BCC Particle Illusion


Introduced with Continuum 2019 BCC, Particle Illusion is a 2D, sprite (image) based particle effect system that is preset driven, easy to use, and powerful. A 64-bit update of the original particleIllusion from the early 2000’s, a new UI, reorganized libraries, and thousands of curated presets bring exciting particle effects to artists and editors of any skill level. The addition of Mocha tracking, masking, and transfer modes makes integrating advanced particle effects into your work easier than ever.

 Important: There is a single “Sampler” library installed with Particle Illusion. To get the full set of additional emitter libraries use the “Download Emitters” option from the “Help” menu:


A Brief Primer on Particle Effects

If you’ve not used particle effects before, or if you’re new to Particle Illusion — often referred to as “PI” in these docs — a quick look at the terminology will be helpful in understanding the rest of the documentation and tutorials.

Particles: Particles are the visible entities in Particle Illusion. You have no direct control over individual particles; once they are “born” they behave based on the values set in their Particle Type. Particles use images for their appearance.

Particle Type: A particle type is the collection of properties that determine how particles of this type look and behave. A particle type consists of an image (or images), a color gradient, and various properties such as velocity, size, weight, etc.

Emitters: An emitter is not visible, but is the object that creates particles. Emitters come in 4 shapes types: point, line, ellipse (circle), and area. An emitter contains one or more particle types, and “global” duplicates of many of the particle type properties (velocity, size, etc.). Emitters, unlike particles, can be directly controlled and moved over time.

So an emitter is made up of particle types, and particle types are made from images, and particles are created by the emitter based on the properties of its particle types. In other words, an emitter creates particles which combine to form the visual effect.

A more complex type of emitter is a “super emitter”.

Super Emitters: This is a special type of emitter in Particle Illusion that does not create particles directly, but creates other emitters which in turn create the particles.

Free Emitters: The emitters that a super emitter creates. They are similar to particles in that you cannot directly control their position — once they are “born” they behave based on the properties of their Free Emitter Type.

Free Emitter Type: Like a Particle Type, this is the collection of properties that determine how the free emitters of this type will behave.

So a super emitter is made up of free emitter types and free emitters are created by the super emitter based on the properties of its free emitter type. Each free emitter type consists of particle types, and particles are created by each free emitter based on the properties of its particle type. In other words, a super emitter creates free emitters, which in turn create particles which combine to form the visual effect.

Emitter Library: a collection of emitter “presets” saved as a single file. This is not really important in Particle Illusion unless you want to copy or move libraries — to share them as an example. Note that once an emitter is added to a project it is completely independent of that library.

These Emitter Library emitters are the starting point for building new particle effects: the first step in building an animation is to add one or more emitters from the Emitter Library to your project.

Navigating the Particle Illusion User Interface


In this section we will introduce the five primary windows used in Particle Illusion to select, modify, animate, and preview effects.

The Particle Illusion UI at a glance

  1. Emitter Library Browser

The Emitter Library browser displays every emitter library and emitter available. Manually browse the thousands of available emitters or use the emitter search to help you zero in on the effect you’re looking for.


  1. Emitter Preview

A live window that displays the emitter selected in the Emitter Library Browser. Click and drag in this window to see how the selected effect will behave before adding it to your project.

  1. Composite View (or “Stage”)
    The Composite window displays the composited effect as it will appear in your final output. Click to add the selected library emitter to the project, then adjust the emitter position by dragging if needed. It also offers menu options that adjust some preview settings while you work, such as zoom level, background image preview, and H.U.D. (onscreen overlays). Also known as the “Stage” if you’re an original particleIllusion user.
  2. Controls View
    The Controls view displays the properties and animatable parameters for each emitter. The Controls view allows you to adjust the values for each parameter and choose how to interpolate those values between keyframes. This is also where you can create new layers, to better organize a project that contains multiple emitters.5. Graph View
    The graph view gives you a wide range of controls that allow you to animate parameter attributes in the timeline by setting keyframes. A keyframe sets specific parameter values for a parameter at a certain point on the timeline. When you place multiple keyframes on the timeline, PI interpolates, or computes intermediate values, between keyframe values to animate the effect. Keyframes will be covered in detail in a future tutorial.


Adding An Emitter: The Basics


  1. Select an emitter. Either browse the libraries or use the emitter search to find the type of particle emitter that you’ll want to use in your project. If you can’t find exactly what you’re looking for, select something that is close, as you’ll be able to modify at least some aspects of it later.
  2. Click in the Composite View — this will add the emitter. Alternately you can double-click the emitter name in the library browser to add it to the exact center of the Composite View.
  3. Adjust parameters. In the Controls View select the appropriate parameter and adjust its value as needed. Experimenting is encouraged. Note that if you want to make the entire effect bigger, use the “Zoom” parameter instead of “Size”.
  4. Animate position (optional). To animate position, click the “Animate/Static” button (which looks like a big key) so it turns red, jump ahead in time, then drag the emitter position in the Composite View. Note that the position X/Y values in the Controls View are drawn with a red box — this indicates they are animated.
  5. Click “Apply” to close and return to the host application.


