After Effects Tutorial: Learn the Basics

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By Phil Ebiner for Udemy

Interested in more than a guide? Check out Phil’s complete After Effects course.

Note: This post is part of our “Getting Started” series of free text tutorials on some of our most popular course topics.

To jump to a specific section, click the table of contents below:

Getting Started

Program Layout
Starting a New Composition
Importing Footage
The Timeline
Video Playback in After Effects

Basic Tools

Selection
Hand
Zoom
Rotate
Pan Behind
Shape
Pen
Text

Adjusting Layers

Layer Transformations
Position
Scale
Rotation
Opacity
Understanding the Anchor Point

Animations

What are keyframes?
How to set keyframes
Position Animation
Opacity Animations
Scale Animations
Rotation Animations
Easy Ease

Shape Layers

Creating New Shapes
Creating Custom Shapes with the Pen Tool
Editing Stroke and Fill

Working with Effects

Adding Effects to a Layer
Text Preset Animations
Radial and Linear Wipe Effects
Color Correction in After Effects

3D in After Effects

Enabling 3D to Layers
Adding a Camera Layer
Moving Objects in 3D Space
Editing a 3D Camera Move

Intermediate and Advanced Techniques

Adding Motion Blur
Using the Graph Editor
Precomposing
Adding Trim Paths to Shape Layers
Green Screen in After Effects
Stretching and Reverse Time
Creating Freeze Frames

Exporting from After Effects

How to Export your Video
Exporting Best Quality for Online Playback
Exporting with a Transparent Background


Adding motion graphics and visual effects to your videos will dramatically improve their quality. Viewers will find your videos more engaging and professional. Adobe After Effects is a powerful application that can create Hollywood-style effects and super clean motion graphics titles and animations. With this tutorial, you’ll have a complete understanding of how to use After Effects and start improving your own videos in no time.

Getting Started

If you’ve ever opened up Adobe After Effects, you might have felt intimidated by all of the buttons and windows. Let’s cover the basics so that you understand how to navigate the application. Then we’ll jump into more intermediate and advanced techniques. This tutorial uses the latest version of After Effects Creative Cloud, so it will be easiest if you are using the same version. However, you can still use an older version like CS6, CS5, or CS4. The program layout might just look a little different.

Program Layout

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Starting from the top, you have your file menus. Here you can access anything you’d need to do with a project such as changing preferences, adding new compositions (a composition is basically a separate timeline for a new video), adding effects, changing the windows and layouts, and much more.

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Right below the top menus is a bar with all of the tools used to create objects. Later on in this tutorial, you’ll learn how to use the most important ones.

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Below the tools on the left are two windows (aka panels): the project panel, which contains any imported footage, graphics, or compositions; and the effects controls panel, which is where you would adjust effects added to your video layers.

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In the middle is your composition window. This is where you see the video you are working on. There are a lot of buttons at the bottom of this window. The two to keep in mind are the one with the percentage showing and the one that says ‘Full.’ The percentage drop-down menu changes the size of the video playback box. Most often, you’ll want to keep it at ‘Fit up to 100%.’ The ‘Full’ drop-down menu changes the quality of the playback. If your computer is having trouble rendering out your composition, decrease the quality to improve playback speed.

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On the right are panels for Effects & Presets, Character, and Paragraph. You’ll find all sorts of effects in the Effects & Presets panel that do everything from color correction to chromakeying. The Character and Paragraph panels adjust text like any standard text editor.

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At the bottom of the program are your composition timelines. This is where you’ll be adding layers (text, shapes, video, etc.) and actually putting together your video. There are lots of buttons that will be covered throughout this course. Behind that panel is the Render Queue, which is used for exporting videos.

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The best thing to do to learn how After Effects works is to play around with it. Hover your mouse over any of the buttons to see what it does. Go to the Window menu to change what panels you see or don’t see. Throughout this tutorial, you’ll be learning a ton of new information. By the end, you’ll be comfortable navigating the After Effects program.

Starting a New Composition

The first thing you’ll want to do when using After Effects is create a composition. There are a few ways to do this.

  1. Go up to the Composition menu and select New Composition.
  2. Press Command-N on your keyboard (if you’re using a Mac), or Control-N (if you’re using a PC. From now on, if you see Command, know that you press Control if you are using a PC).
  3. Click the New Composition button on the bottom of the Project panel.

