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How to Create Clouds in After Effects

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May 21, 2024• Proven solutions

Finding the right exposure value on a camera isn’t the easiest of tasks, because sometimes the difference between the brightest and the darkest point in a shot can simply be too big. As a consequence, the sky is often overexposed in the original footage. Fortunately, Adobe After Effects offers a lot of different ways to correct this mistake, and it also enables you to add clouds to animations. If you would like to learn how to add clouds to your videos and animations, you’re at the right place because in this article we are going to take you through several different methods of generating clouds in Adobe After Effects. So, let’s get started.

How to Add 3D Effect to the Footage of Clouds Using Displacement Maps?

First, we’re going to show you how to use the footage of clouds as a displacement map that adds depth to a shot. After importing an image of the sky into Adobe After Effects, you should click on it to select it and then head over to the Distort submenu in the Effects menu. Select the Displacement Map effect from the drop-down list and proceed to change Use for Vertical Displacement and Use for Horizontal Displacement options that are accessible from the Effect Controls panel to Luminance. Adjust the Max Horizontal Displacement and Max Vertical Displacement values, but keep in mind that if you push either of these two options too far, you may distort the image and ruin the illusion of realism. Check the Wrap Pixels Around checkbox in order to avoid losing the edges of the shot or scale the footage to make the 3D effect you just created more obvious to the spectator. This technique usually works best with simple, minimalistic shots of the sky that don’t contain a lot of different visual elements, but you may get mixed results if you choose to use it on complex shots.

Creating Clouds in AE with the Fractal Noise Effect

Adobe After Effects lets you generate clouds without using a plugin. Right-click anywhere within the Project Panel and select the New Composition option from the menu, then go to the Layer menu and select the Solid option from the New submenu. The Solid Settings dialogue box will pop up on the screen, so before hitting the OK button you just have to change the solid’s color to black. Select the Gradient Ramp effect from the Generate submenu located in the Effects menu. Once you generated a gradient you should change its Start Color to the shade of the blue closest to the color of the sky and keep the End Color white.

Fine-tuning the colors of the gradient may take you a while, so once you find the perfect shade of blue you should create another Solid layer and place it above the solid you made earlier. Click on the new solid to select it and head over to the Noise&Grain submenu in the Effect menu and apply the Fractal Noise effect to the layer you selected. You can adjust the effect’s settings from the Effect Controls panel, so just click on the Fractal Type drop-down menu and choose the Cloudy option. Afterward, you should click on the Noise Type property and select the Spline setting from the drop-down list.

Adjust the Brightness and Contrast values and then choose the Clip option from the Overflow drop-down list. Select the second solid and use its scaling and rotation settings to position the clouds over the upper half of the first solid. Optionally, you can use the Feather option to make the solid’s edges softer or the Orientation setting to find the perfect position of the clouds. Change the Blending Mode of the second solid to Overlay and that’s it you’ve created clouds in Adobe After Effects.

How to Create Flat 2D Clouds in AE?

Adding smoke or clouds to an animated video can make that video more dynamic or even more entertaining. So here’s how you can make 2D clouds in AE.

Creating 2D Flat Smoke by Animating Shapes

This method of animating smoke or clouds is not recommended for inexperienced animators, because it requires you to design a 2D image using Adobe Illustrator, and then add an animation to it using the AE. Once the background image is ready, you should import it into After Effects and create a new composition. Make sure that the composition settings match the demands of your project, click OK and create a white rectangle in the preview window. Head over to the Rectangle Path, enable the Unconstrained Proportions property and set the value to 40X40. Drag the Anchor Point to the middle of the square you just created using the Pen Behind tool and press the CTRL button so it snaps. Use the Align menu to snap the square to the middle of the screen, select the Layer and press the P button on the keyboard. Set the start and end keyframes for the Position property in order to animate the shape you created.

Go to the Effects menu and select the Slider Control from the Expression Controls submenu. Proceed to define Expression Position values by pressing Alt and clicking on the stopwatch icon next to the Position Effect. Keep in mind that Expression Position values depend on the project you’re working on, so you have to try out different options in order to get the best result. Don’t forget to define the Wiggle as it will enable you to create random movements based on the X, and Y values. Add the Expression Pick Whip to the Slider, so when you move the slider control up, the square should move along the Y-axis randomly. Set keyframes at the initial position of the square and at the position where you would like movement to end.

Copy the Expression Position values from the Position property to the Scale property, and make the necessary adjustment to the expression. After animating the trajectory, you can proceed to duplicate the shape you created as many times as you deem necessary. Adjust the Scale property values if you want the smoke or clouds to increase or decrease in size during the animation. Add the composition that contains the layer with the animated smoke to the main composition and use the rectangle tool to position it on the image. You can apply the Fast Blur and Curves effects to the layer in order to make the smoke smoother.

