Produced by KelbyOne

Creating Fire in After Effects CS3

One of the toughest things to achieve in After Effects is a true feeling of space, environment, and temperature even. One way to infuse your scene with reality is to add light—and not simply a spotlight with a feathered edge and a few shadows here and there, but a realistic light cast from the very essential form of illumination: fire!

[If you’d like to preview the final effect, click here to download. All files are for personal use only.]

1 Import Image Files
The specs for this project are an NTSC D1 square-pixel composition of 720×450 pixels, 29.97 frames per second, six seconds long, a black background, and named “Flame.” The first step is to assemble the elements you want to use. In this case, we’re going to use three items: a logo (or icon), a texture for the floor, and a movie clip for the flame. Double-click in the Project panel to bring up the Import dialog, then locate the items you wish to use. For our example, we’ll import an 1800×1800-pixel file called “Texture.psd,” and a small 350×73-pixel vector logo called “Energi”

2 Import Movie File
Now locate the movie clip of fire or flame you wish to use (this could also be one you’ve created with a particle system such as the one in Motion). We’re bringing in one of Artbeats’ wonderful flame clips from their ReelFire 1 collection, “” Now all these items are assembled in the Project panel, we can start to piece the scene together.


3 Create 3D Floor; Rotate
Select your texture image in the Project panel and drag it into the Timeline at 0 seconds. Click the 3D Layer icon in the Switches panel for this layer, then go to the Active Camera menu at the bottom of the Composition window, and choose Custom View 1. Press R on the keyboard to reveal the layer’s Rotation property, then click on the +0.0° value next to X Rotation and change it to +90°, pressing Enter to confirm when done. This rotates the texture to become the floor.

4 Add 3D Logo; Position & Scale
Press C on the keyboard to access the Orbit Camera tool and drag it around in the Composition window to view the scene from a better angle. Press V to return to the Selection tool. Now, drag your logo or icon (ours is Energi image from the Project panel into the Timeline above the image at 0 seconds also. Turn this into a 3D layer, then drag the green Y-axis arrow in the Composition window to position the logo above the floor. To scale the logo up or down, press S on the keyboard to reveal the Scale property and adjust it to suit your design.

5 Add 3D Flame; Adjust Anchor Point
Now drag in the your flame clip at 0 seconds in the Timeline—note how the layer’s anchor point is in the center of the rectangle. Select the Pan Behind tool (Y) from the Toolbar and drag the flame’s anchor point toward the lower middle of the flame itself. This will make scaling and positioning easier, as this is the point from which the layer will transform. It will also give us a handy reference for the position of our light in a short while.

6 Key Flame; Make 3D Layer
Let’s quickly remove the black background of the clip. Press V to return to the Selection tool, then go to Effect>Channel>Shift Channels. In the Effect Controls panel (ECP), choose Red from the Take Alpha From option to use the layer’s red channel to create transparency. Now, go to Effect>Channel>Remove Color Matting and the original brightness and color of the flame will be restored. Now, click this layer’s 3D switch in the Timeline to turn it into another 3D layer.

7 Scale & Position Flame
Switch from Custom View 1 to Front, then hit S to reveal the flame’s Scale property. Drag to the left on any one of the three 100% numbers and scale the flame down to the size you prefer. Then use the green Y- and red X-axis arrows in the Composition window to move the flame into the desired location. In our case, it’s going to sit directly on top of the I in ENERGI.

8 Add Point Light; Turn On Shadows
Switch back to Custom View 1 now, then go to Layer>New>Light and in the resulting Light Settings dialog, choose Point from the Light Type pop-up menu. This creates a light source that shines in all directions (we called it Firelight). Turn Casts Shadows on, set the Intensity to 120%, Shadow Darkness to 60%, and the Shadow Diffusion to 20%, then click OK. A new light is sitting toward the lower right of our scene and you should be able to see it illuminating a small section of the floor—not a bad start!

