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How to Add Special Effects to Cartoon Animation Using After Effects

This post is part of a series called Learn Character Animation With Cartoon Animator.
How to Add Soft Shadow Effects to Cartoon Animation Using After Effects
Final product imageFinal product imageFinal product image
What You'll Be Creating

Adding special effects to a cartoon animation can really help give your project that wow factor! Adobe After Effects is capable of achieving a wide variety of special effects such as different lighting, smoke, water and fire effects. In this tutorial you'll learn how to create a portal effect animation using basic lighting and effects templates from Envato Elements.

What You'll Learn in This Tutorial

Adobe After Effects has many different tools that allow you to create special effects for cartoon animation. In this tutorial we will show you step-by-step how to create a cartoon portal and how to enhance it using this Special FX pack from Envato Elements. You'll learn:

  • How to import a cartoon background image into Adobe After Effects
  • How to create and animate a cartoon portal effect
  • What effects and presets to use to create the animated portal
  • How to enhance your cartoon animation using pre-made special effects from Envato Elements
  • How to create particle and glow effects

What You'll Need

To follow along with this tutorial you will need your own versions of Adobe After Effects. 

You will also need a background scene and a pre-made special effects pack. We used the following packs from Envato Elements. Click on the links below to download them:

flash fx pack 10flash fx pack 10flash fx pack 10

1. How to Import the Background

Step 1

Let's start by creating a new composition in Adobe After Effects by clicking on the New Composition button or by going to Composition > New Composition (Control + N). Create a composition with the following settings:

  • Composition Name: Main
  • Width: 1920 px
  • Height:1080 px
  • Frame Rate: 30 fps
  • Duration: 5 seconds
create new compositioncreate new compositioncreate new composition

Step 2

Import a new background image into After Effects by clicking and dragging the image into the Project Panel or by going to File > Import > File.

import background image into after effectsimport background image into after effectsimport background image into after effects

Step 3

Add the new background layer by clicking and dragging it into the composition from the Project Panel.

drag background into compositiondrag background into compositiondrag background into composition

Step 4

Once you have done the above steps, you would have successfully imported your new background and you should see it appear in the viewport.

imported background imageimported background imageimported background image

Step 5

For this tutorial we have also decided to crop the background image by enlarging it using the Transform options. This will allow us to focus on the special effects that we are about to create.

cropped background imagecropped background imagecropped background image

2. How to Create the Portal Texture Effect Using Fractal Noise

Step 1

Create a new composition with the following settings:

  • Composition Name: Portal Texture
  • Width: 500 px
  • Height: 500 px
  • Frame Rate: 30 fps
  • Duration: 5 seconds
create a new compositioncreate a new compositioncreate a new composition

Step 2

In the new Portal Texture composition, create a new solid layer by going to Layer > New > Solid (Control + Y). Name the new solid Fractal and make sure that it has a white background.

create a new solidcreate a new solidcreate a new solid

Step 3

In the Effects & Presets panel, search for Fractal Noise. Apply the effect to the solid layer by double clicking on it, or by clicking and dragging it to the layer directly.

add fractal noiseadd fractal noiseadd fractal noise

Step 4

In the Effect Controls panel follow the settings as shown below:

  • Fractal Type: Strings
  • Noise Type: Pline
  • Contrast: 160
  • Brightness: -10
  • Scale Width: 200
  • Scale Height: 40-41
  • Offset Turbulence: 250, 250
  • Complexity: 6
fractal noise settingsfractal noise settingsfractal noise settings

Step 5

With the above settings your fractal noise effect should transform from the image on the left to become the image on the right.

the image should changethe image should changethe image should change

Step 6

You can also animate the texture by creating a keyframe for Evolution at the beginning of the timeline with a value of 0x+00° and then moving to the end of the timeline to create a new keyframe with a value of 1x+180° (feel free to play around to the values).

add animation to the fractal noiseadd animation to the fractal noiseadd animation to the fractal noise

3. How to Create the Portal Effect Using CC Sphere

Step 1

Create a new composition and name it Portal Center. You want to make sure that you are using the same settings as before:

  • Composition Name: Portal Texture
  • Width: 500 px
  • Height: 500 px
  • Frame Rate: 30 fps
  • Duration: 5 seconds