Using the RedGiant’s Trapcode Particular Plugin to Create 2D Clouds

Before you can start using this method of creating clouds in Adobe After Effects, you must first install the Trapcode Particular plugin on your computer. The first thing you need to do is create a new composition and then make a new solid. Go to the Effects menu, locate the Trapcode submenu and click on the Particular option. After applying the effect to the solid, you should turn the velocity of the particles all the way down to zero. Head over to the Emitter Type drop-down menu and select the Box option. Use the Emitter Size setting to determine how large the clouds you’re generating are going to be.

Go to the Particle Type menu, choose the Smoklet property and increase the Size value. Reduce the Opacity to 10% and set the Opacity Random value to approximately 50%. Turn the Size Random option up to 100%, then go to the Emitter menu again and adjust the Particles per Second setting. Use the Opacity Over Life property to fade in and fade out clouds, rather than have them just pop up on the screen and disappear.

Head over to the New submenu of the Layer menu and choose the Camera option. Proceed to the set the keyframes for the camera position in order to simulate the camera movement. When done create a new solid, click on it and select the Gradient Overlay option from the Layer Styles menu. Change the color of the gradient to different shades of blue, similar to the color of the sky to complete the process of generating clouds using the Trapcode Particular Plugin. 

How to Create 3D Clouds in AE?

Adding the camera movement to relatively static footage of clouds can add depth to it and at the same time, simulate the fly-through effect. We’ve already explained how you can use Displacement Maps to create a 3D illusion on 2D footage of clouds. So, now we’re going to take a look at other options Adobe After Effects offers. 

The compositing capabilities in AE, enable you to merge the several different videos in the single shot. So once you’ve created the composite image you can simply use keyframes and scaling options to create the 3D, fly-through effect. Keep in mind that this method of generating clouds requires you to choose the footage carefully and then decide which parts of it fit together the best. There are no strict rules you can follow as every video is different. Furthermore, selecting and combining specific areas of the footage may require a lot of practice and experience, which is why this method of generating clouds in AE is ill-suited for novice VFX artists.

Using the Fractal Noise and Boris Clouds Plugins

After creating a new composition, you should create four solid layers, and arrange them so that the solid layer 1 is at the top, and layer 4 is at the bottom. Apply the Fractal Noise plugin effect to the first layer and proceed to change the Fractal Noise option to Cloudy, set the Noise Type to Spline and uncheck the Uniform Scaling checkbox. Adjust the Scale Width and Scale Height options, and then add the Boris Clouds effect to the layer 2. Change the Sky Type to Alpha and then set Cloudiness value to 70.

Proceed to apply the Boris Clouds effect to the layers three and four, then change Sky Type to Alpha on both layers and set Cloudiness to 60 on layer three and 50 on layer four. Change the Cloud Speed option on each layer to which you applied the Boris Clouds effect and then choose the starting point where the clouds are going to appear on the screen.

Use the Switches panel to enable the 3D option on all four layers and then press the P button to gain access to the coordinates of the selected layer. Set keyframes for start and end positions for each layer and then add a background layer below the cloud layers. Optionally, you can add a Camera layer to simulate the camera movement.

How to Animate Photos of Clouds in AE?

In case you don’t have a video of clouds you can use several photos to generate a fly-through effect. Once you create a new composition and import the pictures into AE, you should place the photo you will be using as a background on the timeline. Use the keyframes and the Scale option to zoom in on the background. In order to create the parallax effect, you have to add two or more images and position them on the screen so that it seems that the camera is passing them by as it zooms into the background. Repeat this process as many times as you see fit to get the illusion of the 3D space. The important thing is that all new layers you add to the image in the background appear to be closer to the spectator than the point in the background image the ‘camera’ is zooming on. Adding Lens Flare or Fast Blur effects may help you make the footage more visually pleasing.

How to Create Storm Clouds in After Effects?

Stormy weather can be dramatic, which is the reason why VFX artists use it frequently in their work. Creating the stormy clouds in AE requires you to combine two methods we already described in this article. First, you have to import still images of isolated clouds into AE and then position them on the timeline so that one image ends where the other begins. Afterward, you have to copy each photo two times so you basically end up having three separate images of the same photo.

In the next step, you have to apply the Trapcode Particular effect to an Adjustment Layer. Use the effect’s settings to turn particles into clouds. Changing the color of the shadows can make the clouds look more realistic. You can add the lightning that will make your thunderstorm more convincing by creating a simple shape on a solid and having that shape go from black to white in a fraction of a second. However, creating a cloudy sky in Adobe After Effects is not a quick or easy process and in case you’ve never done it before you should dedicate time to mastering this technique.


Learning how to create clouds in AE demands a lot of practice because once you know the exact steps you need to take in order to create this effect, you will have to discover creative ways to use them. Which method of generating clouds in AE is your favorite? Leave a comment below and let us know.

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Benjamin Arango
Benjamin Arango is a writer and a lover of all things video.
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Benjamin Arango

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