls disappeared.
July 2nd, 2010 @ 4:46 am
quote:"Posted at 1:40 am on July 2nd, 2010 by Andrew Kramer"
Did you ever sleep.
Now time in TURKEY is 14:30
July 2nd, 2010 @ 4:54 am
I have to say . Wow wow wow wow wow... for each ball. Incredible. Good job andrew.
Frederico Sabino
July 2nd, 2010 @ 5:10 am
Hi Andrew. Great post and great effect. Congratulations.

I do not know if this is an error but I could be wrong: more or less in the middle of the Sample Video when a ball falls in the middle of the field he falls back of another ball then front, then back again and front.

Again, Great test with particular =) Continue with the great work.
July 2nd, 2010 @ 5:21 am
but what's that little black dot on the first frame? Shadow of one ball or what? Looks a bit strange..
July 2nd, 2010 @ 5:52 am
I'm loving this, a new post every day or 2 days. Thought you were forgetting about us. Up until this week Andrew you seemed to of gone through a patch (over the past few months) of a new post once a week or every 2 weeks. I know you have a life of your own but we need you to! LOL!. You have really helped me out a lot and i thank you very very much. Through your Tuts & training you have inspired me and i'm in the processes of turning my hobby into a new car-ea from beig an electrician. Keep up the brilliant work.
July 2nd, 2010 @ 5:54 am
Is this a Camera Depth of field ? :D
July 2nd, 2010 @ 6:19 am
my first guess is, you used the aux particle system. don't know exactly how you remapped the appearance over time to mach the proximity to the floor, but I'm curious to find out if I guessed right and how you did the trick.

btw. real nice look as always
July 2nd, 2010 @ 6:26 am
Really nice effect !! But Andrew, we still waiting for the broken glass tutorial from Payment Plan... :)
July 2nd, 2010 @ 6:42 am
@ Tiago Cardoso Try Watching the Lighting strike tutorial or maybe a Basic sky replacement tutorial that could maybe solve your problem
July 2nd, 2010 @ 6:47 am
Have some errors radering? because i saw one layer jump for another layer with 1 or 2 fps .. but anyway, its a awesome work, really great!
July 2nd, 2010 @ 6:47 am
have some erros rendering?*
July 2nd, 2010 @ 6:48 am
July 2nd, 2010 @ 7:48 am
The reflected image isn't the one you use on the blob for the fringe intro?
July 2nd, 2010 @ 8:19 am
Really nice effect !! Andrew
July 2nd, 2010 @ 8:22 am
I didn't know v-ray worked with AE. :)
July 2nd, 2010 @ 9:13 am
Some balls mystically disappear in the middle, when they get too squeezed into one place :D
But overall - awesome illusion! =]
July 2nd, 2010 @ 9:21 am
Look forward to this :)

While you and everyone else are on the subject of particular, I wonder if anyone can help me.

Whenever I set up a box emitter with video clips of people dancing to simulate a crown scene etc. when i move the camera forward (Z axis) the other 3d layers seem to move at a different speed and not quite line up with the particular particles, to simplify what i mean say you had a checker board layer that was flat (i.e. the floor) then on top a particular box emitter was on a certain square when the camera moves forward the particles drift off and dont stay on the square they started on even tho there is no other movement e.g. velocity wind ect. any answers?

Best D
Jackson S.
July 2nd, 2010 @ 9:28 am
tjump will think twice before questioning Andrew again.
John Mark
July 2nd, 2010 @ 9:31 am
Andrew you are an imaginative genius!
July 2nd, 2010 @ 9:38 am
I love your work
July 2nd, 2010 @ 10:10 am
Awesome!! Can't for a tut :P
July 2nd, 2010 @ 10:41 am
Andrew in all this months i couldn't find how to integrate 3d max with the AE, would you mind to show us some way? like the example that show adobe in the cs4 features where the put a 3d car in a AE composition.

July 2nd, 2010 @ 11:34 am
very good and green is my favorite color, too! :D
Mike Park
July 2nd, 2010 @ 12:24 pm

It sounds like there may be 1 of 2 possible problems. First, check to see if the box emitter has any height. If so, it will distribute the particles in the y axis so that they are not all on the same plane. Next, check to see if you have properly offset the particles from the floor. Particular uses the center of the particle source comp for position. This means if you have a particle which is 50 units high, you need to raise the particles off the floor 25 units so that they line up properly. Either of these things will lead to the problem you are describing.

Hope this helps
Mike Park
July 2nd, 2010 @ 12:30 pm

Hey, Obviously I am not Andrew, but the answer to your question is yes and probably no. Particular will let you randomize the bounce parameter (and introduce some slide as well), however, if my guess as to how AK did this is correct, you would not be able to properly sync the shadow and falling particles if you introduced random bounce heights. I could be wrong, but from what I know of Particular and the fact that Andrew said he thought of this when he was thinking about "faking" the shadow in another shot, I think that timing would be a major issue.
Mike Park
July 2nd, 2010 @ 12:34 pm

I think you are on the right track with the aux particles. If I were a betting man, I would say 3 total particle systems, one to drop the orbs, one to create shadows and one to generate the shadow particle source.

