There are 18 main elements that are used to build a lens flare. Included in this article is a description of how each element works as well as helpful notes. Each lens flare element also has a description inside the Comments column. To show or hide comments, right-click on the column heading and select Comments from the drop-down list.
For each lens flare element, you have control over its physical appearance and behavior by adjusting the slider controls that appear in the Effects Controls panel when a layer is selected. There are several controls that every element has in common. These are:
- Anamorphic stretch
- Proximity to the light source
- Horizontal and vertical offset
- Offset by click-and-drag method
Besides these common controls, you will also see many other controls on each element that are unique to that shape. The last option listed is not a slider control, but refers to the ability to offset a lens flare element by clicking and dragging it in the Composition window. If you ever want to set it back to it's default position, open the Position parameter and enter 960 for the x-coordinate, and 540 for the y-coordinate, which are the coordinates for the center of the comp.
There are two types of lens flare elements - Light Source Elements and Basic Reflections. The Light Source Elements are cyan-colored layers and are anchored to the light source by default. The Basic Reflections, found at the bottom of the Elements comp, are tan-colored (or, "Sandstone") layers and these are all basic circle or polygon shapes. They are detached from the light source by default. The Control Layer, as you'll read in the next section, has a section of slider controls that affect all the Basic Reflections in your lens flare at once, without affecting the Light Source Elements. This way, you can adjust or animate all the Basic Reflections as a whole without changing the look of the light source. Any of the cyan Light Source Elements can become Basic Reflections and receive those reflection controls - just check the Allow Global Reflection Control checkbox on any Light Source Element.
NOTES: This is a null layer which looks like a little red box, and it controls the lens flare position as well as gives you global controls for affecting multiple lens flare elements at once. Just click and drag the box to position your lens flare. The Position parameter on this layer can be keyframed to animate the motion of your lens flare, or you can link it to the motion tracking data of your footage.
With the Control Layer selected, you can see in the Effects Panel, there's three groups of slider controls, separated by the titles Global Controls, Reflections Controls, and Motion Tracking.
The Global Controls will affect the entire lens flare, so all elements at once. You have brightness, scale, flatten and stretch, and rotate. The Flicker Amount and Flicker Frequency control the value of the global Brightness control, which can result in a flickering effect for your lens flare.
The Reflections Controls by default only control the Basic Reflections elements, i.e., the Reflection Shape, Reflection Shape Array, Reflection Solid, Textured Reflection Solid, and some attributes of the Reflection Particles Array. Any other lens flare element can be activated to receive the Reflections Controls by checking the Allow Global Reflection Control checkbox on the layer.
The last control on this layer is the Motion Tracking Offset. Copy and paste the expression value+effect("Motion Tracking Offset")("Point") into the position parameter of this layer for it to work.
Most slider controls on the Control Layer work by proportionally affecting the values of each layer's effects, i.e., by multiplying or dividing their current (local) values. Therefore, if a reflection has an effect with a value of zero, the global sliders will not affect it much, if at all. On most of the global control sliders, a value of -100 translates into a value of zero on the effects that they control. For slider controls on this layer and others, zero is almost always the default value. In the Project panel, the actual sliders can open up by clicking the small triangle icon next to Slider. These sliders have minimum and maximum values, and I recommend that you ignore them. For unlimited values, conserving space, and quicker editing, drag your cursor over the number instead of using the sliders.
HOW IT'S MADE: The Control Layer is just a Null layer with expressions. All lens flare elements have expressions which point to this layer. It should never be deleted.
NOTES: This is a really simple element intended to be your actual light, essentially. Typically, you would keep this white, since it's the brightest part of the lens flare.
HOW IT'S MADE: The Light Source Center is simply a solid layer with a Circle effect. The circle's edges fade from opaque to transparent using a linear gradient, as opposed to the exponential gradient of the Light Source Glow element.
NOTES: The Light Source Glow and Light Source Element can be combined to achieve the look of a simple colored light. There is no Expansion slider for this layer, since the masks are already as big as possible without the gradient getting cut off by the layer's boundaries (note: this layer is square, 1920x1920 pixels). Therefore, use the Scale slider for resizing the glow.