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Once you do any of these things, a Composition Settings window will pop up. This is where you can choose the settings for your video.

Choose a Composition Name.

Change the Width and Height to match your desired settings. Typically, 1920 px width and 1080 px height is good for HD playback.

Choose a Frame Rate. Popular ones are 23.976 and 29.97. Choose the frame rate that matches the video that you shot and are adding graphics to. For example, if you shot your video at 59.94 frame rate, choose the 59.94 frame rate for your After Effects composition. If you don’t know what to choose, start with the 29.97.

The last important setting is Duration. This is how long your composition is and can be changed later.

Click OK, and your new composition will appear in the Project panel and a new timeline will open.

Importing Footage

While many of the things you will do with After Effects are done within the application (creating titles, shapes, animations), there are also many things you can do by importing your own footage (color correction, green screen, visual effects, slow motion, etc.).

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To import video, photos, or graphics to After Effects, simply drag and drop the items from your Finder/Documents into the Project panel. Otherwise, you can hit Command-I on your keyboard, or go to the File menu and select Import – File.

The Timeline

The Timeline is where you’ll be doing a lot of work, so it is good to look a little more closely at how it works. In this example, add a new Solid to your timeline by going to the Layer menu and selecting New – Solid. Select the desired color and click OK.

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A new item has appeared in the timeline. From left to right, you’ll see a variety of options that affect this layer. The eyeball turns on and off the layer visibility. If the layer has sound (i.e., an imported video clip with audio), the speaker button turns on and off the audio for this layer. The solo circle button turns off all other layers if you want to focus on only one particular layer. The lock button disables and enables editing of this layer.

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The triangle to the right of the lock button drops down more options, which will be covered in the Adjusting Layers section. The color of the layer can be changed by selecting a different label color. The # identifies the order of layers in composition, which can be helpful when creating compositions with lots of layers. The Layer Name / Source Name shows the original file name or a new name that you can create for each layer.

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To the right of the Layer Name are more advanced options, some which we’ll cover later. If you click the Toggle Switches / Modes button at the bottom of the timeline, you’ll notice that even more options pop up.

To the right of all these options is the actual timeline. Depending on the label color of your layer, you’ll see a colored bar. On top of the bar are numbers that represent the time of your composition. There are two gray bars with blue caps. The top one can be used to zoom in and out of the timeline by clicking and dragging one of the blue caps. The bottom one can be used to change the Work Area of your composition. The Work Area is the portion of the composition you are making adjustments to. When you are working on a specific part of the composition, it may help to decrease the Work Area to just that moment so when you play back your video, you can focus on just that moment.

Video Playback in After Effects

Playing through your composition can be tricky in After Effects. By simply clicking the space bar (which typically plays through video in a video editing application), After Effects will try to play through your video. But if you’ve added a lot of layers and effects, it will have a hard time playing through the entire Work Area smoothly.

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After Effects needs to render the Work Area before it can play it smoothly. To do this, click the the number 0 on your keyboard number pad (the number pad to the right of the letters and arrows, not above the letters) or press Control-0 on your keyboard (if you have a smaller keyboard without the number pad). This will render out the entire Work Area of your composition and play through it.

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Notice that the playback will loop until you stop it by pressing the space bar.

Basic Tools

Now that you are more comfortable with navigating After Effects, you’ll need to know all of the tools you have at your disposal. Choose each tool by clicking on the tool’s button just below the top menus.

Selection

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The Selection tool is the basic tool you’ll be doing 90% of the work with. This tool allows you to select layers and move them around. This is also the tool you’ll want to go back to when navigating around After Effects. It is the tool that allows you to select options and click buttons.

Hand

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The Hand tool moves the composition window within the Composition panel. You would use this if you were zoomed into a specific part of the composition, and needed to move the actual playback window (and not the layers inside the composition).

Zoom

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The Zoom tool does just that: zooms in and out of the composition window. Zoom in by clicking in the Composition panel. Zoom out by holding the option/alt key down and clicking.

Rotate

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The Rotate tool actually rotates the objects within your composition. For example, if you have a shape that needs to be rotated, you can use the Rotate tool to do so. Just click and drag it left or right. Make sure you have selected the right layer in the timeline before doing so.

