10 Practical Tips for Creating Sci-Fi HUDs in After Effects
Huds Cover.jpg

Use these compositing tips to create nifty sci-fi heads-up displays in After Effects. Tutorial includes free project files!

Let's make some super powerful HUDs in the space age! These blockbuster effects are surprisingly easy to nail, and are a surefire way to add instant production value to your movie and video projects.

The following tips work best when used in combination with one another. They work together to make your HUD elements look better. Many of them are really simple effects, but together they can make a huge difference.

This tutorial includes a free project file Includes two HUD scenes and free elements from Shutterstock's Interface HUD pack. Download it now, dive into the tutorial, and do some magic magic.

Download the free HUD package

1st CC ball action

Add a pixel look to elements with CC Ball Action.

The first tip is to use the CC Ball Action Effect to give elements a pixel look. If your element is on an alpha channel add a black Fixed layer behind. Then add one Setting level on top and use CC Ball Action on it. Adjust the CC Ball Action settings Grid spacing and Ball size to achieve your final look.

2. CC block load

After Effects: CC Block Load

Add a quick animation of loading with the CC block loading effect.

Use the CC block load Effect to add a quick "loading" animation. Apply the effect to your footage and clear the check box Start deleted Frame. Now keyframe the completion Setting to emulate the appearance of the store.

3. Blur, opacity and blend modes

After Effects: blur, opacity, and blend modes

Use the Blur setting to naturally blend elements into your footage.

Blur, opacity, and blend modes are important layer attributes. Try different blend modes on your HUD layers to see how they look with the background material.

Add and screen Blending modes are always popular with HUDs. Use different levels of opacity for layers depending on how important they are on the screen. This is a subtle way of drawing audience attention to more important areas of the HUD.

Finally, gather all of your HUD elements and apply a Gaussian blur. Set the Blur Set to a low value between two and four. This removes the “crispy edge” from the elements so that they blend in naturally with your footage.

4. Chromatic aberration

Aftermath: Chromatic aberrations

Add an adjustment layer over your footage and apply the effect.

There are many ways to add chromatic aberration without plugins in After Effects. However, there is a free plugin that I highly recommend – Quick Chromatic Aberration 2 from Plugin Everything. Once you have the plugin installed, paste in Setting level over your footage and apply the effect. Adjust the frame Adjustment to achieve your desired look. I recommend something fine, like a scale of 100.30 percent.

5. Flicker presets

After Effects: Flicker Preferences

Create a user preset for your favorite flicker animations.

If elements are animated frequently on or off the screen, keyframing will likely cause the bezel to flicker. If you can create a flicker animation that you really like, it's time to create one User preset for this. First open the Effects & presets Panel in After Effects. Then drag the mouse and highlight all of the opacity keyframes for your flicker animation. Click the square in the lower right corner of the Effects & Presets panel Post-it note Symbol. This allows you to name your animation and save it as a user preset. You can then Drag and drop that opacity animation on any layer whenever you need it.

6. Glass shift

After Effects: glass effect

Use the transform effect to create a glass shift on your HUD.

The Transform The effect is a quick way to create a "glass shift" on your HUD. A … create Fixed layer to act as yours Image matt. (Size as big as the glass.) Then add one Setting level under the solid layer. Set the adjustment level Track mat Setting on Alpha matte. Apply the transform effect to the adjustment layer. Increase the frame Adjustment to the transform effect to create some shift. You can also add effects like Gaussian blur and Fast chromatic aberration 2 to create other glass looks.

7. Blur of the camera lens

After Effects: camera lens blurring

Get a nice bokeh look by applying the camera lens blur effect.

If you have HUD elements that are not the focus, apply that Camera lens blur Effect on them to get a nice bokeh look. After applying the Camera Lens Blur effect, adjust the setting Blur radius. If after adjusting the blur radius your element looks faded or transparent, I recommend duplicating your element a few times to restore opacity. Set the duplicated layers to Add or screen Blending modes to increase brightness and contrast if required.

8. Ghosting / mirroring

After Effects: Ghosting Reflection

Add a reflection to the appearance of the user interface with the ghosting effect.

This effect is very simple, but it adds a nice reflection to the UI appearance. First, pre-compose all of your HUD levels. Then, duplicate Your HUD pre-composition. On the lower copy of the HUD composition, create composition a 3D plane. Then move it forward on the Z axis, around 50-100 pixels. Then lower the opacity of the lower copy of the HUD to about 15-30 percent. You can also apply one Gaussian blur on the lower copy to tarnish the reflection a little.

9. Optics compensation

After Effects: Optical Compensation

Give your HUD a first-person look with the Optics Compensation effect.

Use the Optics compensation Effect to stretch it all out and give your HUD a first-person look. Add one Setting level Then apply the optics compensation effect to it over your footage. Activate it in the effect settings Reverse Lens Distortion. Then set the Field of view to a value around 70.

If you don't want the effect to affect the lower background layer, Copy the created optics compensation effect. Then, Insert it right on the background layer and turn off the erecting lens distortion. Your background material should then return to its original appearance.

10. Random text / numbers

There are now many ways to create random text and numbers in After Effects. I would like to introduce two simple ways (if you are a beginner) to get you started. For random text, create one Text layer and enter some random characters. Then toggle the button Text settings. Click on Animate and select Character offset. Then just frame the character offset. Switch on Full unicode by doing Drawing area for even more text characters.

After Effects: random text

After creating a text layer, enter some random characters.

Create a text layer for random numbers. Then under the text settings, Alt + click on the Stopwatch icon to the Source text (Ctrl + click on Mac). Include the following expression:

Math.round (random (11111.99999))

Make sure that you are typing the expression correctly, as the expression is case-sensitive. (Use an uppercase "M" for "math".)

After Effects: random numbers

Enter the expression correctly as it is case-sensitive.

Bonus tip

After Effects: add grain

Use the Add Grain effect to add static grain / distortion to your footage.

As a bonus tip, you can use the feature to add some nice static / distortion grain to your footage Add grain cause. Create a Setting level Then apply the Add Grain effect over your footage. Change that display mode Setting on Final edition. You can then browse through the various built-in presets and adjust settings to complete your look.

Interested in the royalty-free tracks we made this video with? Listen again:

Finally, here are a few quick and easy After Effects techniques that you can add to your tricks in minutes:


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