Then click and drag the Portal Texture Composition into it. In the Effects & Presets panel, look for CC Sphere and add that to the Portal Texture layer. This will transform the look of your texture from a square shape to a circular shape.

add CC Sphere to the texture layeradd CC Sphere to the texture layeradd CC Sphere to the texture layer

Step 2

In the Effect Controls panel follow the settings as shown below:

  • Radius: 200
  • Light Intensity: 140
  • Light Height: 90
cc sphere settingscc sphere settingscc sphere settings

Step 3

In the Effects & Presets panel, look for CC Vector Blur and add that to the Portal Texture layer. Use the following settings in the Effect Controls panel:

  • Type: Natural
  • Amount: 5
  • Angle Offset: 0x+00°
  • Ridge Smoothness: 1
  • Map Softness: 100
blur settingsblur settingsblur settings

Step 4

Create a new adjustment layer by going to Layer > New > Adjustment Layer (Control + Alt + Y) and then rename the layer Displace.

create new adjustment layercreate new adjustment layercreate new adjustment layer

Step 5

In the Effects & Presets panel, look for Turbulent Displace and apply it to the Displace layer. Then use the following settings in the Effect Controls panel:

  • Displacement: Twist
  • Amount: 30
  • Size: 20
  • Offset: 250, 250
  • Complexity: 1
add turbulent displaceadd turbulent displaceadd turbulent displace

Step 6

You can also animate the turbulent displace by creating a keyframe for Evolution at the beginning of the timeline with a value of 0x+00° and then moving to the end of the timeline to create a new keyframe with a value of 1x+180° (feel free to play around to the values).

This will create an animated wavy effect for the portal for the inner details and the outer edges.

animate the evolutionanimate the evolutionanimate the evolution

4. How to Create the Portal Twirl Effects

Step 1

In the Project Panel duplicate (Control + D) the Portal Center composition and rename it Portal Twirl.

duplicate the layer and renameduplicate the layer and renameduplicate the layer and rename

Step 2

In the Effects & Presets panel, look for the Twirl (you can also find this in Effect > Distort > Twirl) and add it to the Portal Texture layer. In the Effect Controls panel, make sure that the Twirl effect is placed in between the CC Sphere and CC Vector Blur effects.

apply twirl effectapply twirl effectapply twirl effect

Step 3

Edit the value of the Angle to create a twirl effect. For this tutorial we will be using a value of 0x+220° as shown in the image below.

twirl settingstwirl settingstwirl settings

Step 4

Duplicate the Twirl effect (Control + D) and edit the value of the second twirl effect so that it fills the entire circle. For this tutorial we will be using a value of 1x+1.0° as shown in the image below.

duplicate twirl effect duplicate twirl effect duplicate twirl effect

Step 5

To remove the darker parts of the portal effect we will be using the Extract effect. In the Effects & Presets panel, look for the Extract (you can also find this in Effect > Keying > Extract) and add it to the Portal Texture layer. In the Effect Controls panel, make sure that the Extract effect is placed in underneath both Twirl effects.

Open up the Histogram and move the two points towards the right, so that it matches the image below.

apply the extract effectapply the extract effectapply the extract effect

Step 6

Create a spinning animation for the portal effect by opening up the Transform options in the Portal Texture layer and then creating a keyframe for Rotation. At the beginning of the timeline create a keyframe with a rotation value of 0x+0.0° and then moving to the end of the timeline to create a new keyframe with a value of 2x+0.0° (feel free to play around to the values).

animate the rotationanimate the rotationanimate the rotation

5. How to Create the Portal Edge Effect

Step 1

In the Project Panel duplicate (Control + D) the Portal Center composition once again and rename it Portal Edge.

duplicate layer and renameduplicate layer and renameduplicate layer and rename

Step 2

Use the Ellipse Tool to create a new Shape Layer that is roughly the same size (or slightly bigger) than the portal texture layer. Select the color that you want to use before creating the shape layer. For this tutorial we will be using the color 47ff00.

create a green circlecreate a green circlecreate a green circle

Step 3

Once you are happy with the size of the shape layer, remove the portal texture layer. Add a Turbulent Displace effect to the shape layer with the following settings:

  • Displacement: Twist
  • Amount: 50
  • Size: 30
  • Offset: 250, 250
  • Complexity: 1

