I primarily work in 3D but I came across a couple of videos of Tripcode plugins like Particular and Form and was pretty blown away. What I wondered was if it was possible to set After Effects up so it can export a 360 degree visual field? If possible, there are a bunch of fun things that I can think of to try, like set them up to provide HDR lighting in a 3d render, or as a skybox material in a realtime 3D engine.
I don't actually have After Effects, so apologies if this is a dumb or obvious question. A couple of hours of hard googling on variations of spherical mapping, equirectangular, panorama, etc. haven't come up with any answers though, so I hope not. I have seen that AE exports to various HDR formats which gives me some hope, and I've also had a pretty good look at Tripcode Horizon and CycoreFX Sphere utilities, but as far as I can tell they are useful tools for importing/manipulating spherical maps within After Effects and wouldn't help with an export.
I'd imagine that you could take the almost-real-world nodal-pan approach: using Particular, make some kind of particle extravaganza. Then make a bunch of (try twelve?) wide-angle cameras in AE, each panned slightly, all centered on the same point. This would simulate twelve nodal cameras, or one panned on a nodal head. Then you would render the view from each camera and stitch in whatever app you'd use to stitch a nodal pan from real-world stills.
Now if you just wanted a still instead of a movie for the map (far more likely), rotate the camera over time and render to a TGA sequence. Snap snap snap. If you want twelve images, you only need a twelve-frame comp. Turn off motion blur, so you don't get blur from the moving camera. Or if you need motion blur, just render one still at a time.
Aha, I hadn't thought of that, thanks! I would be looking at a movie though, so it would mean that I'd just be passing the spherical output buck to whatever software I used to stitch the camera images back into a single image. Hmmm. Investigation needed.