That’s all that is required to add a Particle Illusion effect!



Important: There is a single “Sampler” library installed with Particle Illusion. To get the full set of additional emitter libraries use the “Download Emitters” option from the “Help” menu:


Adding An Emitter: Parameters

Before looking at the parameters in the Controls View, remember from earlier that a regular emitter is made up of one or more particle types, and a super emitter is made up of one or more free emitter types, which in turn contain one or more particle types. In the Controls View these are displayed as a hierarchy, with the emitter parameters at the top level, the free emitter type parameters at the middle level (for super emitters), and the particle type parameters at the lowest level. Since many of the parameters at each level have the same names — for instance you’ll see “Velocity” at the emitter level, free emitter type level, and particle type level — it’s important to know the difference between them.

As an example, you may see that the emitter (top-level) “Spin” value is 100, but the particles are not spinning. If you realize that the emitter level parameters are scale factors, you’ll know that you also need to check the particle type (lowest level) “Spin” value, which is probably set to 0. In order to see spin, the “Spin” values at all levels must be non-zero.

Now let’s take a closer look at the parameters in the Controls View:

We’ll skip the “Properties” group for now.

Controls View Position XY

Controls View

“Position XY” is the emitter position, which can be controlled here or in the Composite View directly.

The parameters just below the “Position” parameters can be thought of as scaling factors, applied to all similarly-named parameters below them in the hierarchy. Most of these should all be self-explanatory: “Size” controls the size of the particles, “Velocity” how fast they move, etc.

“Motion Rand.” is Motion Randomness.

“Tint Strength” controls the amount of tint color applied, and is used in conjunction with the Tint Color (see below). A value of 100 will completely override the particle colors, while when set to 0 the Tint Color has no effect.

“Emission Angle” and “Emission Range” go together — when “Emission Range” is less than 360 degrees, the “Emission Angle” becomes useful.

Note that “Angle” is used to rotate line, area, and ellipse emitters, and will probably have no visible effect on point or circle emitters.

Emitter Properties

Going back to the “Properties” group now, you’ll see controls for preload, emitter shape, and more:

Controls View Properties

Controls View

“Shape” allows you to switch between “Point”, “Line”, “Area” (rectangle),  “Ellipse”, and “Circle”. Note that additional parameters will be visible for some of these shapes, and will be covered in more detail later.

“Frames to Preload” sets the number of frames that the emitter will run before its first frame in the project, allowing it to have many particles visible at the start instead of starting from zero particles. Library emitters that take a while for their effects to evolve will usually have “Frames to Preload” set to a non-zero value.

“Particle Order” determines if the particles will be drawn in order: oldest first, oldest last, or unordered. Unless the specific effect requires particles to be drawn in order, it’s best to set this to “Unordered”. Some types of effects that might require particles to be drawn in order are heavy smoke trails, geometric effects, and effects that are animated to grow/shrink over time (as if the emitter were coming toward or moving away from you). Note that particles flagged as “intense” always combine in a way that makes “in order” drawing inapplicable. (“Intense” particles will be covered in the “particle type” section below).

“Tint Color” is a way to colorize an emitter — change its overall color without editing the individual particle type color gradients. It’s used in conjunction with the “Tint Strength” parameter and can be a quick way to adjust colors of complex emitters or help an effect blend into a shot.

The emitter will have at least one more level of parameters below these top-level parameters, depending on the number of particle types it has, or if it is a super emitter, the number of free emitter types it has. In this example, the emitter is a regular (non-super) emitter with a single particle type named “trails”:

Emitter Properties Trail


It has many of the same parameters as seen above, with some subtle differences. (As before we’ll skip the “Properties” group initially)

First, the “Weight” and “Spin” parameters can go negative here. Particles with negative weight will rise, and particles with negative spin will rotate in the opposite direction.

There are also “Variation” parameters here that can be used to produce a range of values. In this example the “Size” is 10.0 and the “Size Variation” is 7.0, which means that particles will be created with a size that is anywhere from 6.5 to 13.5.

One thing to note: the values for size, velocity, etc. are relative and without units. So a “size” value of 10 does not mean 10 pixels; the only thing you can say for certain is that a particle with a size of “10” is twice as big as a particle with a size of “5”. Similarly, a “Life” value of 6 does not mean 6 frames or 6 seconds.


The “Over Life” parameters — “Size Over Life” for instance — control the parameter over the life of the particle. They’re a bit different than normal parameters, so let’s take a look at them in more detail.