HOW IT'S MADE: The Light Source Glow is a solid layer with three circular masks. The three masks have varying Feather and Opacity values, which allows for an exponential gradient from opaque to transparent. So unlike the Light Source Center, which has a smooth transition from opaque to transparent, the Light Source Glow gets brighter and brighter toward the center. You can open the masks and change their Feather or Opacity to adjust the gradient. For example, you can make the center of the glow even brighter by increasing the opacity of the center mask.
NOTES: The Light Rays element is one of the four lens flare elements that uses an alpha matte layer. The alpha matte layer is the layer directly above the Light Rays layer, and it must always accompany the Light Rays layer. To copy the Light Rays element to another comp, select the alpha matte layer first, then shift-select the Light Rays layer, then copy and paste.
You can get a wide variety of looks with the Light Rays element. Besides having control over the look of the rays, you can also set the rays to morph shape as the light source moves using the Ray Evolution slider. By adjusting the Completion controls, you can hide part of the rays, resulting in a spotlight effect. You can have that spotlight always orient itself toward the light source by checking Auto-Orient box. To "break up" the rays, open the CC Light Rays effect and experiment with the Warp Softness slider.
HOW IT'S MADE: The Light Rays element is a solid layer that uses the Fractal Noise effect to get a detailed texture. It then uses the CC Light Rays effect to apply radiating light rays to the texture. An alpha matte is used to ensure that the rays are never cut off sharply by the boundaries of the layer (note: the layer is 2500x2500 pixels).
NOTES: The Starburst element is how you can create star shapes on your light source. In footage, these star shapes can often be seen on the sun. Using the slider controls, you can change the radius and the number of points, as well as adjust the shape of the curves. If you play with the Pucker & Bloat control in conjunction with the other shape controls, you can give the star some variety. You can change the shape of the star's arms by turning off the CC Radial Fast Blur effect and turning on the CC Radial Blur effect, then playing with it's settings.
HOW IT'S MADE: The Starburst element is a shape layer. To see the options for the shape, open the layer, open Contents, open Polystar. then open Polystar Path 1. You can see that Type is set to Star.
NOTES: The Halo is a ring with a rainbow-color gradient. With the slider controls you can adjust the spread of the rainbow, or shift the placement of the colors. To edit the colors, adjust the gradient wheel under Output Cycle in the Colorama effect. Or, you can use a solid color for the whole ring by turning on the Solid Color Tint effect. You can soften the inner and outer edges of the ring using the slider controls. If you would like to soften the edges even more, you can make another duplicate the Circle effect.
HOW IT'S MADE:
The halo effect is achieved by mapping rainbow colors (using the Colorama effect) to the alpha channel of a circle with fading edges (made with Circle Effect).
NOTES: The Evolving Anamorphic Streak has built-in evolution controls. The Motion-Triggered Evolution slider allows the streaks to change shape as the layer moves. If your lens flare is not moving, but you still want the streaks to change shape, you can adjust the Time-Triggered Evolution slider control. If the streaks are not long enough, you can increase the Anamorphic Stretch slider. Really, any lens flare element can be converted into an anamorphic streak by using the flatten and stretch controls, but this element offers a bit more flexibility.
HOW IT'S MADE: This layer uses the Fractal Noise effect to get a horizontal streak texture. Two Glow effects are added to give the streaks a horizontal glow.
NOTES: The Evolving Texture is a powerful element that allows you to create scattered reflections that automatically move in random ways as the light source moves. When you first look at it, you'll see the default texture which has a streaky box look. You can change the look of the texture (from boxes to lines, for example) by editing the controls within the Fractal Noise effect. To use the Evolving Texture, first place your Control Layer near the center of the comp so you can see the whole texture. Adjust the Random Seed slider control until you find a texture with parts that you like. Draw boxes around the parts of the texture that you like using the Mask Tool. These areas will be your reflections. When you're done selecting reflections, reveal all of the masks in the layer (press the M-key) and delete the "Boundary Mask". Now, only your reflections are visible. To get them to change or "evolve" as the lens flare moves, adjust the Evolution slider controls. Turn off the Glow effect to get rid of the horizontal streaks.
