Circles in After Effects


Making circles in After Effects seems like a trivial exercise, but there are a ton of approaches to their various forms in design. Circles come in movement and repetition, from expressions & scripts, as Shapes, masks, particle effects like Particle World, Bubbles, Ball Action, from the Circle effect, CC Sphere, Polar Coordinates, Wave World, Radio Waves, halftone effects (roundup), lens flare elements (roundup), and so on. Here are few circle-related tutorials and resources for After Effects.

Maltaannon’s video tutorials on the Circle effect (AE Help), Uses of the Circle and Soft Focus (Circle tutorial Follow-up), showed the versatility of the Circle effect, as well as making blur vignette and spot corrections. Be sure to catch the fuller 27-minute version of the Uses of the Circle at maltaannon.com.


There’s a plethora of resources using circles in Vignettes in Premiere & After Effects, which includes a free AE preset by Harry Frank and a one-stop shop of video tutorials on the topic by Chris and Trish Meyer, Extended Vignette Techniques, which shows “multiple approaches to guiding the viewer’s focus” — as well as tips on masking, creating shape layers, using filters like Circle, etc.

AE-specific advice on HUDs can be found in A Heads-Up on Using Reticles by Chris & Trish Meyer (reticles), which uses Artbeats Reticles. Tutorial on creating HUDs are not numerous but worthy of an updated roundup; in the meantime see Designing & Compositing a HUD.

Ok, here’s an example, After Effects Tutorial – abstract circular HUD element loop, by Roland Hartmann of graphicINmotion.



Dot Pixels from Rowbyte Software is a native plug-in for After Effects and Premiere Pro to pixelate your image into circles and rings. Here’s the tutorial; check out the sample images too.



Sweet is an After Effects script that can create a variety of animations, circles included. Check out also Circles, a free script from Othercubed (walkthrough below), and Vigoro, the forthcoming amped-up version.



Mikey Borup posted After effect tutorial for sweeping circles like AE sweets:



Radio Waves is a sneaky-powerful effect built into AE that uses circles to create waves emanating from a radio antenna, to the Looney Toons ‘That’s All Folks’ background, to an Ethereal Morphing Letter Canvas. Here’s Create an Elegant Concentric Rings Animation by Rowbyte.com:



Tibor Miklos posted Funky Animations With CC Circle And Radio Waves.


The Sphere effect creates a 3D circle. It’s not quite a simple matter yet, but it’s not too hard to Fly around CC Sphered layer in After Effects (pictured).

Two memorable uses of the Sphere effect (beyond planets) are a 5-Part Exploration Of After Effects Spiral Filters by Brian Maffitt (inside the sphere) and How to make a globe radio-wave animation in After Effects AND Cinema 4D by Greyscalegorilla. In addition to the Sphere efect, there’s the later generation CFX Sphere Utilities for making spherical travel maps and such. Here’s Nick from Greyscalegorilla:



After Effects A-Z: CC BubblesAfter Effects A-Z: CC Bubbles is a Motionworks ‘Effects A-Z tip’ from James Zwadlo. As James points out, this filter is simpler than the Foam effect, and that can make for effective control despite limitations. He shows to to get a variety of looks, including one similar to Harry Franks’ Rippling Circles below. Bubbles can be created with a number of other particle and faux particle systems, and Mylenium offers a few free projects with different approaches. Change-up — here’s a demo of the Foam effect from Dwayne Ferguson and VTC:


Angie Taylor posted a quick tip on Wrapping text around a circle in After Effects. Yet another intro tutorial on the “newer” way to do path text is Animating Text Along A Path In After Effects – AE Basix.

Yeah, pie charts are circles. For more on that see Charts and graphs in After Effects, an AEP roundup.

There’s a few circle-related listed Effects and animation presets overview in After Effects Help. The bang-for-time ratio is low on that one.


