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After Effects Tutorial: Liquid Backgrounds With Shape Layers

Check out our After Effects: Secrets of Particle Playground course!

Here’s a nice little technique for creating moving liquid type effects in After Effects. It’s another good example of the power and versatility of Shape Layers in After Effects. In fact this whole thing is done with just one Shape Layer. Using some of the Shape Layers built in vector effects and some stock After Effects plugins you can get some rather interesting results!! Here’s how you do it! 

Step 1

This first effect is cool for abstract type backgrounds. I’ll start out by drawing a Shape Layer in a new Composition using the Polystar tool.

New Shape Layer

Step 2

Here you can see the settings for the above shape. I’ve set a medium amount of points (13) and it also has a bright green Stroke too.

Shape settings

Step 3

To get this effect started I’m going to add a Repeater effect from the Add menu. This is a very versatile little effector. It allows you to repeat and offset the original shape layer without the need for copying the Layer.

Repeater Effect

Step 4

You can see the effect here. All I’m doing is trying to create a random abstract mess really.

A random abstract mess

Step 5

I’m now going to smooth out the shape using the Rounded Corners effect from the Add menu. 

Adding rounded corners

Step 6

I’m now going to totally mangle this by adding one last effect. The Wiggle Paths effect is kind of like Roughen Edges in Illustrator. It adds a lot of randomness to the vector shape layer and produces what looks like a load of squiggles. This is good!!

It also has the ability to self animate. This is done using the Wiggles/Second parameter. I’ve set this very low (0.1) so the lines move very slowly in a random fashion. This is the basis for our liquid movement.

Wiggle paths effect

Step 7

Now I’m going to add Effects > Stylize > Glow effect to the Layer to brighten it up.

Adding a glow effect

Step 8

Next I’ll add Effects > Blur & Sharpen > Fast Blur to the Layer set to about 8px.

Adding a fast blur

Step 9

To create the liquid effect I’ll add Effects > Blur & Sharpen > CC Vector Blur. I think you can see where this is going now.

Adding a vector blur

Step 10

For the final step I’ll crush the Alpha channel a bit using Effects > Color Correction > Curves to slightly darken the effect.   

Using curves to darken the image

Here you can see final result in action.

Step 11

This technique can be easily modified to create some very water like effects. The Classic swimming pool for example. All I’ve done is modify the Repeater settings a bit and changed the Stroke color to a light blue. I’ve then placed this over another blue Solid layer and set the transfer mode to Add.

Creating water-like effects

Here it’s is in action.

Not bad for just one Shape Layer!

Check out our After Effects: Secrets of Particle Playground course!

Toby Pitman

Toby Pitman | Articles by this author

For the past 20 years Toby has worked as a professional guitarist, programmer and producer. Clients include Sir Paul McCartney, George Michael, Shirley Bassey, Yusuf Islam, Giles Martin as well as the London 2012 Olympic Ceremonies. He has also worked extensively in TV, Advertising and Film. As well as composing himself he has also worked alongside many composers like David Arnold, Clint Mansell and Simon Franglen on many major film releases. An expert in synthesis and sound design Toby has also lectured for Apple on their Logic Pro music software which he has used since its days on the Atari. He has also worked as an educator for the International Guitar Foundation and the Brighton Institute of Modern Music teaching guitar. In his spare time (of which there is very little) he moonlights as a motion graphics artist specialising in Cinema 4D and After Effects.


Nov 27, 2011
I cant complete the tutorial because I dont have CC Vector Blur. How do I get this Effect for AE?
Nov 27, 2011
CC Vector Blur ships with After Effects as standard. Depending on which version (older) you have it may be on your installer disk as a separate installation.
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