You will learn to navigate using After Effects and to locate your tools and effects. You will be introduced to the layer panel, the timeline, and key frames, and you will learn to import files. You will also learn to create, animate, and mask your layers.
We'll begin the chapter with the program's interface, to help you understand how to navigate. By the end of this chapter, you will know how to create a simple animated slideshow. The concepts we'll learn in this chapter are simple; however, the tools that we'll learn to use will be crucial to future projects (Illustration, photography, and all artistic content by David Dodds).
This chapter will cover the following topics:
The After Effects interface
Creating a project
Introducing layer properties
Creating an animation slideshow
To use this book, you will need Photoshop, Illustrator, Character Animator, and After Effects CC. You need to have a good understanding of standard menus and commands. Some of the lessons in this book use Adobe-Character Animator, Adobe Bridge, Adobe Media Encoder, Adobe Illustrator, and Adobe Photoshop. You must install these applications from Adobe Cloud. Some knowledge of Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator will be helpful for performing the projects in this book.
Go to Window | Workspace | Reset "Standard" to Saved Layout. This is the standard workspace:
Go up to the top-left tab, File. Choose Save As | Save As... and name the file
Navigate to where you want to save your After Effect project. It's a good idea to number your projects. Let's name ours
We have started saving our first project. It's important to start saving things right away.
The project panel is where you bring in all your assets. After Effects is often used in post-production. You are usually working from many different asset types. Your project can get very disorganized quickly. This is where you keep all your assets tidy. You will be very happy when your project gets more difficult and you have taken the time to keep things organized. It is easier to find things when you have a tidy project. It also helps you to work faster. The project panel has icons at the bottom of the panel. Choose the one called folder:
Let's learn how to create folders in our project panel by following these steps to create one:
Click on the folder icon
new comp-main comp
You should have five folders. Right-click on the folder to rename them.
The projects in this book will use these five folders. We have created them to organize everything properly.
After Effect references material. It doesn't actually keep anything in the project; it references things. You should never rename a file outside After Effects. When you import images into a Photoshop document, it saves a copy with the document. However, After Effects links to the assets you import into your project. You should always leave the name unchanged because After Effects will not be able to find the new name for its referencing, and you will receive an error message.
Rather than renaming or removing your files from After Effects, it's better to create a copy or not to move it. If you need to replace a file, you have to right-click on the layer and choose to replace or reload the footage:
Practice renaming and relinking your files a couple times, just to make sure you understand that concept.
Now we will turn our attention to setting Auto-Save... for your projects. It's important to get that set up so your project will automatically save, even if you forget to do this. The following steps will show you how to set up autosave:
Go to Edit | Preferences | Auto-Save....
Set autosave at 20-minute intervals.
You can adjust the maximum number of versions of your project to autosave. The default number is 5:
After Effects uses compositions to place and arrange your elements. Remember to consider design principles that help create a strong composition when you arrange your elements. In After Effects, these compositions are referred to as
comps. I am going to create a comp by hitting the new composition icon. If you look closely at the icon, you will see that it looks like a composition symbol with shapes:
Drag the main comp into the
MAIN comp folder:
Look at the lower-third of the screen. This is called the timeline panel. The timeline is the works space where you create key frames. This is where you make your layers animate across time. You also organize your layer-stacking order. This stacking order is similar to Photoshop. Layers at the top will appear on top of other layers:
After briefly learning about the timeline panel, let's discuss how to bring layers into your composition.
Follow these steps:
Go into the
Drag the image on to the timeline.
If the image is 1,920 x 1,080, it will fit perfectly and fill up the screen. It will come into the comp centered:
The arrow icon on the far left is called the Selection Tool.
Now select the hand tool or use the keyboard shortcut H. You can use the hand tool to move around in your view or navigate around in the comp.