Red Giant is hosting Form Face, a 2-part video tutorial from a Motionworks training DVD. In “Form Face” Maltaannon creates a push pin toy effect as seen in the Radiohead “House of Cards” video using Trapcode’s Form plug-in. Here’s part 1 of Maltaannon’s House of Form; see the rest at Red Giant in Episode 12: Form Face – Part 2.


At NAB 2014, Yahobox showed Nodes 2, which does some amazing things with circles and lines. There are several points where plug-ins like Rowbyte Plexus, Trapcode Form, and Yanobox Nodes meet, though each have very unique features. Here’s the Nodes 2 demo:



While Trapcode Form is cool and deep, a poor man might approximate this effect by finessing built-in AE filters, easier said than done with Ball Action (with Brighten Twist) and some tinting & maybe displacement. On another tangent Toolfarm has a nice older tutorial by Harry Frank called “Rippling Circles” that uses Ball Action and other Cycore (CC) plug-ins.

There’s more Ball Action plug-in stuff as in 3D Ball Dispersion with CC Ball Action, or Audio Analysis in After Effects by Satya Meka, done with built-in AE tools.


A beginning point for expressions might be Circular Functions, described by JJ Gifford in the most ancient expression resource. Chris and Trish Meyer go in circles with trig functions in Useful Math Expressions, part of their series Deeper Modes of Expression. See also samples in AE Help, Expression example: Make a layer revolve in a circle and Expression example: Rotate the hands of a clock.

Here’s one — “Circle Fun” by Michael Natkin & Brian Maffitt. “It generates perfect circular motion centered around the original position of the layer. I recommend that you map the radius and cycle inputs to Expression Control sliders, and the phase input to an Expression Control angle. Apply this expression to the position of the layer.”

radius = 75; // the radius of the circle
cycle = 1; // number of seconds to complete a circle; higher value = slower
if(cycle ==0){cycle = 0.001;} //avoids a “divide by zero” error
phase = 27; // initial angle in degrees from bottom
reverse = 1; // 1 for ccw, -1 for cw
x = Math.sin( reverse * degrees_to_radians(time * 360 / cycle + phase));
y = Math.cos(degrees_to_radians(time * 360 / cycle + phase));
add(mul(radius, [x, y]), position)


Creating Circular Distributions with Expressions by OtherCubed (below see scripts Circles and Vigora):


Stephen daimyo2k posted Expressions / Illusions, 6-part After Effects tutorial that among many other twists creates a sunburst or radial rays with the Polar Coordinates filter (to bend vertical elements into circular) in part 6.

Shape Layer Repeater (radial) by Evan Abram teases with cool examples but does deliver on one animation. Andrew Devis has a big series on shapes, including AE Basics Extras: More Repetition PART TWO below.


The free Effortless Accents Script by Matt Jylkka (MtMograph) helps create accent effects, radial explosions, geometric patterns and so on.


After Effects Quick Tip POP CIRCLES by fxchannelhouse is a tidbit for creating a circle Shape that momentarily pops into view. Animated Circle Burst by Evan Abrams also creates circles.



Premierebeat posted How to Create a Circle Loading Animation in After Effects:



Mattrunks helps you Create type composed of hundreds of circles on a single shape layer. Free after log-in.


To exercise your circle muscles, try out After Effects: Experiment Assignment 9 and After Effects: Experiment Assignment 12 at Motionworks, who is a fan of the Circle effect.
Finally, The Ring by Andrew Kramer shows you how to create a high quality knockoff of the TNT logo animation. Check out also his 81. Spin Orbs, and the Advanced Spin FX Tutorial that creates a dynamic “spectral” animation without 3rd party plug-ins.
Please note that this roundup is for quick review and comparison. There is almost always vital information from the originating authors at the links provided — and often free presets, plug-ins, or stock footage too. It’s not necessarily comprehensive, but hopefully representative of the burgeoning tutorials and tools scene.

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Rich Young is a long-time After Effects user from the San Francisco Bay Area. His After Effects and Premiere Pro round-ups provide viewers with an easy-to-digest summary of developments. He also supplies info and links…