HOW IT'S MADE: The Evolving Texture is a solid layer that uses the Fractal Noise effect to give it a boxy texture. A Glow effect is used to add colored streaks to the texture. Expressions on the parameters within the Fractal Noise effect allow the Evolution slider controls to change the parameters' values automatically as the lens flare moves.
NOTES: The Grid Pattern is an array of dots. You can control the size of the dots and the space between them using the slider controls, as well as have the grid warp shape as the layer moves using the evolution controls.
HOW IT'S MADE: This element uses the Grid effect to display an array of small dots. The grid pattern is visible only within a small area defined by the mask. A Ramp effect controls the gradient of the bright center to the darker outer edge. The Radial Fast Blur and Light Rays effects give the grid its streaks.
NOTES: The Reflection Flower element is one of the four lens flare elements that uses an alpha matte layer. The alpha matte layer is the layer directly above the Reflection Flower layer, and the two layers must always stay together. To copy the Reflection Flower element to another comp, select the alpha matte layer first, then shift-select the Reflection Flower layer, then copy and paste.
By default, the shape doesn't evolve, but the Warp Evolution slider will give it some warp as it moves. Use a negative value on the Warp Evolution slider to reverse the evolution. If you are using the softness sliders, you can experiment with different looks by moving the Fast Blur effect further down the render order. As with other solid shapes, you can change the shape being tiled by editing the mask. The texture can be editing in the Fractal Noise effect.
HOW IT'S MADE: In this solid layer, a round shape is made using masks. A texture is added using the Fractal Noise effect. The Motion Tile and CC Repetile effects combine to create a tile pattern of the round shape. A CC Flo Motion effect allows the pattern to warp shape using the slider controls. The alpha matte layer ensures that the grid pattern does not continue on forever.
NOTES: The Rotating Warped Ring element is one of the four lens flare elements that uses an alpha matte layer. The alpha matte layer is the layer directly above theRotating Warped Ring layer, and the two layers must always stay together. To copy the Rotating Warped Ring element to another comp, select the alpha matte layer first, then shift-select theRotating Warped Ring layer, then copy and paste.
This lens flare element has the look of a reflection of a smudged lens which is rotating and warping shape. It expands as it moves away from the center. You can control where it starts to expand and how much it expands, as well as what point it fades in and out. Some of the slider controls ask for a value in "pixels from the center". For your reference, the side edges of the comp are 960 pixels from the center, and the top and bottom edges are 540 pixels from the center. Note that the Fade-in and -out controls set the opacity of the layer based on the distance of the LAYER from the center of the comp, not the distance of the light source. Controls such as the Proximity control have an effect on the position of the layer. The texture can be manipulated by opening the Fractal Noise effect. You can edit the masks on the alpha matte layer to change what part of the texture on this layer is visible.
HOW IT'S MADE: This effect uses a combination of the Twirl and Bulge distortion effects on a Fractal Noise texture to create a twirling smudge effect. The masks on the alpha matte layer determines how much of the textures shows through.
NOTES: The Warped Ring is an expanding ring that warps its shape as it comes into view. You can edit the mask if you want to experiment with different shapes. You can control where it starts to expand and how much it expands, as well as what point it fades in and out. Some of the slider controls ask for a value in "pixels from the center". For your reference, the side edges of the comp are 960 pixels from the center, and the top and bottom edges are 540 pixels from the center.
HOW IT'S MADE: This solid layer has a texture of parallel streaks, made with the Fractal Noise effect. The layer, and as a result, the streaks, orient themselves toward the light source using expressions on the anchor point. The CC Flo Motion and CC Power Pin effects allow the ring to warp and converge at the light source.