Pan Behind (Anchor Point)

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The Pan Behind tool is a very important one. You’ll learn more about anchor points in the next section. For now, know that this tool moves the anchor point of a layer.

Shape

image02The Shape tool allows you to create new shapes (Rectangle, Rounded Rectangle, Ellipse, Polygon, and Star) and also allows you to create masks. Create new shapes by de-selecting any layer in the timeline, then clicking and dragging in the composition window. Create a mask by selecting a layer in the timeline that you want to create a mask of, and clicking and dragging.

Clicking and holding down on the Shape tool button allows you to select the different kind of Shape tool you want.

Pen

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The Pen tool allows you to create custom shapes and masks. Similar to the Shape tool, select or de-select layers in the timeline to either create a new shape or a layer mask. Click in the Composition panel to start your new shape. Click again to create the new points of your shape. Then complete the shape or mask by clicking on the very first point. You can also click-drag to create curved shapes.

Text

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The Text tool is for create new titles or text boxes. Simply click in the Composition panel then start typing to create standard text. To create a text box, click and drag with the Text tool. To adjust the text, use the Character and Paragraph panels to change font, font style, size, alignment, stroke, width, height, kerning, leading, and anything else that has to do with text.

Adjusting Layers

As you learned before, adding new layers to your composition is as simple as creating a new shape or text box. You can also create a new layer by dragging an object (image, video clip, music clip, graphic, etc.) from the Project panel onto the timeline or directly onto the Composition window.

Layer Transformations

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With every type of layer, there are options for transforming it. Aside from audio-only layers, each layer will have position, scale, rotation, anchor point and opacity options. Get to these options by clicking the triangle to the left of the Layer Name in the timeline. This drops down a new menu that says Transform. Dive deeper into that menu by clicking the triangle next to Transform.

Position

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The Position of each layer is represented by two numbers: one that represents the x axis (left to right) and the other represents the y axis (up and down). Move the layer around by clicking and dragging these numbers to the left or right. You can also move the object by simply selecting it in the Composition window with the Selection tool and moving it around. You’ll notice that the Position numbers change as you move it around. You can also click the number and type in a specific number to move the layer to an exact point.

The keyboard shortcut for bringing up the Position transformation property is ‘P’.

Scale

Scale changes the size of a layer. You’ll notice that there are two numbers with a little chain-linked icon. These are the horizontal and vertical scale properties. Typically, you’ll just click either number and drag it to the left to decrease the scale or to the right to increase the scale. You can also click and enter a number of your own.

If you want to adjust the height or width without affecting the other, click the chain-linked icon to unlink the height and width properties. Then adjust the height or width individually.

Realize that if you increase layers significantly, they will start to get pixelated. This depends on the type of layer you are adjusting. Text layers and shape layers created within After Effects won’t be pixelated, but photos and videos that you import will.

The keyboard shortcut for bringing up the Scale transformation property is ‘S’.

Rotation

Rotation rotates the layer. You will see the number 0x+0.0º when rotating a new layer that hasn’t been rotated before. The 0x refers to the number of times it has been rotated 360º. The 0.0º refers to the number of degrees that the object has been rotated. You can rotate positively or negatively. And as always, you can adjust the rotating by clicking and dragging the number to the left or right, or entering your own number.

The keyboard shortcut for bringing up the Rotation transformation property is ‘R’.

Opacity

Opacity is the transparency of a layer. More opacity means it will be less transparent. 100% opacity means the object is completely non-transparent (i.e., can’t be seen through). Click and drag the percentage to the left or right to adjust the opacity, or enter your own number.

The keyboard shortcut for bringing up the Opacity transformation property is ‘T’.

Anchor Point

The Anchor Point of an object is the point of a layer that all properties are anchored to (i.e., adjustments to a layer’s properties change depending on where the anchor point is). The best way to understand this is to move the anchor point by changing the transformation properties, then try rotating or scaling the object. You’ll notice that if the anchor point is at the bottom of a layer, the object will scale up or down from the bottom. If it is in the middle of a layer, the object will scale up or down from the middle.

The easiest way to move the anchor point is to use the Pan Behind tool. Select that tool from the toolbar, and then click and drag the anchor point of an object, which looks like a circle with four lines coming out from it.

