10 Lifesaving After Effects Shortcuts

After Effects August 7, 2019 4 min read

We all know that there is nothing more important than time. We are constantly running out of time and a lot of it has to do with our work. So, whenever we can shave a few seconds off of a task, we are basically stealing our lives back from the work machine.

Okay, maybe that’s a bit dramatic, but here are 10 time-saving keyboard shortcuts for After Effects that you’ll be glad to have in your back pocket.

1. Maximize Panel | MAC: ` | PC: `

After Effects is a complex program with lots of tabs and windows. It’s easy to get lost and it’s easy to run out of room on the screen for everything.

When you want to quickly maximize your space for one window, like the layer palette or the main comp window, nothing is quicker than hitting “`”. This is the key up on the far left corner of the keyboard next to the number 1. We aren’t talking about the apostrophe. Simply highlight the window you want to maximize and hit “`” to start living large.

2. Maximize After Effects | MAC: cmd+ | PC: ctrl+

Another quick way to spread out and maximize your space is with the “cmd+” or “”ctrl+”” shortcut. Hitting this little combo once will make your entire AE window fill the screen. Hit it again, to hide the top of the frame. Be aware that once you hide that top of the frame, your min/max buttons will go away. You’ll just need to hit “”cmd+”” or “”ctrl+”” one more time to get them back.

3. Center Layer In Comp | MAC: cmd+home | PC: ctrl+home

This is one of those “”Why didn’t they teach me that in school?”” shortcuts. Layers can end up all over the comp, and it can be a hassle to center them up. The “”cmd + home”” or “”ctrl+home”” combo will center your anchor point in the your composition. So, if your layer’s anchor point is centered (as it often is) this will center your layer in a snap.

4. Move Layers Up/Down In Stack | MAC: opt+cmd+up/down arrow | PC: alt+ctrl+up/down arrow

How your layers are stacked in AE is important. Layers above other layers will block out the ones below in most circumstances. So you often have to move layers up and down. But why click and drag over and over again? Just highlight the layer you want to move and hold down “”opt+cmd+up/down arrows”” or “”alt+ctrl+up/down arrows.”” Re-stacking layers just got a lot more fun. Well, it’s easier anyway.

5. Move Layer Back or Forward One Frame | MAC: opt+page up/down | PC: alt+page up/down

Why isn’t that layer turning on when you wanted it to? Oh, it’s one frame off! Now you have to zoom all the way in and drag the layer over one frame. What a pain! Or, simply highlight the layer and hit “”opt+page up/down”” or “”alt+page up/down”” to slide the little bugger over one frame in either direction. As is the case with many of these kinds of shortcuts, add “”shift”” to the mix to make the layer jump 10 frames instead. Now we’re hopping.

6. Move Keyframe Back or Forward One Frame | MAC: opt+left/right arrow | PC: alt+left/right arrow

So maybe it’s not the layer that’s slightly off, but it’s the keyframe that needs a gentle nudge. No problem. Just highlight the out of place keyframe and hold down “”opt+page up/down”” or
alt+page up/down”” to make it jump over by one. Again, adding in “”shift”” will bump the keyframe by 10 in either direction. Way better than doing math.

7. Set Work Area To Layer Length | MAC: cmd+opt+b | PC: ctrl+alt+b

When you are trying to focus on a specific part of the animation, you don’t want to RAM preview the whole comp. So, naturally you set up a work area. But you have to change it often as you work on different elements.

One great time-saver is “”cmd+opt+b”” or “”ctrl+alt+b.”” Highlighting a layer in your comp and pressing this secret combo will automatically set your work area to the length of that layer.

8. Replace Layer In Comp | MAC: cmd+opt+/ | PC: ctrl+alt+/

Layer replacement is super common. And also kind of a pain. Generally you have select the layer in the comp, plus the replacement layer in the project window. Then you have to hold down “”opt”” or “”alt”” as you drag one layer on top of the other, hoping to make a connection.

We all know that dragging is……well, a drag. So, skip that step with a little “”cmd+opt+/”” or “”ctrl+alt+/”” action. Boom, layer replaced. No drag. We call that flying.

9. Toggle Last Two Composition Views | MAC: esc PC: esc

Working with cameras adds a fun layer of dynamics to your project as well as more buttons and tabs to keep up with. There are several camera views available in the comp window like “”Active Camera””, “”Custom View””, “”Back””, etc. And consistently having to find the drop down to switch is time consuming. No need to interrupt your flow. When working with comps with cameras simply hit “”esc”” to toggle between the last two camera views used. Now that is easy like Sunday morning.

10. Split Comp Window and Lock One | MAC: cmd+opt+shift+n | PC: ctrl+alt+shift+n

Okay, this is the finger twister of shortcuts, but it’s super useful. Often times you need to make changes to a pre-comp, but you want to see the results in your main comp quickly. Seems hard. But it’s not. Simply highlight your main comp window and hold down “”cmd+opt+shift+n”” or “”ctrl+alt+shift+n”” and voila. Your main comp window locks and a new comp window opens next to it. Now load your pre-comp in that window and work your magic. You’ll see the changes in the main window right away.

Want a little more info on this one? Take a look at our tutorial:

These are just a few of the many great shortcuts that will save you a lot of hassle, many headaches, and perhaps even some relationships. Let us know what you are doing with all of your new-found free time in the comments below.