NOTES: The Basic Expanding Ring is very similar to the Halo element, but it has the expansion evolution built into it so it expands with movement. The element is anchored to the light source by default, but the position can be adjusted with the usual position controls when the Anchor to Light Source checkbox is unchecked. The speed of the ring expansion can be slowed down by setting the Scale Amount slider to a negative value. Note that a value that is too high may cause an error in After Effects when the light source gets too far from the center of the comp. Generally, you can avoid this by increasing the Expansion and decreasing the Scale amount. Adjust the Flatten and Anamorphic Stretch controls for a more typical wider ring. The Circle effect can be duplicated to strengthen the effect of the Soften Edge sliders.
HOW IT'S MADE: The ring effect is achieved by mapping rainbow colors (Colorama effect) to the alpha channel of a circle with fading edges (Circle effect). By default, the ring will fade out toward the direction of the light source using the Radial Wipe effect (Completion controls). There are two copies of the Circle effect near the bottom in the Effects Controls panel. These allow you to fade the edges of the ring using the "Soften Edge" sliders.
NOTES: The Streaked Ring works the same as the Basic Expanding Ring. All the controls are the same except for some added controls for the streaks.
HOW IT'S MADE: The streaks are achieved by using the layer above as a luma matte, which has a streak texture using Fractal Noise and Light Rays.
NOTES: The Reflection Shape is a shape layer and is the most basic lens flare element. Unlike solid layers, shape layers in After Effects are vector-based so they will never lose resolution and as lens flare elements, they're slightly faster for the computer to process. If you open up the layer, and open Contents, then Polystar, you can see many controls for the shape. The most important controls can be found in the Effects Controls panel. Most important is maybe the Outer Roundness slider, to round out the corners. You can use a value of 130 to convert a polygon to a circle. There's a Center Fade control, and also a set of Stroke controls for giving it a border. For more control on the Center Fade feature, edit the Gradient Fill effect under Polystar 1. Note that the Fill Opacity and Stroke Opacity are limited by the overall opacity, controlled by the Brightness slider.
HOW IT'S MADE: The Reflection Shape element is an After Effects shape layer.
NOTES: The Reflection Shape Array is an important lens flare element, and is one of the ways of getting large numbers of similar-looking reflections on one layer. The advantage of using the Reflection Shape Array over the Reflection Particles Array is more control over the physical characteristics and placement of the reflections, as well as more control over characteristic variation between reflections. Depending on how many reflections you use, this element is generally faster than the Particles Array element. Unlike Particles, the Shape Array does not have evolving textures or 3d rotation.
If you open up the layer, and open Contents, you'll see that there's not one shape, but ten (Polystars 1-10). All ten are randomly placed on the array path, and the Random Seed slider will give them new random positions. You can hide polystars you don't want by clicking the "eye" icons, or duplicate them to make more shapes (Control-D or Command-D), and the duplicates will automatically appear with a new random position. Over-duplicating will cause the layer to run slow, so instead, you can turn on copies of the Radial Shadow effect. There are 5 Radial Shadow effects, but only two are turned on by default. Each Radial Shadow effect creates a shadow, or copy essentially, of all visible shapes and shadows that are before it. With 10 shapes, 320 reflections are possible with the 5 existing Radial Shadow effects. The Radial Shadow effects cannot be duplicated without editing the expressions. There are two global Shadow controls found in the Array Controls section which will affect each Radial Shadow effect to different degrees. For extra control, you can adjust the slider controls in the Individual Shadow Controls section, or the actual Radial Shadow effects themselves. With the Individual Controls, it's possible to taper the scale of the reflections, so they go from larger to smaller, or vice versa. You can also shift the placement shadows in the array. For example, you can have more reflections near the light source, and fewer far away.
The Reflection Shape Array element has all the same reflection controls as the Reflection Shape element, but you also have Array Controls. The Array Controls are how you get variation in the shapes. The Variation control sliders will give you some variation in the brightness, size, color, and softness (shadows only) of the reflections. You can also change the proximity and scatter of the reflections.
