Tuesday, January 23rd, 2018

Animated Fractal Loops in After Effects CS4


Recently, a friend of mine in town gave me his business card and was all excited to share with me about the cool images an artist friend of his used on the design of the cards. Cool indeed. So I continued to share with him of my early days in computer graphics and how Kai Krause developed these amazing Photoshop plug-ins to generate an infinite supply of Julia Sets and Mandlebrots at will. Ahhh… it’s like it was only yesterday… but that was back in about 1991 when I first met Kai and his incredible team of talented folks that grew from there over the years. “Kai’s Power Tools”, as they were called, would work in Photoshop to provide hours (days, weeks, months) of delightful entertainment and trips of exploration into the mathematical world of digital artistry – known as Fractals.

Fractal Image (Mandlebrot)
Fractal Image (Mandlebrot)

You can re-live some of those “trips” today, and animate the results over time inside of After Effects CS4 (works in AE CS3 too) – using the effects Filter called “Fractals”. This has to be applied to a Solid layer as it creates imagery from mathematical data and isn’t just applied to an existing footage layer like most effects. You can experiment with several preset mathematical equations and then change modifiers along the timeline to create some amazing “explorations” drilling deep into these digital worlds. Unfortunately, they’re not really “infinite” so you will reach the end at some point, but by altering different modifiers and zoom rates, you can still come up with something different and very colorful in each pass! Then combine your rendered zooms and loops to create visually stunning animations, like the one I did below (check out the movie at the end of this post).

In my example, I first selected a Mandlebrot that I liked and zoomed way out so it was quite small inside the screen. My idea was to go all the way through to the center of a tiny spec that was deep inside the kernel. As I set my first keyframe at this initial point, I then went to the end and zoomed in all the way so it would generate this fast-paced “loop”. NOTE: Fractals take a while to render so depending on how long your animation is or how much you modify, you’d best find something to do while you’re waiting for the results! 😉

Initial Settings for my Fractal Animation
Initial Settings for my Fractal Animation

Quick Zoom of Fractal Loop
Quick Zoom of the Initial Fractal Loop

Once I rendered my initial loop movie, I then brought it back into After Effects CS4 and created a new composition in which I duplicated the loop movie layer over itself several times along the timeline, fading and rotating and scaling and moving to create a montage of fractal images.

Combining Several Layers of the Fractal Loop Movie
Combining Several Layers of the Fractal Loop Movie

The result was deep and wonderful, and since it was all in the same color palette, the different layers all worked well together. I wish to thank my old friend and mentor, Kai Krause for the creative inspiration and for introducing us to the world of fractals years ago.

Here’s the final result – Click on the movie below to view:

NOTE: You can also download and view a higher-res QuickTime movie here:
Fractal Loop Layers

This tutorial will be covered in it’s entirety with working After Effects project files on my upcoming training DVD! (*formal announcement to come later this week)


One Response to “Animated Fractal Loops in After Effects CS4”
  1. The zoom of the Initial Fractal Loop is very interesting.. I just loved the affects..

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