Learn the Basics of Animation in Adobe After Effects

After Effects January 23, 2020 5 min read

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: How to Animate in After Effects CC

Step 1: Get to Know the Interface

  1. Open After Effects.
  2. Close the default popup window if it appears.
  3. 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.
  4. 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).
After Effects Interface

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. 

Step 2: 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.

  1. Click on New Composition From Footage in the composition panel.
  2. Find your footage on your drive.
  3. Navigate to the folder containing the footage.
  4. Double-click on the desired footage. The footage will appear in the Project panel.
  5. Double-click in the blank space in the Project panel to open the import dialog.  
  6. Select an image with a transparency channel (the “alpha” channel in an RGBA image).  
  7. Double-click on the image. The image will appear in the Project panel.

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.

Step 3: Create Your First Animation

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. 

  1. Click on your footage and drag it to the render queue panel.
  2. Click and drag your transparent image and place it over the footage in the composition panel.
  3. Click and drag the image from the Images folder to the composition panel on top of the footage.
  4. Resize the image if necessary, using Command + Click.
  5. 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. 
  6. Move the blue vertical bar (the timeline indicator) to the beginning of the image.
  7. Click on the 100% next to Opacity and drag it to the left until it becomes 0%.  
  8. 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.
  9. Drag the blue vertical handle on the timeline forward a few seconds.
  10. 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. 
  11. 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 4: 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.

  1. 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.
  2. Click on composition, Add to Render Queue.
  3. Notice that the Timeline panel at the bottom of the screen becomes the render queue.
  4. Click on the word Lossless.
  5. In the Output Module Settings window, click Format Options.
  6. Click Video, select Apple ProRes 422, and click OK.
  7. Click OK again.
  8. In the Render Queue, under Output To click on the words Not yet specified.
  9. In the dialog box, specify the name of the file you wish to create.
  10. Click Save.
  11. In the Render Queue, click the Render button.
  12. When rendering is complete, you can view the movie you just created!
  13. If you run into any rendering issues, here are a few tips to get you back on track. 

Tip: Create Animations in After Effects Using Expressions

While keyframes are the most straightforward way to animate in After Effects, they aren’t the only way. If you’re comfortable with JavaScript, you can specify values on an object’s properties and relate properties with another using scripting language. While it’s a little more complicated to learn at first, you can use expressions to create extremely complex effects with powerful but easy-to-use code.

Part 2: Learn by Using After Effects Templates

Motion Array offers an extensive library of downloadable After Effects templates and presets. They’re easy to use, categorized by type, and can make your editing life a lot simpler. They’re also a great way for you to dive more deeply into the world of After Effects animation and learn how to create your own animations from scratch. Download one today, and significantly speed up your workflow!


In this tutorial, 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.