How to Create Animated Arrows in After Effects

After Effects 18/10/2019 3 min read

Hey everyone, this is Owen with Motion Array and in this tutorial I’m going to show you how to animate arrows. Now, there are several ways to do this but the technique I’ll be using is new to After Effects 2018 and makes the process really easy. Alright, let’s get started.

I’ll begin by making a new composition. I’ll name it Arrow, make sure it’s HD, and then I’ll hit okay. Next I’m going to create a solid for my background. I’ll do that by going to Layer > New > Solid. In the solid settings I’ll name it “Background”, make sure it’s comp sized and then I’ll change the color to a light blue. Once I’ve got my color picked out, I’ll hit okay.

Now, making sure that my background layer is deselected, I’ll take my pen tool and I’ll draw a path that will be the shape of my arrow. When I finish drawing my path I’ll tweak the settings of the stroke width and color. Then I’ll turn off the fill. I’ll also change the layer name to “Arrow Path”. Now I need to twirl down my “Arrow Path” layer until I get to the path I drew out and highlight it. Then I’ll go over to the “Create Nulls From Paths” panel. If you don’t see that panel in your interface, you can pull it up by going to Window > Create Nulls From Paths. So inside that panel I’m going to hit the “Trace Path” button. When I do that, After Effects creates a new null and if I scrub through my timeline you’ll see that the null travels along my Arrow Path. Now if I go into the Effect Controls of the null you’ll it’s got an effect called Trace Path with two options. The first one is Progress and it’s a percentage from 0-100 that represents the position from start to finish on the path it’s tracing. By default After Effects creates two keyframes from 0-100% and that’s why when I scrub through my timeline you can see the null moving.

The second option is  Loop and it’s just a checkbox so you can turn it on or off. I’m going to turn it off. Then I’m going to pull up the keyframes on my null by hitting “U” on the keyboard. I’ll highlight both the keyframes and then I’ll right click on one and go to Keyframe Assistant > Easy Ease. Now I’m going to select my Arrow Path layer and go to Add button and select Trim Paths. Trim Paths allows you to control where your path starts and ends based on percentages. So I’m going to Option + Click on the stopwatch for End to add an expression. Then I’m going to grab the pick whip and drag it up to the Progress property on my Trace Path null. Now when I scrub through my timeline you’ll see that my path is drawing on at the same pace as the null is traveling.

All that’s left to do now is add in the arrowhead. To create that, I’ll to go to Layer > New > Shape Layer. Then I’ll go to the Add button and select Polystar. I’ll go to the Add button one more time and select Fill and then I’ll adjust the color a little bit. I’ll rename the layer “Arrowhead”. Then I’ll twirl down the Polystar path and change the type to Polygon and the points to 3. Now, while holding SHIFT, I’m going to parent the Arrowhead to the Trace Path Null. Because I’m holding shift while parenting, the arrowhead will inherit the position and scale of the Trace Path Null. As I scrub through the timeline now you can see that the arrowhead is in position and moving with the path. Now I just need to tweak the arrowhead a little bit. I’ll pull up the scale of the Arrowhead by hitting “S” on the keyboard while it’s selected. I’ll decrease the it’s scale so that it fits the width of the stroke better. Then I’ll pull up rotation with “R” and adjust the value so that it looks like it’s pointing in the right direction. With that done, my arrow is complete and ready for anything.

Well, that does it for this tutorial. I hope you guys found it helpful, if you did, there’s plenty more tutorials over at here at Motion Array.  We’ve got lots of other tutorials for Premiere Pro, After Effects, and filmmaking in general!