Hey Andrew, if I am right, do I get a free t-shirt?
Mike Park
July 2nd, 2010 @ 12:40 pm

Not with the current version of Particular. However, you could make the audio file trigger emmission of particles and then offset the audio to match when they hit........if you get my drift.
July 2nd, 2010 @ 1:59 pm
such a coinsidense, I'm just working on something like this!!! 3Ds Max
July 2nd, 2010 @ 2:21 pm
Andrew I have disappointed I have seen some errors in the video some of Glass Orbs war through some of the other Glass Orbs so How can you commit mistakes like that
July 2nd, 2010 @ 2:51 pm
You forgot the part where it zooms out and--surprise!--it spells out Video Copilot. If that were in there, I would be convinced that Video Copilot was some kind of organic foods retailer and this was a commercial of theirs.
Awesome work, can't wait for the tutorial.
July 2nd, 2010 @ 11:54 pm
@Kramer: I think balls "desappear" (but is not correct way to call this "bug") 'cause you used SPRITE on particular, You need to use sprite because the camera always stay on face on your effect right?
July 3rd, 2010 @ 12:37 am
wow you are Best of the best . pls tutorial of this :)
July 3rd, 2010 @ 12:38 am
Hey Andrew . Do you work in a AUTODESK MAYA ?
July 3rd, 2010 @ 1:28 am
it's awesome. Thank you Andrew for u r tutorials make me success in my job.
July 3rd, 2010 @ 1:46 am
...wow.. great man.. so beautiful.. aowsome!!!!
July 3rd, 2010 @ 1:48 am
@Zvi @Skullboy Thank you guys!

I've already watched those tutorials and I think it might help me some way.

Actually, I would like something more especific because I am a boring person but I'll try it with those tutorials and I hope I get some convincing thing, then.

If I get it, I'll try to show it for you all and Mr. Kramer.

I hope I get it!

Thank you guys one more time!
July 3rd, 2010 @ 2:27 am
a tutorial on this one plzzz....
July 3rd, 2010 @ 4:28 am
Great work Andrew, love all your tutorials and vids. Also this reminds me of the vx gas balls from The Rock. You are Amazing.
July 3rd, 2010 @ 6:09 am
Very good but it'd be far simpler to use a 3D app for the complete animation in this case.
July 3rd, 2010 @ 7:20 am
The bounce animation doesn't look very realistic. Just mentioning.
July 3rd, 2010 @ 7:47 am
I mean, to maximize the frame, sorry.
July 3rd, 2010 @ 7:57 am
ah I forgot the adobe help viewer. lol sorry.
July 3rd, 2010 @ 8:48 am
^ Neither does your commentary, but I think they were showing this as an example of what can be achieved with this particular technique rather than a calculating the exact physics.
The Elders tell of a young ball much like you. He bounced three metres in the air. Then he bounced 1.8 metres in the air. Then he bounced four metres in the air. Do I make myself clear?
July 3rd, 2010 @ 9:34 am

rather waiting hours of GI render? me? no please..
July 3rd, 2010 @ 10:31 am
Great idea, and probably a clever execution as well, but am I the only one noticing that the shadows actually grow larger as the balls bounce up again after initial impact? For someone dealing with normal AO and shadows, it looks really wrong.
July 3rd, 2010 @ 2:13 pm
You are awesome Andrew :D
Can you also have some 3ds max tutorials or other 3d programs? I also want to make something awesome in 3d xD

/sorry for my bad english/
July 4th, 2010 @ 2:37 am
this is too complex for my computer capacities :))
Diego Rangel
July 4th, 2010 @ 10:09 am
This is one great tutorial... HAHAHAHAH
July 4th, 2010 @ 11:53 am
Nice, nice.

Did a whole set of idents for a local TV station last year featuring a BALL jumping, exploding, bouncing etc.
All particle shadows were particular, there was a catch. The shadow effect could only work with bouncing parameters and the faster the balls get stabilised the better the effect looked like.. Something similar to your demo here. Also with shading within Particluar i made even more realistic volumetric particle ball cloud.


sent you an email on support@videocopilot.net
July 4th, 2010 @ 12:49 pm
@ Mike Park heey thanks for taking the time to suggest those 2 possible fixes, it's definately not the first as the height is 0 , so most probably the second suggestion is the way to go, can't wait to give that a try on Monday :). Just hope am following you correctly on your 2nd tip, but to conclude if my particles are video clips in say a 50x50 comp "imagesource" then in my new comp with particular in it, i put the "imagesource" in as my particle source image layer, i would have to nudge up the emitter box by 25 pixels to allow for the mid point alignment. Sheesh this sounds complicated but i hope you know what i mean :).
July 5th, 2010 @ 2:41 am
Great work Andrew!!
Mike Park
July 5th, 2010 @ 7:41 am
@ David66

Yes, as long as the image goes all the way to the bottom of the source. Another thing I was thinking of is that if you are using a sprite as the particle type, your particle image feet will rotate on the floor. Is this what is happening?
July 10th, 2010 @ 10:43 am
"Specifically if you think of a code word that only you know, it would be easy to prove YOU were from the future."

...but only to yourself~
July 11th, 2010 @ 11:16 am
hey.. make a tutorial for this : )
July 21st, 2010 @ 8:12 am
Will there be a tutorial for this :) because I would really like to use something like this for an intro
Sang Hee
July 25th, 2010 @ 12:44 pm
It's really cool that the reflections are actually moving but the fact that the balls don't reflect each other and they are still camera-oriented sprites brings it down. Still, with a proper use this is a very powerful idea.
August 13th, 2010 @ 5:55 am
hi sir
how to make a collision particles in adobe after effects?
November 24th, 2010 @ 6:55 am
Found some mistakes... The problem with perspective is that things are going to constantly keep popping in front of one another, like so:

If you'd have less objects maybe the illusion would work...
February 3rd, 2011 @ 2:19 am
The particules shadows method in the tutorial doesn t seem to work with the bouncing ball.
i mean, it s working the with the vanish butr i do not manage to reduce the size of the shadow when the ball is closed to the floor then enlarge the shadow during the bouncing.
Anyone have a solution?
Before Posting
We're trying to encourage more thoughtful commenting.  Please take a moment to write a meaningful response to this post.
* Name
* Email (will not be published)
* field is required