Just noticed the smoke talking bit. If it’s of any use the way I create smoke, steam etc is to use particles. I’m sure most people do it this way, but basically you set your particles to zero gravity (or directional if necessary), “add” the scene light as a bulb, set the light to only affect the particles, click over to mesh so that you can see what you’re doing, and then shrink down the bulbs, add a “glow” to the lights and Edit the glow parameters to about 3-5% a piece depending on the thickness. You can also change the color of the bulbs to change the smoke to reflect whatever it might be reflecting, you can add additional bulbs, etc.
I like this method better than volumetric clouds as there’s a lot more life to it. Also if I’m doing Just fog/smoke filling a scene I just use practical smoke in AE.
Oh and you mentioned 3DLust earlier—I’m using Sirius Labs in my short and yeah—it’s a friggin BEAST to render. I’m resorting to just doing PNG sequences with transparent backgrounds for characters and placing them over th pre-rendered lab scenes. Only possible way to use them with my meager set up.