Zoom Tool (Z): The zoom tool is next to the hand tool. This tool will magnify your image in the composition. Select the zoom tool, or use the keyboard shortcut Z, and click on the image in the comp a few times:
Let's explore how to use the rotate tool. The center of the screen where your image is displayed is called the composition window. At the bottom left is an icon called the Magnification ratio popup. Choose fit to 100%. This will zoom out so we can see what's happening:
Select the rotate tool, or use the keyboard shortcut W, and adjust the image:
Pan Behind (Anchor Point) Tool (Y): I'll skip the camera tool for now. Next to the camera tool is the pan behind tool. Use this to move your anchor point. Things animate along the anchor point in After Effects. It's useful to know how to move the anchor point around, as it gives you control over how things animate:
Masking Tool: To the right are our masking tools. The first shape in the list is the rectangle tool. With these masking tools, you can click and drag to create a shape. Click on the triangle icon on the bottom-left of this tool's button. You will find the rounded Rectangle Tool, the Eclipse Tool, and the Star Tool:
We will go over more of these tools later.
Hopefully, you are starting to get used to the interface in After Effects. Poke around and experiment with these tools, to get comfortable with them. A little triangle next to a tool's button means you can access more options for that tool. If a tool is grayed out, just click on your comp and it will become active.
This preview panel gives you options such as moving through your movie. A project is made up of frames, just like in real video footage. In After Effects, moving within a project is referred to as moving down the timeline. This timeline is represented in units, such as frames, seconds, and minutes. This preview panel allows you to move forward or backward frame by frame. Pressing the play button lets you preview your project. You can also use the ram review, which gives you the ability to watch the project at a faster speed. You can also hit the space bar to preview your animation.
At the bottom of the composition window, there are a few options. Let's go over some of them.
The icon in the lower right-hand corner of the composition is where you will find your guide options. These guide options are used to arrange your layers and to create compositionally strong images. However, these guides are not rendered; they are only for preview purposes:
Guides: These are used for aligning and arranging layers. To remove guides, choose View | Clear guides.
Title/Action Safe: These are video-safe zones, for standard video monitors.
Rulers: This is used to drag guides to the composition to align and arrange layers to.
Grid: This is a modular grid that helps you organize your layers and create strong compositions:
Next, we will go over our Effects & Presets panel. The effects panel is a major toolbox full of effects to make your video look amazing! This panel gives you access to hundreds of effects that can help you create animation, correct the color, or fix any number of problems with video or images.
The effects panel is located to the far-right, below the preview panel. A lot of these effects are the same as those used in Photoshop. You may be familiar with Brightness, Contrast, Curves, and so on. Make sure your layer is selected in the timeline, before clicking on an effect.
You can add an effect to a layer by doing the following:
Twirl the category name
Click on the effect with the layer selected, or you can type in the name of the effect
Double-click on the effect, while your layer is selected
Let's type the effect (auto levels) into the search bar. Double-click the effect to add to our layer:
The main difference between these effects and Photoshop is that you can animate them across the timeline, which we will get into in the next sections. You can also add multiple effects to a layer, to create complex visual images.
Select your layer.
You can either hit Ctrl + D/command + D on Windows or macOS, respectively, or just choose Edit | Duplicate from the menu:
When you follow this process, your layer is duplicated. This duplicated layer is an exact copy of the layer. Look closely at your layer and find the triangle to the far right. Click on this triangle. This is called twirling down:
Twirling down your layer will reveal the Transform properties. Twirl down the triangle icon to the left of the word Transform. You will see the Transform properties: Scale, Rotation, Opacity, and Position. All of these have shortcuts.
The shortcut for the scale is S
The shortcut for rotation is R
For opacity, the shortcut is T
For position, the shortcut is.. yep, you guessed it, P
These shortcuts are easy to remember. The only shortcut that's not self-explanatory is T for opacity. An easy way to remember that is to think of T for transparency, or that T is the last syllable of opacity (opaci-T):
To select anything in After Effects, you need to have the selection tool selected. Navigate to that tool in the upper left-hand corner of your screen in the tool bar. Choose the top layer of the timeline:
With this layer selected, we are going to select our scale property. To use the shortcut, simply hit the letter S. You will see that this reveals the scale property only. Let's adjust the scale parameter. To the far right of the word scale, you will see two numbers. Scrub either one of those parameters to the left. This will shrink this layer down in size:
As you can see, this layer scales down in the center of the screen.
