In Depth: Creating Space – A Galaxy of Resources for your Epic Space Film

In Depth: Creating Space – A Galaxy of Resources for your Epic Space Film
New Updated 29 December 2020:

It’s no secret that I am a space geek and I’m a big fan of hard science fiction, so I’m always attracted to tutorials that show how to create realistic space scenes. Here are a few that you may find useful for your next Space Opera! Star Wars is considered to be a Space Opera since it is an adventure science fiction story. And you thought you didn’t like opera!

Introduction & Inspiration

One of my first memories is in the summer of 1977, in the back seat of my parent’s car, watching Star Wars out the back window. I remember seeing R2D2 and C-3P0 running from Storm Troopers and getting into the escape pod, although, I couldn’t hear it and I’m sure I had no idea what was going on, the film stuck with me. My parents, incidentally, went to see Barbra Streisand and Chris Christopherson in A Star is Born. I’m sure they knew I wouldn’t stay awake past the opening credits!

I’ve loved movies my whole life and I’m always drawn to movies about space: Star Trek, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Passengers, Interstellar, Gravity, Moon… there have been so many great films about the danger and excitement of exploring the universe.

The Expanse

Since the pandemic started, I haven’t been to a movie theater, so I’ve got my space opera fix on the small screen. The Expanse, on Amazon Prime. The zero-gravity shots are impressive enough but the show also includes scintillating Mars scenes, asteroid belts, and depictions of future technology. Below, the trailer for season 5 of The Expanse.

Even Space.com chimes in on the season 5 premiere of The Expanse!

Yes, these are just movies and shows, but in the real world, it seems like every week, there is space news or something to watch in the sky. 2020 brought launches by SpaceX, the conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter, and amazing photos of faraway planets that seem to come in weekly.

Perhaps I could be a space tourist now that space tourism is a thing. Or maybe, I’ll be destined to stay here and create my own science fiction fantasy! Here are some resources if you’re planning to remain earthbound.

In Saturn’s Rings

If you’re looking for some inspiration, look no further than In Saturn’s Rings by Stephen van Vuuren. It’s gorgeous and clearly a herculean project. Released in May 2018 on IMAX, they are currently working on a Fulldome version for planetariums. Disclosure: Toolfarm is a Platinum Ring Sponsor on the film.

This DIY, not-for-profit all-volunteer film is from Greensboro, NC, USA filmmaker Stephen van Vuuren with tons of help from volunteer image processors around the world. Over 67 volunteers on 5 continents are working on the film.

Created entirely from real photographs using photo animation and multiplane photo animation. No computer-generated images, painting, cloning, tweening, morphing, texture maps, camera projection, or 3D models used. Even the “stargate” titles are created using photos – an 8000 photo mosaic of all-sky zoomed really fast to give a blurred appearance.

The film is 100% created using only flat 2D photographs (often hundreds or thousands per frame) stitched together for massive hundred megapixel+ resolutions that are scaled and zoomed using techniques developed by the filmmaker, based on Ken Burns and 2.5D photo animation processes.

Read about what’s happening with In Saturn’s Rings.

One more.

CGI 3D Animated Short: “INTRA” – by Thomas Vanz


Space Tutorials

The tutorials here are based on creating realistic space objects, such as planets, stars, black holes, and so on. It does not include space vehicles, UFOs, satellites, and other manmade elements. Below, a collection of some of my favorite space VFX tutorials. Enjoy!

Create Space VFX in After Effects

Brandon Fate shot this impressive window shot with a giant red planet through the window. He explains both how he shot the scene, and how he composited it. You’ll need the free Video Copilot ORB plugin to create the planet.


Create an Epic Earth Sunrise in After Effects

Caleb Ward explains how to create this glorious sunrise over the earth from a vantage point in space. You’ll need Video Copilot Optical Flares for After Effects to play along.


Make a Realistic Moon and Night Sky

If you’re earthbound, Sapphire has impressive tools for creating realistic space elements from the terrestrial vantage point. With Sapphire, create the moon, stars, and auroras with ease.

This tutorial by LA-based editor Damien LeVeck spotlights the Luna effect in Sapphire. Use it with the Sapphire NightSky effect to create a stunning, photorealistic sky replacement. This tutorial uses the Avid Media Composer timeline but Sapphire is generally the same in all of the NLE’s and compositors that it works in, including Adobe Premiere Pro, Adobe After Effects, Avid Media Composer, Blackmagic Davinci Resolve, Autodesk Flame, Nuke, and others.