You can adjust the anchor point from the transformation properties of the layer, but you’ll notice that doing this moves the layer within your composition, which is something you might not want to happen.

The keyboard shortcut for bringing up the Anchor Point transformation property is ‘A’.

Animations

The real magic of After Effects begins with animating keyframes. This is how you’ll create title cards that fly in and out of the screen, shapes that move around, and all sorts motion graphics.

What are keyframes?

A keyframe is a point in time that defines how a particular layer looks. For example, a keyframe can say that at one second, the object is at 0% opacity. A second keyframe can say at two seconds, the object is at 100% opacity. From one second to two seconds, the object changes from 0% opacity to 100% opacity. This is how you would fade an object into the composition.
In After Effects, you can create keyframe animations for almost anything, from position and scale to rotation and effects.

How to set keyframes

Set a keyframe by moving the Current Time Indicator (the timeline marker that shows where you are on the timeline) to the desired time, opening up a transformation property such as position, and clicking the stopwatch icon next to that property.

A diamond appears on the timeline at that spot. To create a new keyframe, first move the Current Time Indicator to a different time. Then adjust that property (so if it was a position that you already set a keyframe for, change the position of the layer). Just by adjusting that property, a new keyframe will appear.

If you want to set a keyframe without adjusting the property, click the keyframe diamond button on the far left of the layer property.

Delete keyframes by selecting them with the Selection tool and pressing delete on the keyboard. You can select and delete multiple keyframes at once.

You can also move keyframes on the timeline by clicking and dragging left or right with the Selection tool.

Lastly, if you have keyframes on multiple layers and multiple properties, a quick way to view all of the keyframes you’ve added to a composition is to press the keyboard shortcut ‘U’. This will show or hide all of the keyframes you’ve added.

To visualize and learn how keyframes can work even better, let’s run through some basic examples.

Position Animation

A position animation is a change in place of a layer. This can be a movement within the composition window. It can also be movement from outside of the composition onto it.

This example shows how text can be set to fly onto the screen with a position animation.

Opacity Animations

An opacity animation is basically a fade. You can fade a layer completely on or off, or partially. A practical example of this might be to fade a solid layer partially over an image. The example shows how a dark blue solid fades on from 0% opacity to 50% opacity over two seconds.

Scale Animations

A scale animation is basically a change in size. In this example, the ball increases from 0% to 150% and back down to 100%. A keyframe of 0% is set at 0:00, 150% at 01:00, and 100% at 2:00.

Again, all you have to do is move the Current Time Indicator to the time in the timeline, open the position property by dropping down the Transform menu of the circle layer or pressing S on the keyboard. Then click the stopwatch to set your first keyframe. The next keyframes will automatically be set if you move the Current Time Indicator to a new spot in the timeline and then change the Scale property.

Rotation Animations

Rotation animations are great for adding quality to your motion graphics. Combining rotation animations with a scale animation can be a great way to introduce an object to the viewer.

This example shows how a square that is scaling from 0% to 100% can look interesting with a rotation animation from -90º to 0º over one second.

Easy Ease

After Effects automatically adjusts the timing of the an animation linearly. What this means is that from the beginning of the animation to the end of the animation, the object is transforming at the same rate. So if you have a scale animation from 0% to 100% over 10 seconds, the object is scaling up just as fast between seconds 1-3 as it is from seconds 7-9.

Easy ease is a good way to improve the look of an animation. What is does is ramps up and down the speed of the animation in a more natural way. The rate of the beginning of the animation from the first keyframe slowly ramps up and peaks at the midpoint between the two keyframes. Then the rate decreases as it reaches the end of the animation at the last keyframe.

Think of someone driving a car between two stop signs. The two stop signs represent two keyframes. The car doesn’t start at 30 miles per hour. The car starts at 0 miles per hour, ramps up to 30 miles per hour, then slows down as it reach the second stop sign. That is basically how easy ease works with keyframes.

Quickly add easy ease to a keyframe by selecting the keyframe and pressing F9 on the keyboard. You can also add easy ease by right-clicking the keyframe(s), and selecting Keyframe Assistant – Easy Ease.

In the advanced section, you’ll learn how to customize the speed of keyframes using the graph editor.

