I forget why I wanted to make a meteor strike effect. Maybe because I thought it would simple to create a projectile effect with a smoke trail, so that was the extent of my original plan, but the overarching thing that I have learned about VFX is that nothing is ever finished and the more I work on a project, the more work I do on a project; there’s always “one more thing” or idea that pops up just as I’m getting close to being “done”.
I checked out several examples of meteor strikes and missile effects across the Internet, including a fantastic one that uses Cinema 4D to generate the meteor, particle trail, and ground explosion, but I A) don’t have that level of skill and B) do not have a pro version of C4D.
I relied on two tutorials, including one from Videocopilot.net, and one I found from DigtalAE on YouTube. The background image I got from PXHere.com. I got the explosion and smoke plumes from ProductionCrate.com. And, of course, Trapcode Particular from RedGiant.
I liked the way DigitalAE created the entire projectile completely with Particular, but the example that was used in that video placed the projectile far away and had it moving parallel to the camera. From a distance, the projectile looked really good. I then ended up on Videocopilot.net (which I should always go to first, since Andrew Kramer has a tutorial on pretty much everything) and found an example using 3D space to get the projectile to move perpendicular to the background scene.
The smoke trail uses a textured sprite provided by Videocopilot.net in their example, and it was such a good sprite that I couldn’t not use it. Following a lot of the examples in that video, I used a light as the emitter which allows for the movement in 3D space within After Effects. Although I call this a “meteor strike”, Kramer’s example operates as more of a “missile” as the smoke trail has a wiggle() expression applied. I added this to my scene as well, as I felt it added some detail to the smoke trail as opposed to having it just emit smoke as a straight line.
I relied on DigitalAE’s example of creating the yellow-hot projectile object itself. It’s a copy of the smoke trail with the sprite particle changed to a cloudlet, a shorter life-span, and an application of Lumetri Color to make it that hot yellow.
The explosion looked nice on paper, but the issue with explosion video clips is that pretty much across the board, they are short. I would have liked to have had more of the black smoke at the end than the clip provided, so I added in the erupting plume in the background, as well as a ground-level ring of dust that emanates from the point of impact. I also added a ground strike video in behind the fire to throw some solid debris around.
Future Potential Updates
Overall, I think there are three things I’d like to update.
The first is enhancing the projectile. The glow of the leading edge, while OK, could use maybe an actual 3D rock or something. Barring that, I think the projectile could have a more powerful “glow” effect, with accompanying flares as it passes the camera and enters the scene. I have a thought to maybe generate the rock and trail in Blender, and animate it in C4D Lite, but I’m not sure what kind of pipeline I’m looking at there quite yet.
The second update would be to re-do the explosion, et al. Again, it works, but it’s still got too much separation from the background and doesn’t look 100% believable. Compositing fire on a detailed background is difficult due to the nature of fire; an explosion is more dense than your typical flame, but the colors are a bit too bold to mesh with the background. I learned that one way to get the explosive smoke to stick around more would be to adjust the time and slow down the explosion, which I think should happen anyway as the plume in the background seems too quick. Problem is, I need some additional software to do this, which I do not have.
Third and final update would be to figure out how to adjust the colors properly. Colorizing is something that I have not been able to grasp. The background image is already a weird color (I’m not convinced that it hasn’t been altered by the original photographer), which makes the explosion look weird by default. Then, the explosion itself looks too…nice. Like, the edges on the initial blow-up seem too sharp, too bright, or too…something. I can’t put my finger on it. I might like to try a different explosion and see if that can’t lend itself towards fixing the situation that’s bothering me about it.