9 Position Light within Flame
Let’s position the light in exactly the same location as the flame, as that’s where the light source is to come from—and this is also why we adjusted the anchor point of the flame! Select the flame layer, hit P to reveal its Position value, click on the word Position, and then press Command-C (PC: Ctrl-C) to copy the value. Now, select the Firelight layer, press P, select the word Position, and press Command-V (PC: Ctrl-V) to paste in the copied value. Perfect—except everything’s gone dark, and there are no shadows…

10 Adjust 3D Material Properties
Adding lights in After Effects only illuminates layers that are a distance from the light source (such as the floor); but this light is in the right position, so let’s tell the logo and flame to self-illuminate. Select both the logo and flame layers in the Timeline, then hit AA to reveal their 3D Material properties. Set the Accepts Lights option to Off and you’ll see the layers again. Now, select only the logo layer and change Casts Shadows to On.

11 Change Light Color; Add Intensity Expression
Now, let’s make the light source much more realistic. Double-click the Firelight layer to bring up the Light Settings dialog, click the Color swatch and change it to a light orange. Click OK, then press AA to reveal the Light Options in the Timeline. Hold down Option (PC: Alt) and click on the stopwatch next to Intensity to add an Expression field. Type “wiggle(10,40)” in the filed and then press Enter to confirm. If you scrub the Timeline now, you can see the light intensity flickering very nicely on the floor.

12 Add Position Expression
To now reveal the shadows and make them “dance” as the flames jump around, let’s use a similar Expression for the Firelight’s position. Press P to reveal its Position property, then Option-click (PC: Alt-click) on the stopwatch to add an Expression field. This time, type “wiggle(2,100)” and then press Enter to confirm. If you now press 0 on the keypad to RAM Preview, you’ll see the shadows cast from the logo moving very nicely across the floor, and also beautifully diffused as they get further away from the light source.

13 Add Camera; Adjust & Keyframe
Now we can create a simple camera move around the logo to really get a sense of space. At 0 seconds, go to Layer>New>Camera, then choose 28mm from the Preset pop-up menu in the Camera Settings dialog. Click OK, then in the Composition window, switch back to Active Camera. Press C and drag the Orbit Camera tool around to set your starting view, then press P and click the stopwatch to add a Position keyframe for the camera at 0 seconds.

14 Animate Camera
Hit End on the keyboard to jump to 6 seconds, then drag the Orbit Camera tool again to set your end view. Do a final RAM Preview, or render, and you should see some wonderfully realistic lighting effects, making this simple scene so much more alive. Remember the light intensity, color, shadow darkness, diffusion, and position movement, as well as the relative distances between the light, the floor, and the logo can all be adjusted to get infinitely varied results. Enjoy!


  • Josh Drake says:

    Amazing! Thanks for the tut!

  • Dave Larson says:

    Love the tutorial! I took it one step further by replacing the logo with a 3D logo made in zaxwerks.
    I just can’t figure out how to turn off your 2D logo , but keep the shadow cast. Any thoughts?

  • Johnny q says:

    DL, to cast a shadow in AE but not have the 2d logo show try selecting the object, type AA to get to the material options and under cast shadow select “only” so that your object only casts a shadow but does not display.

  • emin says:

    (ı’m not speak english!
    in turkey)

    niye video değilde bu şekilde?

  • Kevin James says:

    AWSOME! I have been out of the Graphics Art seen for quite sometime! I am very excited about what I can learn

  • geoff says:

    very good lesson.
    simple, yet fruitful.

  • Chuck says:

    Fantastic as always. Can’t wait to use this technique in my on work.

  • costas papadakis says:

    fantastic tutorial.

  • siva says:

    This is fantastic work

  • abraham says:

    how i get because ini this tutorial not given files

    thank’s a lot

  • Darvin says:

    how i get because ini this tutorial not given files

    thank’s a lot

  • SERRA says:

    How can i get the flame to make that tutorial ?

  • din says:

    How can i get the flame to make that tutorial ?

    anyone know where to download???

  • informix(wuweidong) says:

    good works. It maybe easy in 3dmax.
    thanks steve holmes.

  • says:

    Amazing! I love this site so much!

  • Aliaks. says:

    I must say; Layers do have amazing tutorials.

    However; I have struck a problem with this one 🙁

    All is well except the lighting layer, for me it does not effect the texture at all; appearing to do absolutely nothing.