Shape Layers

If there is one thing you should spend a lot of time practicing, it is using shape layers. Shape layers are the backbone of many motion graphics, from simple lower thirds titles to advanced character animations. You already learned about the shape tool. Now you’ll learn how to use the tool more efficiently and effectively.

Creating New Shapes

As you know, shape layers are created with the shape tool. Choose either the rectangle, ellipse, or other shapes to create basic circles and rectangles. Simply clicking and dragging will create a new shape.

To create a perfect square or circle, click and drag while holding the shift key.

Hold option/alt + shift after clicking and dragging to create a perfect square or circle from its center.

When you create a new shape layer, look at the layer in the timeline. Along with the Transform properties of a layer, shapes also have a Contents menu. Underneath the Contents is the shape that you just created. You can create multiple shapes within this layer by continuing to use the shape or pen tool to create shapes while that shape layer is selected. To create a new shape in a new layer, de-select all layers in the timeline and create a new shape the way you did with the first one.

Creating multiple shapes in one layer is a great way to have a clean timeline. It’s easier to manage a composition with fewer layers.

Access more options for each shape by going into the shape’s dropdown menu under Contents. There are options for the shape’s path, stroke, fill, and individual transform properties. So while the Transform properties of the overarching shape layer affect everything in that shape layer, the individual Transform properties of the different shapes only affect specific shapes. There are also more options, such as Skew and Skew Axis.

Creating Custom Shapes with the Pen Tool

It’s very easy to create custom shapes right within After Effects with the pen tool. Select the pen tool and create a shape’s points by clicking in the Composition panel. These points are also called vertexes. Holding the pen tool button will give you tools to add or delete these points.

The Convert Vertex tool allows you to change a straight point into a curved point with a simple mouse click.

Notice that if you click and drag while creating a new vertex, the shape become curved. From each vertex are two lines. Clicking and dragging the ends of these lines change how the curve looks. If you don’t see the two lines, click the vertex with the pen tool.

You can also delete these points by selecting them and pressing the delete button on your keyboard.

Editing Stroke and Fill

Each shape has a stroke and a fill. The fill is the color within the edges of the shape. The stroke is the line surrounding the shape. The stroke is automatically set to 0 pixels wide, which means that you can’t see a stroke.

Adjust the stroke and fill properties from the shapes’ drop-down menu or from the options that appear above the Composition window. Click the colored box next to the word Fill to change the color of your shape. Click the colored outline next to the word Stroke to change the color of the stroke. Increase or decrease the size of the stroke by changing the pixel width to the right of the stroke color options.

You can also delete the fill entirely by clicking the word Fill and either changing the opacity to 0% or changing from Solid Color to None (selecting the white rectangle with the red line through it). There are also options for linear and radial gradients.

Note that even the stroke and fill properties can be animated with keyframes on the timeline.

Combining custom shapes and animating individual shape properties can result in some really cool motion graphics.

Working with Effects

Up until now, you’ve mostly learned how to create After Effects compositions filled with shapes and text. The Effects & Presets panel is where you’ll find hundreds of effects that can manipulate your video in an infinite number of ways. Before diving into specific effects, take a minute to browse through some of the effects. While it would be impossible to go through every single effect in this tutorial in a manageable way, the best way to learn is to add the effects to your own video and see what they do.

Adding Effects to a Layer

To add an effect to a layer, just drag and drop the effect from the Effects & Presets panel directly onto the layer in the timeline, onto the layer in the Composition window, or into the Effects Controls panel (as long as the layer you want to affect is selected). However you add an effect to a layer, you’ll notice that in the Effects Controls panel are options for adjusting these effects.

Notice that next to many of these options, a stopwatch icon appears. This means, as you probably know by now, that these effects are keyframe-able.

Animations Presets

While most of the effects in the Effects & Presets panel are static effects that have to be animated, there are preset effects that do specific things. These can be found under the Animation Presets folder. In the folder, you’ll find everything from backgrounds to transitions.

Text Animation Presets

In the Animation Presets folder is a Text folder with hundreds of unique text-based animations. These can only be added to text layers. They are great for creating unique kinetic typography motion graphics.

Some of these text presets add motion to text throughout the entire composition. Others only add the effect for a specific time range. Once you add the effect to a text layer, you might notice keyframes added as well. Press U on the keyboard to bring up any keyframes added to that layer. You can then adjust the speed and timing of this effect by moving the keyframes around.