Then add a Glow Effect (Effect > Stylize > Glow) and leave it at the default settings to make the portal glow.

edge effect settingsedge effect settingsedge effect settings

6. How to Create a Complete Animated Portal Effect

Step 1

Return to the Main Composition which contains the background image. Then click and drag all three portal layers into the composition making sure they are in the following order:

  1. Portal Twirl
  2. Portal Center
  3. Portal Edge
combine all the portal compositionscombine all the portal compositionscombine all the portal compositions

Step 2

Add a CC Toner Effect (Effect > Color Correction > CC Toner) to the Portal Twirl and Portal Center layers. Then replace the Midtones and Shadows colors so that they match the color of your portal. For this tutorial we will use the following:

  • Midtones: 5BDF2B
  • Shadows: 45812F
color the portalcolor the portalcolor the portal

Step 3

Activate the 3D Layer option next to each Portal layer by clicking on the cube icon. As a 3D layer you will be able to transform each layer using the X, Y and Z rotations. Highlight all three portal layers and adjust the X rotation to 78° so that is appears like it is lying on the floor of the background image.

make layer 3Dmake layer 3Dmake layer 3D

7. How to Add Extra Special Effects

Step 1

To enhance the portal effect animation we can add the special effects included in the Flash FX Elements Pack 10. To do this go to File > Import > File to open the effect that you want.

import special effectsimport special effectsimport special effects

Step 2

Navigate to the location of where you have opened the pack and select the effect that you want. You can view each file separately in After Effects to identify which one that you want.

choose the special effect that you want to usechoose the special effect that you want to usechoose the special effect that you want to use

Step 3

Once the effect has been imported into the project, click and drag it into the Main composition from the Project Panel. Then using the transform options, adjust the special effects so that it is placed in the right position.

drag and drop the effects into the compositiondrag and drop the effects into the compositiondrag and drop the effects into the composition

Step 4

You can also adjust when the effects will appear in the timeline. This will ensure that they appear when you want them to.

move the effects in the timelinemove the effects in the timelinemove the effects in the timeline

8. How to Add Particle Special Effects

Step 1

To add particle effects to the cartoon animation we will need to add a new solid layer. To do this go to Layer > New > Solid. 

create a new solidcreate a new solidcreate a new solid

Step 2

Rename the new solid layer Particles.

solid settingssolid settingssolid settings

Step 3

In the Effect & Controls Panel follow the settings shown below:

  • Birth Rate: 0.2
  • Longevity: 1.50
  • Position Y: 0.17
  • Radius X: 0.155
  • Radius Y: 0.045
  • Radius Z: 0.025
  • Animation: Vortex
  • Velocity: 0.25
  • Gravity: 0.1
  • Particle Type: Faded Sphere
  • Birth Size: 0.15
  • Death Size: 0.1
  • Size Variation: 50%
  • Max Opacity: 75%
  • Birth Color: 8fff45
  • Death Color: cdf2a2
particle settingsparticle settingsparticle settings

Step 4

The settings above are just a guide and it is highly encouraged for you to experiment with the values to see if you come up with a solution that works well for your project. Using special effects requires some trial and error to figure out the best settings to use, so make sure to have a play!

particles addedparticles addedparticles added

9. How to Add Glow Effects

Step 1

Use the Pen Tool (G) to draw out a rough outline of the glow shape. For this example we have used the color 47ff00. This will create a shape layer.

use the pen tooluse the pen tooluse the pen tool

Step 2

Apply a Fast Box Blur (Effect > Blur & Sharpen > Fast Box Blur to the shape layer. In the Effect & Controls Panel follow the settings shown below:

  • Blur Radius: 110
  • Iterations: 3
apply blur effectapply blur effectapply blur effect

Step 3

In the Transform options of the shape layer, lower the opacity to your liking. In the example below we have gone with an opacity of 15%.

lower the opacitylower the opacitylower the opacity

Awesome! You're Finished!

Congratulations! And that's how you can add Special Effects to a cartoon animation using Adobe After Effects!

Now that you are familiar with the techniques, why not experiment with different special effects from the Envato Elements pack or use another background image? From there you can add extra special effects like extra glows and even animate something going through the portal such as a basketball as shown in the example.

In the meantime, I hope you've found this tutorial useful and I'll see you next time, on Envato Tuts+!

final portalfinal portalfinal portal
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