I want to create a distortion effect around someone's head, kind of like what a swirly bokeh would do. There are two different shots that I could find that use this effect in the film 'Midsommar', one in which there is a swirly distorted effect around a head, and another where general swirls around the screen appear. While it looks like a keyframed liquify effect from PhotoShop, I'm not sure if it can be recreated in after effects. How can I do this? enter image description here https://giphy.com/gifs/a24-midsommar-QW3GavVLEeTa3Rpkx1

2 Answers 2


Without having seen the movie, it may be difficult to get it down exactly, but here is what I came up with.

  • Duplicate your layer twice, so that you have three copies.
  • On the top layer mask out the person.

enter image description here

  • Set the mask feather to around 30px.
  • Copy and paste the mask to the other two layers.
  • On the middle layer, set the mask feather to 60 and the mask expansion to 60. (can be adjusted to suit).
  • On the bottom layer, set the mask to subtract mode and add a 'Turbulent Displace' effect to the layer.
  • Adjust the size to suit (I chose 30) and you can keyframe the 'Amount' to have it animate on or off. I also added the expression 'time * 500' to the 'Evolution' property to add some movement.

Here is what mine ended up looking like:

enter image description here

Hope this is close to what you're after.

  • 1
    yes! the keyframing is a bit fast/bouncey but I'm sure I can slow that down. otherwise this is exactly what I needed
    – Jodast
    Jan 21, 2020 at 1:02

This is a desired look that stills photographers have been creating with Helios 44 lenses. It's quite possibly a native analogue effect see swirly bokeh. To simulate the effect using the above using @clif's three layer solution. On the bottom layer with spherical distortion, radial focus blur, and some circular smearing increasing at the boundary of the image.

Ref: https://live.staticflickr.com/967/27986297808_2f0f5ebaf2_b.jpg

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