July 22, 2015 at 7:45AM


Making a character appear in a puff of smoke.

In a future short film I will be shooting I have to make a character appear in a puff of smoke while standing in the middle of a formation on the ground. I assume I will have to use after effects for this, so I was wondering how I could do this?


I'd shoot a clean plate of the shot with the formation on the ground minus the character. Then shoot with a green screen your character as he appears and interacts with anyone else in that shot. Then make a third plate of just effects such as smoke. In after effects use a combination of your smoke, particle world/playground. You can finish the effect of making the character appear by using it in addition to a luma matte of perhaps more layers of smoke. Selling it may require adding a little camera movement in post or outside things occurring i.e. flashes of light, leaves being blown around. All things to think about.

Video Copilot also has a tutorial that may help you go even deeper: http://www.videocopilot.net/tutorials/the_portal/

I would love to see the finished product!

July 22, 2015 at 8:38AM

Matt Clark
Producer / Writer / DP

Thanks Matt! I'll try this out and take a look at the tutorial. I'll probably be doing a test in a couple months.

Shayne Kamat

July 22, 2015 at 8:47AM

Usually this effect is used to make people disappear… because that's essentially easier to execute psychologically.

The simplest way to do the "appear in a puff of smoke":

Make sure you shoot it as a locked off tripod shot.
1. Shoot the shot clean (no smoke, no actor).
2. Shoot it with just a smoke bomb or whatever. Make sure it gets big & thick enough that it would cover the actor if they were there.
3. Shoot it with the actor, with a smoke bomb/etc in front of them. Again, it needs to obscure them at some point.
4. Find/make a really good sound effect that has a somewhat abrupt "pop" at the beginning..

Then in edit, cut from the clean shot to the smoke bomb only, somewhere early in the smoke beginning. Make sure the "pop" sound of the sound effect starts 1-2 frames before the picture cut. As the smoke gets large enough to obscure the actor, dissolve to the shot of the actor with the smoke in front of them. You can speed up the smoke footage if needed.

A good thing about this technique is that you will have smoke moving around the actor, which tends to look more tactile and real than if smoke footage were just composited over them.

Something that can help a lot is compositing spark looking stock footage over everything, particularly right as you cut to the first smoke and maybe during the dissolve to the actor shot. Compositing sparks is pretty simple.

Hope this somehow helps & best of luck.

July 23, 2015 at 12:13PM, Edited July 23, 12:17PM

Jaan Shenberger
designer/animator & live-action director/DP

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