HOW IT'S MADE: The Reflection Shape Array element is a shape layer with multiple shapes (Polystars 1 through 10). To see the options for the shapes, open the layer, open Contents, then open Polystar. The five Radial Shadow effects create copies of the shapes and their shadows so you can turn 10 shapes into 320 shapes. The Radial Shadow effects cannot be duplicated without editing the expressions.
NOTES: The Reflection Particles Array is another element that allows you create large numbers of similar-looking reflections on one layer. The reflections are made with CC Particle World. This effect is a little slower than the Reflection Shape Array, and you have less control over the shape of each reflection. You can change the shape to several predetermined types, but no polygons or ovals. The true advantage of this element is 3d rotation. Turn on 3D rotation using the checkbox. There are a number of controls that influence where the particles sit in 3d space. When the 3D rotation box is not checked, you can still set the rotation using the Taper Scale slider, but the rotation will not evolve with the movement of the light source. This allows you to make the particles gradually increase or decrease in size.
The CC Particle World effect also has a really useful texture feature, which uses your footage to add realistic and organic textures to the reflections that change as the footage changes. Open the CC Particle World effect and select your footage layer in the Texture Layer drop down menu found under Textures in the Particle section. To use a texture, the Particle Type control must be set to one of the textured particle types. Open up the CC Particle World effect to see what particle type is set. Turn off the expression in Particle Type to choose a different type.
A couple things different about the functionality on this layer:
Since this layer is centered and doesn't move by default, the horizontal and vertical offset sliders will not affect movement unless the Proximity value is changed. Since the Flatten, Anamorphic Stretch, and Rotation sliders affect the orientation in a way that may be undesirable for most purposes, the global Flatten and Anamorphic sliders do not affect this layer. If you use the local Flatten or Anamorphic Stretch sliders, you can check the Auto-Orient checkbox to keep the orientation toward the light source.
HOW IT'S MADE: This element is made from a solid layer with a CC Particle World effect to create the reflection shapes.
NOTES: Not to be confused with the Reflection Shape, the Reflection Solid is a solid layer and not a vector shape. What makes this lens flare element powerful is that you create any shape you can imagine just by editing the shape of the current mask path. Or, create any reflection by drawing new masks using the Pen tool. If needed, you can copy expressions from the original masks to new masks to maintain full functionality with the local and global slider controls. This element allows you to get some really organic and natural feeling shapes. There are two circular masks by default so that you can adjust the size, feather and opacity of the masks to get a stroke/border effect. Just delete one of the masks if you don't need it.
HOW IT'S MADE: This element is very basic in its architecture. It's just a solid layer with a mask.
NOTES: The Textured Reflection Solid is just like the Reflection Solid, but with an added Fractal Noise effect for generating textures that evolve with movement of the lens flare. By default, there is a basic cloudy texture, but many different kinds of textures can be created by opening the Fractal Noise effect and changing the Fractal Type and values. The evolution controls will then allow you to add or subtract from those values automatically as the light source moves. By default, the evolution reverses direction as the light source passes the center of the comp. You can change that location with the Evolution Anchor Point Location control. When editing your texture and testing evolution controls, it may be helpful to set the blending modes of the masks to None, so you can see the whole texture. It should be noted that you can add an evolving texture to any other element using the Fractal Noise effect from the Effects Library.
HOW IT'S MADE: This is just a basic solid layer with a mask, but it also has a Fractal Noise effect for giving it texture. Expressions on the Fractal Noise effect allow the evolution controls to manipulate the texture as the lens flare moves.
NOTES: in After Effects, alpha mattes are used to hide parts of the layer beneath it. To use it, put it above the element that you want to partially hide, and set the Track Matte of the bottom layer to Alpha Matte. As a result, any part of the layer that the alpha matte overlaps will be hidden. The controls for changing the shape of the alpha matte are the same as on the Reflection Shape element.
HOW IT'S MADE: Any element can become an alpha matte. This alpha matte element is merely a Reflection Shape element, with all the unnecessary expressions and controls stripped away so that it runs as fast as possible.
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