To get started, use effects in the Animate In and Animate Out folders. These are great effects for introducing and exiting text.

Radial and Linear Wipe Effects

Some great effects that can add a cool transition to your layers are the radial and linear wipe effects. These can be found in the Transition folder or by typing in the effect name in the search box at the top of the Effects & Presets panel.

With either effect, there is a Transition Completion percentage. Set a keyframes at 0% and 100% to create a transition. Then add feathering to soften the edge of the transition.

Color Correction in After Effects

In the Color Correction folder, you’ll find a lot of great effects for color correction and color grading. The basic ones to use are Brightness & Contrast, Curves, Hue/Saturation, and Photo Filter.

Brightness & Contrast does just what it says it does: increases or decreases the brightness/contrast of your layer. Increasing contrast makes the darks of your layer darker and brights of your layer brighter. For video, this can make it pop more and look better. Or you may want a very flat, non-contrasted image. This can be done by decreasing the contrast.

Curves allows you to increase contrast like you would in Photoshop or another editing tool. Click and drag the line in the Curves effect to change the brightness and contrast of your layer.

Hue/Saturation is good for increasing/decreasing the color vibrance or your image. You can make a layer monochromatic (black and white) by setting the saturation to 0. You can also correct the white balance by adjusting the Master Hue.

The Photo Filter effect is familiar to you if you’ve edited photos in Photoshop. This filter has several warming and cooling filters that can change how your image feels.

3D in After Effects

With After Effects, you can create three-dimensional scenes. You can then place a virtual camera within that scene and move the camera, creating different kinds of shots: zooms, pans, tilts, focus racks.

Enabling 3D in Layers

To enable 3D editing of layers, go to the layer and click the check box beneath the three-dimensional cube. As soon as you do this, you’ll notice additional transform properties that appear, including x and y axis rotations, and a third number in the Position property. This number is the layer’s position on the z axis.

Moving Objects in 3D Space

Edit the 3D position and rotation as you would normally edit any transform properties. Editing the Z position of a layer will move the layer forwards and backwards in space. Placing layers in front and behind each other this way can create a very cool scene.

In the Composition panel, change from Active Camera to any of the other views to see how the layers align in 3D space. Next to that menu is the Views menu. Change from 1 view to 2 or 4 views to see multiple camera angles at one time.

Adding a Camera Layer

Moving layers in 3D space is great, but it really looks amazing with a new camera layer. Add a new camera to your composition from the Layer – New menu. A window will pop up with different lens and camera options. Stick with the 50mm preset when starting out. Click OK. A new camera layer will be added to your timeline.

The camera layer has multiple Transform properties like rotation and position. It also has a Point of Interest property that acts as if you were panning or tilting your camera.

Along with the Transform properties is a Camera Options drop-down. Turn on Depth of Field and play with the Aperture and Focus Distance to get a shallow depth of field. This means that some of the layers in your sequence are in focus while others aren’t. This is a more cinematic look.

Editing a 3D Camera Move

All of the camera’s properties can be animated with keyframes. To create simple dolly in move, set a keyframe animation for the Z position.

To create a tilt up move, set a keyframe animation for the Point of Interest.

Intermediate and Advanced Techniques

The following tips will make your After Effects work look more professional, and will give you more skills to handle different types of projects.

Adding Motion Blur

Wave your hand in front of your face and the motion of your hand isn’t crisp. That is natural motion. In After Effects, a quick way to make the motion of your animations look more natural is to add motion blur. Enable motion blur for individual layers by clicking the box underneath the Motion Blur icon (the three overlapping circles). Then click the Motion Blur button at the top of the timeline to actually enable motion blur for that composition. Notice the difference between a shape moving across the screen with motion blur and one without. There are times when you won’t want to add motion blur, but for most animations it looks better with it enabled.

Using the Graph Editor

The Graph Editor is a way to customize the speed of keyframe animations. Just like we learned about how easy ease can make the motion more natural, using the Graph Editor can take it to the next level.

Once you’ve added keyframes to a layer and added easy ease to any of those keyframes, select the keyframes with the Selection tool, and then click the Graph Editor button. (It is right next to the Motion Blur button at the top of the timeline). The timeline changes to a graph. This graph represents the speed of the animated keyframes.

