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How to Create Heat Waves in After Effects

Caleb Ward

Learn how to create displaced heat waves in After Effects with this easy-to-learn technique.

Heat waves are surprisingly easy to create in After Effects. With a few effects and a single adjustment layer, you can create realistic heat displacements with minimal effort. Let’s take a look at how to create a heat displacement effect in After Effects. Let’s begin:

Step 1: Create New Solid

How to Create Heat Waves in After Effects: Create a new solid.

Create a new white solid in After Effects. Simply go to Layer>New>Solid or hit command+Y. Make the layer white and name the layer “Wave Matte.” Click OK.


Step 2: Mask the Solid

How to Create Heat Waves in After Effects: Mask the solid.

Make a mask around the area in which you want the wave effect to be. Feather out the edges to about 250 pixels.


Step 3: Add Turbulent Displace

How to Create Heat Waves in After Effects: Add turbulent displace

Add the turbulent displace effect to the Wave Matte layer. For my example I set the amount to 245 and the size to 100.


Step 4: Set Keyframes

Heat Displacement Step 4

We don’t want our waves to be stationary. So in order to make the waves move, you should set keyframes to both the offset and the evolution parameters. Set a keyframe that will move the offset upwards over time and set a keyframe moving the evolution forward. There are no hard and fast rules about what the layers should be set to. Simply mess around with the movement until your waves seem realistic.


Step 5: Create Adjustment Layer

How to Create Heat Waves in After Effects: Create Adjustment Layer

Create a new adjustment layer by going to Layer>New>Adjustment Layer or simply hitting Option+Command+Y.


Step 6: Set Luma Mask

How to Create Heat Waves in After Effects: Set Luma Mask

Move the adjustment layer below the Wave Matte layer and change the Track Matte to Luma Matte. The Wave Matte layer should be invisible now.


Step 7: Add Effects to Adjustment Layer

How to Create Heat Waves in After Effects: Add Effects to Adjustment Layer

Add a turbulent displace effect to the Adjustment Layer. Turn the amount and size down to 30. Set a keyframe for the evolution so that it makes one full rotation every five seconds.

Add the Fast Blur effect to the Adjustment Layer. Don’t turn it up too far. Set the blurriness around 4 and check the Repeat Edge Pixels box.

Here’s the end result:

Heat Waves Featured Image

Have any tips for creating a more realistic heat displacement effect? Share in the comments below.

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