    Any ideas? 🙂


  • Steve Holmes says:

    The light doesn’t affect the floor texture? Be sure to select the floor and hit AA to show the 3D Material attributes, and make sure Accepts Lights and Accepts Shadows are turned ON. Also, be sure to place the light ABOVE the floor – the default position can sometimes be too close to the floor and there’s not enough vertical separation for it to light the object

  • Steve Holmes says:

    The RF108 clip I used is available from I use their royalty-free footage for almost all the effects we do here in the studio, their fire and explosion footage is incredible, especially the new HD stuff….

    They allow me to use their clips in the tutorials so I can share the technique with you (and get great looking fire, which I have to say to the Max user above, would NOT be easier in Max ;), but obviously I can’t have those clips included for free download in a free tutorial.

    Creating fire in any 3D program takes time and patience and extensive rendering times. A stock clip from Artbeats with an alpha channel created in AE takes seconds, minutes at the most, both to create and render. That’s why we use Artbeats 🙂

    Of course that’s a shameless plug, why not?

  • orlando ramos says:

    los efectos estas buenisimos…
    pero porfa pueden darme enespañol

  • Steve Holmes says:

    Lo siento, Orlando. Deseo que podría escribir los artículos en lenguajes múltiples para todos…
    Espero que usted todavía goce de ellos.

  • lovingit says:

    thksss thats gooooood merci

  • Steve Holmes says:

    Je vous en pris! 🙂

  • A. J. says:

    What’s with the poor naming of this tutorial. It’s called “How to Create Fire,” but instead of showing us how to CREATE FIRE you show us how to make a fire file that you already have look realistic when you put it into something else.

    Your step two says “now open your fire file (this could be a file you’ve created using the particle effect.)” If you’re going to call a tutorial “How to Create Fire,” then maybe you could actually show us how to use the particle effect to CREATE FIRE!!

    Sorry, just a little irritating..

  • Steve Holmes says:

    Hey there AJ,

    Sorry about that, but I didn’t name this tutorial…

    When provided to Layers, it was called “Let There Be Light” which is actually what this tutorial is about. It’s not to do with making fire at all – which is hinted at right from the start when we import a clip of fire or one you might have made elsewhere.

    Sorry if they changed the title and confused you. The tutorial does actually do what I had suggested in the original title name.

    With that in mind, I hope you actually enjoy it now 🙂

    All the best,


  • Andrei says:

    Excellent tutorial! Really well explained. This is my first day using After Effects and this is a great resource.

  • Steve Holmes says:

    Hi Andrei,

    Congratulations on your first day with After Effects, and I am glad this tutorial helped you out 🙂

    If you are interested in another resource, we (Energi Design) are also putting out an After Effects Podcast every two weeks, which is getting some great feedback. It’s called Real World Footage Effects (sponsored by Artbeats) and you can find it on iTunes. Subscription is free 🙂



  • siddhartha says:


  • joey says:

    Could you email me a copy of the “” fire video you used? What you created was really cool and I would like to try to do something similar. Thanks!!

  • Steve Holmes says:

    Hi Joey,

    Sorry, not at all possible – the clip is a royalty-free stock footage clip purchased and downloaded from the Artbeats website (, so naturally we can’t send this clip out anywhere, sorry… We choose Artbeats clips because not only do they have the largest range and the absolute highest quality of all stock footage we’ve seen, but because the pricing for such royalty-free items is so good, it means projects can be realized and finished in a fraction of the time and cost.
    I hope this helps – sorry again that the clip isn’t mine to give away, but hopefully you can purchase it or find something similar online to help you achieve a similar look for your project.

    All the very best, glad you enjoyed the tutorial 🙂 and be sure to check out our Energi Design Podcast on After Effects via iTunes, the link is in my previous comment.



  • Dr.Ox says:

    Thank man…

  • Victorious says:

    Hi Steve.

    I have the same problem as Aliaks. (

    My new light doesn’t affect anything.

    I even did what you suggested after his post but it still didn’t work.

    Anything else I missed? Thanks.

  • Kamoga Hassan says:

    Thank you boy. I tried this one and it worked out. Yeyoyiiiie[[

  • Steve Holmes says:

    More than welcome, Kamoga – glad you enjoyed it! 🙂


  • Great article, Just passed this on to a coworker who read up on this and she took me to dinner after I gave her this blog. So, Thanks!!

  • brady says:

    the title says how to create fire with ae, not a cheap logo with a video clip. this isnt fantastic, its misleading. it would be great if it was put in the beginner section with a different title.