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

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 a Space Opera if you’re wondering).

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.  Just last night we went to see Get Out (which is incredible, go see it) and saw the trailer again for Life, a new star-studded space film starring Ryan Reynolds, which I know we will see. Here’s the trailer.

Yes, these are just movies, but in the real world, it seems like every week, NASA has some incredible news about new discoveries in space, with the Trappist-1 and 7 new planets discovered in the habitable zone on February 22, 2017. Perhaps I could be a space tourist now that SpaceX will be sending humans to the moon. 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.

If you’re looking for some inspiration, look no further than In Saturn’s Rings by Stephen van Vuuren. Here is the Late Summer Teaser (4K). It’s gorgeous. Note, the official release date is July 1, 2017, and it’s IMAX.

Stephen explains on the YouTube description:

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.

Other great shows for cosmic inspiration are NOVA and Cosmos. I’ve enjoyed both the Carl Sagan and Neil DeGrasse Tyson shows. Here’s the first episode of Cosmos A Spacetime Odyssey, which is on YouTube. It’s loaded with beautiful renderings of space objects.

Space Tutorials

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 to play along. Download the project files here.

Make a Realistic Moon and Night Sky

If you’re earthbound, Sapphire has great tools for creating realistic space elements from the terrestrial vantage point. This tutorial by LA-based editor Damien LeVeck spotlights the Luna effect in Sapphire 10. 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 – Adobe Premiere Pro, Adobe After Effects, Avid Media Composer, Blackmagic Davinci Resolve, Autodesk Flame, Nuke by The Foundry, and others.

Try a free demo of  Sapphire, for whichever NLE you prefer.

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.

Create a Fantastic Black Hole in Blackmagic Design Fusion

Vito LaManna explains how to use shape3D, Displace, and refraction inside of Fusion to create an interesting black hole. (via Lester Banks)

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

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)

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


Posted by Michele Yamazaki