Usually for my visual effects projects using After Effects and particles has been more than enough to get the job done. But sometimes you just can't beat the real thing. For one of my latest jobs I was given very specific directions for achieving a look for a certain magical effect. After coming up with a couple different versions in AE and still not producing the right effect, it dawned on me that it might just be easier to think outside the box. This MO is a new one for me, and I've always shied away from using other pre-comped elements (like Andrew Kramer's Action Essentials collection...although I certainly don't hold anything against them being used in projects, I've just usually found it more fun and interesting to generate the elements from scratch digitally), so it was pretty exciting to approach the task this way.
Long strands of wispy smoke is what I was after. So I set up a camera with some strong lights, a black BG and with the right camera angle lit some incense sticks. Playing the Mass Effect 3 OST in the background made it feel more epic waving incense around the bottom of the screen like a magic wand (I may have gotten a little caught up in the moment and let out a little "Expelliarmus!").