Adobe After Effects is the most widely used, versatile, and sophisticated software you’re likely to encounter in post-production editing. At first glance, After Effects can look complicated, but once you get comfortable with the interface and terminology, you’ll be creating stunning graphic effects in no time. Let’s dive right into creating your first After Effects animation. We’ll start by getting to know the interface!
Part 1: Get to Know the After Effects Interface
- Open After Effects.
- Close the default popup window if it appears.
- Arrange your workspace by clicking on Window > Workspace > Default. You can arrange your workspace in several convenient ways depending on your project, but for now, let’s stick to the default workspace view.
- After Effects is organized into panels, each of which has a specific role. In the Default workspace, you’ll see three panels. On the left is Project pane (similar to Finder on a Mac or File Manager on a PC). On the right is the Composition frame, and on the bottom is the Timeline (just like the timeline in Premiere or Final Cut Pro).
Tip: Get Familiar with After Effects Terminology
If you’ve used a non-linear editor such as Premiere Pro or Final Cut Pro before, some of the terminology of After Effects will probably be familiar to you. Here’s a list of the most commonly used terms:
- Keyframes – starting and ending points in time for effects.
- Layers – the building blocks of After Effects. Layers are stacked in the timeline.
- Property – value that can be adjusted or keyframed.
- Time Code – a specific point in time.
- Render – the process of creating a video file that can be played.
- Codec – the format that a file is rendered in.
- Alpha Channel – the transparent part of an image.
Tip: Organize Your Assets in After Effects Using Folders
To create a new folder, click on the folder icon in the Project panel. Name the folder. Drag your imported files into the folder. By organizing your assets into folders, they’ll be easier to locate when you’re trying to find them in After Effects.
Part 2: Create a Basic Fade Animation in After Effects
Step 1: Import Your Footage and Images
Start by importing your footage and images into After Effects. There are several ways to do this. You can click and drag your assets from the finder into your Project panel, or you can use the import dialog. We’re going to use the import dialog.
- Click on New Composition From Footage in the composition panel.
- Find your footage on your drive.
- Navigate to the folder containing the footage.
- Double-click on the desired footage. The footage will appear in the Project panel.
- Double-click in the blank space in the Project panel to open the import dialog.
- Select an image with a transparency channel (the “alpha” channel in an RGBA image).
- Double-click on the image. The image will appear in the Project panel.
Step 2: Create a Fade Animation Using Keyframes
Animation is change over time. You’ll create all your animations in After Effects by applying changes to effects over a period of time by using keyframes. We’re going to start by creating the most basic effect: a fade.
- Click on your footage and drag it to the render queue panel.
- Click and drag your transparent image and place it over the footage in the composition panel.
- Click and drag the image from the Images folder to the composition panel on top of the footage.
- Resize the image if necessary, using Command + Click.
- In the Timeline panel, click the Source Name of the image and press T on your keyboard. You’ll see a stopwatch appear under the image with the word Opacity next to it.
- Move the blue vertical bar (the timeline indicator) to the beginning of the image.
- Click on the 100% next to Opacity and drag it to the left until it becomes 0%.
- Next, it’s time to keyframe. Click on the stopwatch next to Opacity. Note the blue diamond next to it. This indicates you’ve set a keyframe for the opacity setting.
- Drag the blue vertical handle on the timeline forward a few seconds.
- Click on 0% in the Opacity setting and drag it to the right until the value becomes 100%. By changing a value that was previously keyframed, After Effects automatically creates a second keyframe and calculates the value of the effect over time according to the positions of the keyframes.
- To see the effect in action, move the blue vertical cursor to the beginning of the Timeline and press the space bar to play.
Step 3: Render Your Project
Rendering your project is the process of creating a file that can be viewed in a program other than After Effects. You’ll have a few options available when you render, and it’s important to choose the correct one. The format in which you render your movie is referred to as a codec. For now, we’ll choose a common codec, the Apple ProRes 422 codec.
- In the Project pane, highlight the composition you created. This isn’t the same as the footage or images, and it’s important to highlight it correctly, so you render the composition rather than the footage or image.
- Click on composition, Add to Render Queue.
- Notice that the Timeline panel at the bottom of the screen becomes the render queue.
- Click on the word Lossless.
- In the Output Module Settings window, click Format Options.
- Click Video, select Apple ProRes 422, and click OK.
- Click OK again.
- In the Render Queue, under Output To click on the words Not yet specified.
- In the dialog box, specify the name of the file you wish to create.
- Click Save.
- In the Render Queue, click the Render button.