Normal Parameters vs. “Over Life” Parameters

The normal parameters like “Size” and “Velocity” designate the values that will be used at the instant the particle is created. Even if these parameters are animated (change over time) this is still true. So if the “Velocity” parameter for instance starts at 0 for several frames before increasing, the particles created when velocity was 0 will not move even when the velocity value has increased.

To change the particle velocity over time you use the “Velocity Over Life” parameter. When this or any “Over Life” parameter is selected, the Graph View changes:

Graph View Size Over Life

Size Over Life

For “Over Life” parameters the horizontal scale of the Graph View no longer shows frame numbers, but instead displays the percentage of the particle’s life. On the left is 0.0, the birth of the particle, and on the far right 1.0, the particle’s death. In the example above for “Size Over Life” you can see that the particle starts large, slowly decreases in size until about 70% (0.7) of its life has passed, then more quickly decreases until it ends its life with a size of 0.

Note that this is independent of how long the particle actually lives; whether it is alive for 10 frames or 500 its size will follow this graph over its life.

Parameters that are selected in the Controls View have their animation displayed in the Graph View:

Graph View of Selected Parameter

Selected Parameter Seen in Graph View

Using the graph view you can change the values of data keys, reposition them, delete keys, or create new ones.

Values that are animated will be outlined in red, and the arrows to the right of the value are used to move between the keyframes. The interpolation type for the key is shown between the arrows, and is changed using the menu that displays when clicked:

Interpolation Type

Interpolation Type

To delete a key, select it in the graph window, then press your keyboard’s “delete” key.

Particle Type Properties

The “Properties” group contains most of the low-level controls for particle types: how the particle is drawn, its color, and more:

Particle Type Properties

Particle Type Properties

The “Flip” option determines if the sprite (image) used for the particle is flipped horizontally, vertically, or both.


The “Intense” option makes the particle additive, giving it an “intense” look (hot, bright, glowing, etc.) When checked, the “Preserve Color” option is available, which will help to keep “intense” particles from adding to white, preserving some of their original color.


“Single Particle”: when checked, a single particle of this type will be created. It will be connected to the emitter’s position (velocity and motion randomness will be ignored), and its life will be very long (on the order of 10K frames).


“Attached to Emitter” can be used when you want particles to move with the emitter, but don’t want just a single particle. When “Attached to Emitter” is checked, the attachment amount parameter becomes available — a value of 0 means that the particles won’t move with the emitter, and a value of 100 means that they fully move with the emitter.


There are three subgroups of particle type properties: “Behavior”, “Color”, and “Alpha”.

Particle Type Behavior

Particle Type Behavior

The “Behavior” group lets you set the particle angle. You can specify the angle (in degrees) and all particles of this type will be created at the same angle, you can select a “Random” angle, where you specify the angle range and offset value, or you can have the particles “Align to Motion”.


Particle Align to Motion

Particle Align to Motion

When aligned to motion you specify the rotation angle, and the particles will align themselves with their initial motion. If the particles have no initial velocity this may not work as expected.



When the “Keep Aligned to Motion” option is checked the particle angle will continuously update based upon the particle’s motion, changing as the particle falls due to gravity. Note that when this option is checked, the particle spin parameter will be ignored — “Keep Aligned to Motion” overrides the spin value.

The final parameter in the “Behavior” subgroup is “Use Emitter emission”. When checked, this particle type uses the emitter “Emission Angle” and “Emission Range” parameters. If unchecked, you’ll see “Emission Angle” and “Emission Range” parameters added at the particle type level. It’s not common to see this option unchecked.

The next two subgroups, “Color” and “Alpha”, work together to determine the particle colors and transparency.

Color Gradient

Color Gradient

Clicking the color gradient brings up the gradient editor.

The “Color Type” menu allows you to select between:

  • “Full Gradient”: the gradient represents the life of the particle, where the color at the left edge of the gradient is the color when the particle is born, and the right edge is the color when the particle dies. When this option is selected you have a “Repeat” value that can be used to repeat the gradient over the life of the particle.
  • “Random Gradient”: a random color from anywhere on the gradient is chosen for the particle at its birth. The particle color does not change over its life. Choosing this option reveals a “Use key colors only” option, when checked the defined gradient colors are the only possible random choices.
  • “Next key color”: A specified number X of particles of each defined gradient color are created, then the next gradient color is used for the next X particles, and so on. The number of particles created at each color must be specified.
  • “Color from layer”: each particle gets its birth color from the source pixel beneath its creation position. The “Update Color from Layer” option means that the particle resamples the source image as it moves.

The alpha gradient shows the particle alpha over its life, and clicking the alpha gradient opens the alpha editor.


Alpha Gradient

Alpha Gradient

The “Alpha Type” menu allows you to select between:

  • “Full Gradient”: the gradient represents the life of the particle, where the alpha at the left edge is the alpha when the particle is born, and right edge indicates the alpha when the particle dies. Note that white is fully opaque, and black is fully t


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