After Effects Tutorial: Realistic Rotating Earth

In this tutorial I will show you how to make a realistic animation of a rotating earth, using only a few photos from google, and built in After Effects plugins.

For this tutorial you will need 3 photos:

– A detailed map of Earth

– A picture of stars for your background

– A picture of clouds with a black background

These are the pictures I will be using:

stars_texture2942 Color Map clouds_26Aug2011_8192


1. Open up after effects and make a new composition (Composition > New Composition). Size doesn’t matter, and any background color will do, but it should be around 10- 15 seconds long.



Next you will need to import the 3 photos that you have for this project. Go to File > Import and select all the files. You should now see them in your project panel off to the left.

Take the stars background you chose, and drag it into the comp you just made. If it is too big, scale it to fit the comp. You should have something similar to this right now:

stars comp


Next you are going to find your map of earth in the project panel, right click on it, and select “New Comp from Selection”.

new comp


After you click this, a new comp will be added to your project panel on the left, and a new comp will open up that should contain the map photo. Click and drag your clouds photo into this new comp and make sure that it is above the layer that contains the map photo. Adjust it’s size so it fits your new comp.  If you made sure to select a cloud photo with a black background, then this next step will be easy. Right click on the clouds layer in the comp and go to Blending Mode > Screen. You should have something that looks like this now.



Now the next step will to make the clouds appear that they are moving along the map. This will come into play later into the tutorial. In order to move the clouds without it running off the edge, we will need a plugin that will tile the image so it can move infinitely. To do this, make sure you have your clouds layer selected, and along the top toolbar find Effect > Stylize > Motion Tile. This will apply this effect to the selected layer.

Now you will have to find your effect controls window. If you can’t seem to find it, go to the top of the program and click on Window > Effect Controls. In this window we will see all the things that we can do with the effects on a certain layer.

effect panel


Now we are going to make some keyframes and get these clouds in motion. Make sure the playhead is at the beginning of the comp and click the little stopwatch next to “Tile Center”. This will decide where the center of the clouds layer will be on the comp. If we click on this stopwatch, it will set out current location in the comp. Then if we move the playhead forward about 15 seconds and change the X position (the left number) on the tile center, this should give us some motion. Your comp should look like this now:

finished comp


If everything is done correctly, your clouds should now be moving slowly in front of your map.

Next step is to make this comp into a sphere. In your project panel, find the comp that has the map and clouds in it, and carry it into your original comp (the one with the stars). Don’t worry about resizing it just yet. In your comp you should now have the map comp, and your stars background. Our next step is to apply an effect to the new comp you just placed. Click on your map comp, and go to Effect > Perspective> CC Sphere. This should immediately form your layer into a sphere that should look something like earth!

earth now


By changing the radius in the effects panel, you will be able to make your earth smaller or bigger. To your liking. We are now going to add more keyframes, just like we did with the other effect. For this one we are going to click on the rotation arrow so we can see the different axes that we can rotate the earth on. For this tutorial we will be rotating it on the Y axis. With your playhead at the beginning of the comp again, click on the stopwatch icon next to the Y rotation. Move the playhead forward about 15 seconds again, and change the amount of rotation. You should see the earth rotate as you do this. If everything goes as planned, your earth should rotate and your comp should look something like this:


And you’re done! You now have a realistic rotating earth. By adding a few more things such as a silhouetted sun and a flare this should convince other that you have some high quality footage on your hands!

Your final product should look similar to this without the flare and extra few effects.

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