Solar Atmosphere Tutorial

Andrew Kramer from Video Copilot shows you how to make the surface of the sun, complete with solar flares. He uses the Heat Distortion plug-in from Video Copilot, as well as this expression:

Look At Expression:




How to Create a Simple Spiral Galaxy in Cinema 4D

Lawrence Black shows you how to make a spiral galaxy, like our own Milky Way.


Rebuilding the Interstellar Black Hole in After Effects

Joey Shanks explains how to create a beautiful black hole for Shanks FX at PBS Digital Studios. He breaks down the process of how he made it in After Effects with some Red Giant Universe filters. First is the original video, then the video explaining the post-production process. step by step.


How To Animate a Realistic Planet in After Effects (Short Version)

Recreate the DUNE title sequence | HitFilm Tutorial

This one moves away from the theme of recreating natural effects of space in software, but it’s a very cool tutorial for FXHOME HitFilm Pro. The project file is in the description of the video on YouTube.


How to convert photos to incredible 3D scenes

This tutorial uses FXHOME HitFilm to create a 3D space animation. The artist uses the Eagle Nebula in the second half of the tutorial to show how to make it look 3D. This same technique could be used in After Effects. Try a demo of HitFilm Pro today (under Standalone)


Creating a Sci-Fi Film (60 Minute Filmmaking Tutorial)

Neumann Films explains the effects of their short film, The Beacon.



Other tutorials we’ve already shared

Tutorial: After Effects: Create a Space Scene in Trapcode ParticularAfter Effects: Create a Space Scene in Trapcode Particular

Learn how to make a cool nebula-esque space scene in After Effects using Trapcode Particular.

View the tutorial

NebulaHow to Create a Realistic Nebula in After Effects

Get inspired by images from NASA and build a realistic 3D nebula in After Effects using both Trapcode and HitFilm, from Peder Norrby of Trapcode.

View the tutorial   Download the Nebula Construction Kit

Tutorial: Create a Space Scene Entirely in Blackmagic Design FusionCreate a Space Scene Entirely in Blackmagic Design Fusion

“Chetal Gazdar leverages Fusion’s 3D environment and particles to create a space scene.” – Lester Banks

View the tutorial

Creating and Lighting a Space Scene, Parts I and II

Creating and Lighting a Space Scene in Cinema 4D

Parts 1 and 2 of a 3 part series by Shepperd Oneill. Part 1 addresses modeling. Part 2 addresses textures and basic lights.

View tutorials

Burning Question: Making The Super MoonBurning Question: Making The Super Moon

They say it’s the Super Moon of the Century! Here are some ways to recreate the moon in After Effects or your NLE or editor, if you’re unable to capture the moon. This is a group of tutorials that covers GenArts Sapphire S_Luna, and plug-ins from CoreMelt, Video Copilot, Boris FX, Red Giant, SUGARfx, and Imagineer.

View tutorials

Free NASA Resources

Freebie: NASA PACK 1: ISS Expeditions 30-42Freebie:  NASA PACK 1: ISS Expeditions 30-42

Download this free pack of hi-res images from NASA and the International Space Station.

Learn more

More NASA Public Domain Images

There’s a great Flickr group with images that are public domain from NASA, called NASA – Public Domain. It’s unofficial, but all of the images can be used.

Space Sounds

The soundtrack is just as important as your visuals. If you need a soundtrack for your 2001 sequel, look no further than NASA’s SoundCloud Page. Here’s an example.

Helpful Products for Space Production

There are loads of effects that can be helpful with making planets, solar systems, black holes, etc., including particle generators, lens flares, and more. Here are a few that we find to be super helpful in this department.

Dosch 3D: SpaceDosch 3D: Space

The completely textured 3D-models are provided in multiple file formats: 3DS, 3dsmax (version 4 and above), Lightwave (version 6.5 and above), OBJ, Maya (version 4 and above), VRML, SoftimageXSI, Cinema 4D (version 8.5 and above), Collada DAE and FBX.

Learn more

SUGARfx Light PackSUGARfx Light Pack

This product contains a few plug-ins for creating lens flares, shines, and paparazzi light flashes, but my favorite in the pack is Moon Light, a filter that provides an easy way to create a Moon with flaring effects, obscuration, and compositing.

Learn more

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Posted by Michele Yamazaki