How to create destruction in After Effects.

This technique works on pretty much anything. If you can track the shot, find and blend the right elements the same principles apply.

In about 2011 I was gifted a ride in a hot air balloon. On the morning of the flight, I took my then new Canon 550d to shoot some aerial stock footage. A hot air balloon makes a remarkably good dolly. Over the years this stock footage would come in handy raising the production values a variety of projects both personal and professional ones.

To help keep my mind sharp and to keep pushing my own creative boundaries I set myself a few “just for fun” visual effects challenges.

After being inspired by Andrew Kramer’s Destroyed LA project

I decided to give it a go using a short sequence of the aerial footage I shot during the balloon ride.

To start track your shot using the track camera tracker in After Effects. Once this is done and produces a satisfactory track. Select 3 track points that give you a good ground plane (the disc looking target thing should be flush with your surface) This can also be done just using 3D nulls so don’t worry if you don’t get a decent enough ground plane. Right click the point or points and select set ground plane, create camera and Solid (if you have a decent looking ground plane, if not then create camera and null)

You now have tracking data for the shot, a 3D camera and depth information to match your elements to.

So I took some elements of destruction, holes in walls, burns marks, cracks etc (A lot of these elements can be found on google image search) Set them to 3D layers, copied the positioning data from the Solid or nulls. This now locks the elements into place.

Now taking the mask tool mask out any edges you want. The elements are then blended depending on their use. For instance, burn marks use the blend mode Multiply. Holes in walls can be used as alpha mattes on the original image to give the appearance of the ground distorting and breaking up. Other damage textures can use the overlay blending mode.

In a nutshell that’s how you do it. Simply track and composite in elements to give the appearance of damage.

Now to take it further….

Take the hole in the athletics pitch above. The hole was created using a hole image as an alpha matte. This creates a hole I the image. Now if you create a 3D layer behind the hole you have a bit of depth as the camera moves in the shot. You can then take other images of rubble etc, mask around them and place them at various Z depths between the background layer and the footage.

What I did then was to add in some smoke and fire elements to add a bit more visual layers. I then added a few scorch marks around the cracks in the pitch to blend the environment a little better and to sell the idea that something big had happened there.

Once everything is in place you can then tweak a levels adjustment to blend the colour and contrast with the original shot. I also added a subtle camera lens blur to the elements to further blend them with the original shot.

To finish I simply added an adjustment layer with a subtle glow so the fire light would bleed onto the surrounding elements.

The laser in the very last shot was created using a modified version of the shock wave method as seen in Andrew Kramer’s Sci-Fi Weapons project.