Now I will talk to you about our layers and our timeline. It's very important to know your way around this part of the interface. This layer panel is how you control the way your images move. This is where you can see, at a glance, what's going on in your movie. This panel is similar to Photoshop's layer panel. Each one of these icons to the right of the layer has an important function. If you hover your selection arrow over any of these icons, a description will appear on the screen:
Let's take a closer look some of the buttons and switches of the layer panel:
The animation stopwatch
The shy button
The continuously rasterized button
The visual effects button
The 3D button
The hide switch
The audio switch
The solo button
The lock switch
The parenting pick whip
The shy switch
Current time editor
The zoom-in timeline
To access the footage panel, double-click on the layer. However, this panel is often accessed by accident. It's accessed when double-clicking on a layer. You can tell you're in this panel when you see the white bar at the bottom. There are specific things you can do in this layer, but we usually don't need to be in this panel. Here is a screenshot of the footage panel:
You will find this is a mistake that happens frequently. To get out of this panel, go to the top of that panel and choose the name of your main comp. Or you can reset the workspace area back to the saved layout:
Let's talk about time. The timeline panel is one of the main things that differentiates After Effects from Photoshop. Unlike Photoshop, After Effects has the ability to make things happen across time. Another big difference between After Effects and Photoshop is 3D space. You can create compositions with 3D depth. After Effect movies are comprised of frames, just like real films.
You can zoom into any point of the timeline with the button at the lower-center of the timeline. Or you can zoom into your timeline by moving the slider. If you look closely, you can you can see (
F), which stands for frames:
The timeline is measured with time codes. The
F next to the numbers on the timeline stands for frames.
Use the Page Up key as a shortcut to navigate forward in the timeline, frame by frame, and Page Down to navigate backward in the timeline, frame by frame.
A shortcut for moving down one frame in the timeline is Page Down or Ctrl + the right arrow (on a PC) or Page Down or command + the right arrow (on macOS). You can also use the arrows in the preview panel:
Go to the beginning of the timeline. The shortcut is for this is pressing the home button on the numeric keypad.
The timeline is the entire length of your composition. Your workspace area is the length of your movie. This is also called the rendering area. When I hit the play button for previewing my movie, it happens within that space. This can be trimmed and edited. To trim your workspace area, perform the following steps:
Move your time indicator to the desired spot on the timeline
Press the letter N to activate the shortcut to trim the work area
There is usually more than one way to do something in After Effects. To manually trim your workspace, perform the following steps:
Move your mouse to the beginning the timeline and hover over the blue bar. This is the start of your workspace area.
Drag this bar to the right, to trim your work area.
You can drag either the start or the end or the workspace area. Trimming this shortens the duration of the comp. This is useful for previewing your movie or previewing a small section of your movie. Remember when you export or render your movie, this workspace needs to be trimmed, to reflect exactly what you want exported. The duration of the workspace is the only thing that will be exported or rendered:
To trim your layer, perform the following steps:
Move your time indicator to the desired spot on the timeline
Press Alt + [ or Option + [ on macOS to activate the shortcut to trim your layer
To manually trim your layer, perform the following steps:
Move your time indicator to the desired spot on the timeline.
Bring your selection tool to the very beginning of the layer and hover over the start of the layer. You will see the trim layer icon represented by two arrows. (You must see this or your dragging you're layers, which is different to trimming them.) Use this to drag and trim your layer.
You can trim any type of layer using the preceding methods. This layer will be trimmed exactly where the time indicator is. Move your time indicator back and forth in the timeline across this trimmed layer. See how the layer appears where the image is trimmed to? This is how layers can appear across time.
You can further organize your timeline by adding information to the timeline. You can also create markers, notes, and metadata on your timeline. These markers can also be used to align layers to a point in the timeline. The following are the steps for creating a composition marker:
Hit Shift and a number.
