How to Cut Clips in After Effects

After Effects 28/09/2021 4 min read

Editing in After Effects can be a challenge, and with good reason as it’s not strictly an editing platform. After Effects is a powerful animation toolkit that can allow you to create some incredible effects, but it isn’t built for speedy clip editing. In most cases, the editing portion of your project will be completed in Premiere Pro, but it is still important to know how to trim and split your clips in Adobe AE.

In this tutorial, we show you how to go about cutting and trimming your clips for the most effective workflow! Let’s get started!

Part 1: How to Cut Your Layers in After Effects

The first thing to note is that splitting and trimming your layers in AE is the same no matter the media content you are working with. These cutting techniques will allow you to edit video clips, photos, royalty free music, audio, and AE-built shapes and solids. Let’s jump in.

Split Clips

Unlike other editing software, AE divides your Timeline into layers, and even if clips play directly one after the other, you can’t have more than one clip on a Layer. When you split a clip, AE will divide your single layer into two.

  1. Import a clip by going to File > Import > File or hitting Cmd+I or Ctrl+I on the Keyboard.
  2. Select your clips and hit Open. Your clips will appear in the project browser.
  3. To create a new composition, drag one of your clips to the New Comp icon in the Layer panel, or right-click the clip and choose New Comp…
  4. Position your playhead to where you want to split the layer. You can move the playhead one frame at a time using Page Up/Down or Cmd+Left Arrow & Cmd+Right Arrow if you don’t have a full keyboard.
  5. To split the layer, go to Edit > Split Layer (Cmd+Shift+D or Ctrl+Shift+D on your keyboard).

Trim Layers

Trimming your layers is the process of cutting the beginning or end of your clip; this is common practice with most editing. There are two ways to trim your Layers in After Effects, but we’d encourage you to memorize the Hotkeys, as it’s one of the most frequently used AE shortcuts.

  1. Import your clip and either create a new composition or drag it to an existing timeline.
  2. To make small trims to the start or end of the layer, grab the ends of the clip and drag them along the timeline.  
  3. You can also use the shortcuts to trim your layer to the playhead. Use Alt+[ or Option+[ for the start of the clip, and Alt+] or Option+] for the end of your clip.

Quickly Cut a Section from a Clip

To remove a section of your clip in any other edit software, you would most likely use a blade tool to cut out the section and delete it. With After Effects, there are a couple more steps, which is where the Trim shortcut is helpful.

  1. Add your clip to the timeline, then select it in the Layers panel.
  2. Duplicate your layer by pressing Cmd+D or Ctrl+D on your keyboard.
  3. Move your playhead to where the section you want to cut out begins.
  4. Select the bottom of the 2 layers and press Cmd+] or Ctrl+].
  5. Position the playhead on the end of the section you want to remove and select the top of the 2 layers.
  6. Press Cmd+[ or Ctrl+[ on your keyboard to trim the start.
  7. Drag the top layer along the timeline until it meets the first, and the section is removed.

Trim and Split Multiple Clips

You can also Trim and Split multiple Clips in your Timeline at the same time. It’s important to remember when editing multiple clips, all the layers you’ve selected will be affected, so make sure you pay close attention to the clips you select.

  1. Add your clips to the timeline and position as required.
  2. To select multiple layers stacked together, hold down Shift and select the top and bottom of the layers stack in the Layer panel.
  3. To select multiple clips that are not stacked together, hold down Cmd and select the layers required in the Layer panel.
  4. You can now use either of the trimming or splitting Methods to edit all selected clips.

Part 2: Top 3 Tips for Editing in After Effects

After Effects is a little clunky for straightforward footage editing, and you should always try and minimize how much editing you do on the platform. However, there are some things you can do to make your clip editing a little easier.

Use Premiere Pro Dynamic Linking

If you are working with a lot of stock video that needs editing before applying effects or animation, it is often best to start in Premiere Pro. After Effects and Premiere Pro work hand in hand using a dynamic linking system. You can edit your clips in Premiere and use them in After Effects without the need for exporting. 

If you don’t have Premiere Pro or don’t want to use dynamic linking, using an editing platform to sort and rough cut your clips can save you a lot of time and energy using After Effects limited linear editing tools.

Naming Layers

It may sound like a straightforward step, but it is often missed as editors want to jump straight into creating. Correctly labeling your layers can help with your project organization; you’ll be able to find and adjust the right layers faster and manipulate multiple layers simultaneously. 

Project organization is essential in any editing platform, but especially in After Effects. If you want to rename a layer quickly, just select it in the Layer panel and hit Return.

Use Layer Locks and Compound Clips

One problem with editing clips in After Effects is that you can easily mess up your composition by selecting or moving the wrong layer. While naming your layers can help avoid these issues, locking them can freeze your clips and sequences in position.

Once you have edited your sequence, hit the padlock icon in the Layers Panel to lock the Layer; you won’t be able to move it, cut it, or add effects until you unlock it again.

Occasionally you’ll have a lot of Layers in your timeline, which can be challenging to navigate. Once you have cut your footage and ordered it in the timeline, select all of your clips and press Cmd+Shift+C or Ctrl+Shift+C. The compound clip will condense all of your layers to a single layer in your timeline. If you double-click the compound clip, a new timeline will open with all your editing still accessible.

Splitting and trimming your layers is a vital skill for any After Effects user, and once you’ve mastered the hotkeys, you’ll be slicing and splicing quicker than ever. Now you know the basics, why not check out our vast range of After Effects tutorials.