- When rendering is complete, you can view the movie you just created!
- If you run into any rendering issues in After Effects, here are a few tips to get you back on track.
Tip: Create Animations in After Effects Using Expressions
Part 3: Basic Cartoon Animation in After Effects
There are three basic Cartoon Animation functions in After Effects, which can be combined as needed to create unique movements and styles. Before you get stuck into After Effects, however, you will need to do a little Illustrator work.
Setting Up Your Vector File
If you are a designer creating the elements you want to animate, you will be able to create separate layers for each graphic you wish to move independently. For editors using stock graphics, you will likely need to make some changes to your design file, but this will be dependent on how the design has been structured and what you want to achieve in the animation.
- Open your design file in Adobe Illustrator. Check the Layers Panel to see how the image is divided. If it is already in the separate Layers you need, jump straight to After Effects.
- Look through the Layers, using the Eye Icon to turn them on and off. It can help to label them at this point.
- Where items you want to move independently of one another are in a ‘Group’, click on the Group, and in the Layers Settings, select Release to Layers (Sequence); everything in the group will now be a Layer.
- Highlight all of the Layers you have just converted and drag them out of the enclosing folder. After Effects will only recognize elements that are on individual Layers in the main Layer Panel. Anything in a Group or Folder will be treated as a single layer in After Effects.
- Go through all of your new layers, and if needed, follow the process again to separate further.
- When you are happy, you have separated the image into as many layers as you need, Save the project and close Illustrator.
- Open After Effects and import your file, ensuring to choose Composition – Retain Layer Sizes.
Keyframes can be added to any layer in After Effects and used for various settings such as Rotation, Position, and Scale. Keyframes are essentially two (or more) points that you give a layer to instruct the element to move or transform between them.
- Select the Layer in the timeline that you wish to animate. In the Layer Settings, use the drop-down arrow to access the Transform tools.
- Place your Playhead on the timeline where you want the animation to begin, and click the Stopwatch icon in the settings.
- Move the Playhead to where you want the animation to end and change the value to create a second keyframe.
- Sometimes, the animation will not look how you expect it to; this is most likely due to where the Anchor Point is in the Layer. Go to the Pan Behind Tool and drag the Anchor Point to your desired location.
- Add keyframes for each element you wish to animate in this way. If you want to create a repetitive motion, check out the Expression section for a quick solution.
- You can also add a small ease to the animation rather than a sudden stop; Select the keyframes in the timeline and Right-Click > Ease Ease.
Expressions look complicated but are a lot of fun, and can save hours creating repetitive motion animations. We’re going to keep it simple and show you how to create a Looping PingPong Effect. If you want to learn more about Expressions, and the other codes you can use, check out our handy expressions tutorial.
- Create the keyframes as described above. In the Layer Settings, select the Value you have keyframed.
- Go to Animation > Add Expression. A text box will have appeared in the timeline, attached to the Keyframed Value.
- In the box, copy and paste the following code:
- The PingPong part of the code will tell After Effects to move back and forth between your keyframes, while the Loop Out factor tells it to do this for the layer’s duration in the timeline.
The Puppet Position tool allows you to add some dynamic motion to elements that are not on separate layers. It is important to mention this does not always work well and is mostly dependant on both your image and the movement you want to add. The Puppet Tool works by adding an invisible Mesh to your layer, and points from which to Warp that mesh.
- Select the layer in the Timeline that you wish to Puppet, then select the Puppet Tool.
- When you add a pin to your Layer, a Keyframe will automatically be created, so it is a good idea to position your Playhead on the timeline at the appropriate point. Press U on your keyboard at any time to see the keyframes on your Layer.
- Add as many pins as you need to your Puppet. Remember some pins will be great for movement, other pins will be essential to keep the rest of your image still.
- When you have added all of your pins and tested the motion, move your Playhead and create a second Keyframe by moving the appropriate pins.
- You can also add expressions to your Puppet Tool keyframes.
The final animation you can add to your composition is using After Effects effects and an adjustment layer. Using this method, you can add extra flourishes, such as Fog, Light Leaks, or Snow.
- Right-click in the timeline and select New > Adjustment Layer.
- Move the layer in the timeline, so it sits amongst your other layers where you want the effect to be shown.
- In the Effect Panel, search for your chosen adjustment and add it to your layer.
In this tutorial article, you’ve learned how to organize your After Effects interface, how to add videos and images to your project, and how to create effects using keyframes.
Making a stunning After Effects animation is easier than you might have imagined. By keyframing effects, you can adjust the properties of any element over time, and create high impact visual effects for your video projects in a snap.