Double-click that number to enter a note:
Animating a property is essentially marking a parameter in time and adjusting that property further down the timeline. We create animation by creating at least two key frames. The steps to animate a property are simple. But you need to be sure you follow these steps each time. When you want to animate any property, you need to perform the following steps:
First hit the stopwatch, which will automatically create a key frame for you.
Move down the timeline, and change the Transform property to whatever you want it to be. That will automatically create a blue diamond key frame for you. But you have to be sure and press the stopwatch first.
After you have created key frames, you're free to move and adjust those key frames. Later, I will get into a lot more detail regarding adjusting key frames.
Press the keyboard shortcut S for the scale parameter to come up.
Indicate in the timeline where you want the animation to begin.
Hit the stopwatch for scale.
Page down to the right, getting closer to the end of this animation.
Scrub the scale parameter. This will automatically create a blue diamond key frame.
Let's preview that. If I want to give my layer a little bit of blur, I'll hit the blur icon. Look in the timeline:
This is an effect that has to be turned on in two places. It has to be turned on in the timeline, just above the timeline. If you hit the preview button, you will see how it gives it a nice blur. That's how things move in real life. There is always some sort of blur when things move fast.
Solid layers are basic colored layers. These can be used to give your video a solid color in the background. We can also use solid layers to create more complex masks. Let's spend more time with basic solid layers. Solid layers are simple color layers that can be edited with masking tools. You will learn how to create solids, edit them, and mask them:
Create a new comp.
Make the composition dimensions 1,920 x 1,080.
Name this comp
Move this composition into the main
Create a basic solid layer, Layer | New | Solid, or you can hit the shortcut Ctrl + Y or command + Y on macOS.
Click on the color box and change the color to yellow:
Good job! You have created your first solid layer. Notice that when you create a solid layer, After Effects creates a folder named
solids in your project window. Whenever you create a new solid, it will automatically go into that folder. Right now, you have only one layer in your comp. It gets complicated when there are many layers in your composition. Let's create more layers to get used to working with more than one layer:
Create another solid, or use a shortcut Ctrl + Y or command+ Y for macOS.
Make this solid orange.
Move this new orange layer to the lower-right corner.
Create another solid, or use the shortcut Ctrl + Y or command + Y for macOS.
Make this solid blue. Move this layer to the upper-left corner.
Remember that the stacking order is really important in After Effects. You will see what is on top first, followed by what is on the bottom, which is on the background. This composition is created with layers stacked on top of one another. You can see what's underneath that layer. You can see there are other things in the background. There is a solid underneath that layer. At this point, you should see all your different-colored layers: some in front of the others, and some at the back. This is a good visual representation of the stacking order. Look in the timeline; you can see how the stacking order correlates to what you see in your composition:
Let's look at the transparency parameters for our solid layers. You can access this by pressing the letter T. Scrub this parameter to reduce the opacity, and then lower the opacity. Notice you can still see the other layers through it:
First, select the layer, duplicating your latest layer
Press Ctrl + D, or command + D for macOS
To change the setting for your solid layer, press Shift + Ctrl + Y or Shift + command + Y for macOS
Your shortcut may be different if you have macOS. Refer to tab at the right of the After Effects panels, | Help | Keyboard Shortcuts...:
When you get more advanced with After Effects, you will have many layers in your timeline. One way to identify a layer is to turn off all the other layers. Another reason to temporarily turn off a layer is to see how your composition looks without that layer. These eyeball icons are for turning off your layers:
Soloing your layer can be a life-saver. This will help you temporarily show one single layer or many single layers at a time. What makes this switch so important is that it's easy to turn on and off without changing any of your original layers. It's also easy to tell which layers you have soloed, making it easy to turn off the solo switch when you need to. To activate the solo switch, simply turn on the solo button. If you solo something, you will see the grid behind it, and this grid means that it is a transparent background. Turn off the solo switch to return the layer to its original condition. This becomes really helpful when you have a lot of layers and you want to locate and identify and work with just one layer; you can solo it:
Tagging your layers can be especially helpful for identifying and organizing your layers in the timeline. You can change these tags to be any color you want. When you need to quickly edit something, sometimes you can select it, but sometimes it can be really hard to find it. Identifying layers is an important part of After Effects. When you have a very complicated project, it's very important to be able to identify your layers. This is when naming and tagging your layers correctly becomes very important. Organization is very important:
In After Effects, your composition window is like a stage. You can see images outside the frame or stage. You can also drag things into or out of the main stage area. This is helpful when you want to start your animation off-screen and end up on-screen.
Your layers have transform properties, which are the heart and soul of animation. Anything that has a stopwatch next to it can be animated. All these parameters can be overwhelming at first glance. Let's go over each property shortcut to familiarize yourself with them all. Twirl word transform down to see all the properties:
Anchor Point: The shortcut is Y
Position: The shortcut is P
Scale: The shortcut is S
Rotation: The shortcut is R
Opacity: The shortcut is T
Reveal all key frames: The shortcut is U
Pressing any of these keyboard shortcuts while your layer is selected will bring up that parameter:
This will make your objects snap to your guides. In the Guides section, you will find a variety of guides and grids to go beyond the guesswork of lining up your object in After Effects. The guide Title/Action Safe is used for video monitors. These guides can be accessed at the bottom of the composition window by clicking the grid icon:
Guides can be a great help to layout your composition and arrange text precisely.
In this section, we are going to discuss masking and editing layers and solids. We are going to mask off or cut out parts of the solids to create a shape. The following steps will illustrate how to do it:
Create a 1,920 x 1,080 comp.
Create a new solid layer layer, | New solid, or Ctrl + Y or command + Y for macOS.
Make the solid yellow.
Look at the top-right of your tool bar. Under the Rectangle Tool, you have a variety of masking shapes to edit your solid. These are the masking tools that shape with After Effects. You can choose a Rectangle Tool, a Rounded Rectangle Tool, an Ellipse Tool, a Polygon Tool, or a Star Tool:
We are going to practice using an ellipse tool to cut out our shape:
Choose Ellipse Tool
Choose where you want to create your shape
Click and drag
When dragging these tools, the mask may stretch. If you don't want that, hit Shift while dragging. That will create a perfect shape.
Double-click one of these squares.
You will get a square bounding box.
Drag this bounding box to edit all the points at the same time:
This is masking off the rest of the solid. Under the properties for masking, there is a mask column where you can choose other parameters. This will hide your mask or give you different masking options.
You can take these basic shapes and make other more complex shapes. You can also change the color of the mask by clicking on the color box in the mask. After Effects also has other parameters that you can work with. Clicking on the mask gives you other parameters that can be edited. You can edit this mask by adjusting the feathering parameter. Adjusting the feathering amount means the outside of the mask will be feathered. Of course, the feathering is able to be key-framed. You can expand the mask as well. The expansion can also go the opposite direction, so you'll actually be eating into the mask in the negative direction. I'd like for you to experiment with all these mask-editing parameters.
Masking is a very powerful tool used for roto scoping and creating shapes. You have control over how your mask will behave, and you can choose to add or subtract from your mask shape. We will focus on the subtract feature:
Drag another shape on top of the current solid shape.
Find the new mask parameter on that solid in the lower-left side of the timeline.
To the right of the mask is a tab called Add with an arrow pointing down. Click on that.
Choose Subtract from that list:
See how it cuts that shape out? This is how you can create interesting shapes in After Effects. Have a lot of fun with this; there's so much you can do with it—the sky's the limit! Masking becomes very important when you need to cut layers, videos, images, and so on. Think of layers as scissors to cut out what you don't want to see. I'd like for you guys to play with these shapes. Start editing these mask points. You can create complex interesting shapes with these techniques.
After all the knowledge we have acquired so far, it is imperative that we put it to use. Let's make a simple animated slideshow, using the tips and tricks we have learned so far in this chapter. Follow these steps:
Create a 1,920 x 1,080 comp and call it
slideshow. Make the comp 20 seconds long.
Move into the main
Import four photos (each with 1,920 x 1,080 dimensions).
Put the photos into the
Make a new solid: Layer | New solid. Call this back, and make the color black.
Bring your first image into the timeline.
Hit S to get your scale. Adjust this so your image fits in the frame.
Spend some time adjusting your image in the comp. You may not need to adjust the scale. However, if you need to adjust the size of your image, press S to get the scale parameter.
Scrub the scale parameter to get the desired size:
Bring in a second image
Adjust the scale
Repeat these steps for the remaining images
Select these layers and trim them so they are 3 seconds long
We are going trim our layers in the timeline. This will ensure that each image will be seen in the slide show for a certain amount of time:
Select all layers to go to 3 second in the timeline
Select Alt + R bracket/option + R bracket (macOS) to trim the layers, or you can drag the layers to trim them
It's important to understand how to trim your layers for this project and other projects we will work on. Make sure your layers are lined up and trimmed:
After Effects has different types of assistance to help you with animation functions. We are going to use sequence layers. This will sort our layers across time. You can find this animation assistance on the top animation tab of your project window:
Select All layers | Animation | Keyframe Assistance | Sequence Layers....
Notice that After Effects takes your layers and sequences them across your timeline evenly! The next step for our slideshow is at the end:
Next we are going to create a fadeout animation for our images:
Press T for the opacity parameter.
Click on the stop watch for opacity. This creates a key frame, which is the first step of any animation.
Go forward 20 key frames. Turn the opacity down to
Your timeline should have two key frames. The first key frame is 100% opacity, and the last one will be 0% opacity.
You can test the animation by dragging the time indicator over the key frames. The image should be fading out:
Select the layer beneath the top layer.
Drag your bottom layer, or choose Alt + L bracket to trim your layer to that point.
The top layer will begin to fade out as the layer shown next will appear or fade on:
The goal is to have each photo fade into the next layer. This will happen over the course of 20 frames. It will be a slow fade. Repeat the preceding steps for each layer, and then proceed as follows:
Add a black solid layer, for the background
Move this layer to the bottom of the layers
One of the most common things that new After Effects users forget to do is trim the work area at the end of a project:
Drag the blue bar over from the right.
The final step is to preview your slideshow. Look for anything you'd like to adjust. You can always tweak any of the settings after creating a project.
Congratulations! You've created your first animated project in this book!
Press the space bar to preview your animated slideshow!
I hope you enjoyed your grand tour of After Effects. We learned about the interface and how to import, edit, and mask layers. Most importantly, we learned how to animate! The basics of animation is key as you work on projects. Grasping these fundamentals will propel you forward to understanding even more complex tools and concepts. Learning the interface and the basic animation are basic but important blocks for building your amazing future with motion graphics!
In Chapter 2, Creating a Lower Third for a Television Show, we will animate using the Easy Ease assistant. We will also work with null objects to animate a lower-third project. We will use masking and animation tools introduced in this chapter. You will also learn how to create type and how to use precomps.
What are the steps for creating an animation?
How do you trim or extend a layer in the timeline?
How do you trim or extend the workspace area?
Where are the safe guides located?
How do you advance one key frame down the timeline?
How do you preview your movie?
How do you create a solid layer?
Where are your masking shapes located?
How do you edit one single masking point?
How do you edit all the masking points at once?
How do you apply the subtract masking?
What is a key frame?
How are key frames represented on the timeline?
How are seconds represented on the timeline?
To understand more about guides and using views, check out the following: https://helpx.adobe.com/after-effects/using/modifying-using-views.html
To understand more about the timeline in After Effects, click on this link: https://helpx.adobe.com/after-effects/using/composition-basics.html#timeline_panel
More information about masking tools can be found here: https://helpx.adobe.com/after-effects/using/creating-shapes-masks.html#create_a_shape_or_mask_by_dragging_with_shape_tools
imation, follow this link: https://helpx.adobe.com/after-effects/using/setting-selecting-deleting-keyframes.html#Whatarekeyframes