Make sure that you are viewing the Speed Graph and not the Value Graph. Change the view by clicking the button next to the eyeball icon.

Click on one of the squares (these squares represent the keyframes). A yellow line with a circle now extends from each keyframe. Click and drag that circle to the left or right to adjust the speed of the easy ease. For example, by extending that line, you can have the animation slowly ramp into or out of a key frame.

By playing with the speed of animations with the graph editor, you can make animations look more natural or unnatural, depending on what you’re going for.

Pre-composing

Once you’re creating a complex After Effects composition, your timeline will be filled with so many layers that you won’t know what to do with them all. One way to clean up a composition is through precomposing. This is basically grouping layers together. If you’ve used Premiere Pro to edit, this is similar to nesting.

To pre-compose multiple layers, select them in your timeline. Select multiple layers by command-clicking all the layers you want. Then right-click any of the selected layers and click Pre-Compose. You can rename this new composition. Make sure ‘Move all attributes into the new composition’ is selected. Then click OK. The original layers will disappear from the timeline, and a new Pre-comp will replace them.

This Pre-comp has all of the Transform properties of a normal layer.

You can edit the contents within the nested Pre-comp by double-clicking that layer or by opening the Pre-comp from the Project panel (there will be a new Pre-comp composition in the Project window after you create it).

Other reasons you would pre-compose layers is if you need to use that set of layers multiple times. For example, you can pre-compose a title graphic and put it in many compositions.

Adding Trim Paths to Shape Layers

A very useful trick to play with is Trim Paths. Trim Paths is an option that you can add to any shape layer. With any shape layer’s drop-down opened, click the Add button and choose Trim Paths. Notice that there are a variety of options you can apply to a shape layer from this menu.

Once you’ve added Trim Paths, a new menu will appear in the Contents drop-down. Open the Trim Paths menu and you’ll see Start, End, and Offset percentages. Adjusting these percentages is a way to draw on or erase a shape layer. This looks particularly good if the shape layer has no fill and just a stroke.

Look at this example of how an intricate shape is drawn on using a keyframe animation to the layer’s Trim Paths.

Green Screen in After Effects

Editing green screen video in After Effects is very powerful. The Keying effect Keylight (1.2) is a quick way to chromakey any green screen video. Just add the effect to your desired video clip. Choose the screen color (the green background) by selecting it with the eyedropper tool. Then adjust Screen Gain and Balance to perfect the chromakeying.

Stretching and Reverse Time

You can easily play with time in After Effects using the Time Stretch and Time Reverse Layer effect. Apply these effects by right-clicking the layer and then going to Time.

Time-Reverse Layer will reverse the speed of your layer.

Time Stretch will allow you to slow down or speed up the video. Adjust the Stretch Factor to do so. Increasing the percentage will speed up the footage, while decreasing will slow it down.

Creating Freeze Frames

It’s also easy to create a freeze frame in After Effects. In the same Time menu where you found the previous two effects is a Freeze Frame effect. Just place your Current Time Indicator to the desired frozen frame. Then right-click, and go to Time – Freeze Frame.

Exporting from After Effects

Once you’ve finished creating your video in After Effects, it is time to export it for the world to see. Let’s cover the basics of exporting your composition from After Effects.

How to Export your Video

With the desired composition timeline open, go to the Composition menu and select Add to Render Queue. The render queue panel will open. The two things you need to pay attention to are Output Module and Output To.

Output Module is where you change the settings of your export. Click the Lossless text to open up the export settings. Here is where you can change the size and format options. Once you are happy with your settings, click OK.

Output To is where you change the destination of the export. Clicking on the composition name will open up your file structure where you can choose the location of your final export.

When you are ready to export, click the Render button on the top right of the Render Queue panel.

Exporting Best Quality for Online Playback

To export with the best quality for online playback, next to Output Module click the downwards-facing triangle. This brings up a menu with a variety of presets. Choose H264. H264 is a high-quality Quicktime format with small file sizes. If your composition is the right size (1920 x 1080 for HD playback), you are ready to render it.

To double-check the settings, click the H264 text that appears on the right. You’ll see that the Format is Quicktime. Under Format Options, the Spatial Quality is set to 100. If you want to resize the video to be smaller or larger, you can do so by clicking the Resize button and choosing a new size. When you’re happy with the size, click OK and then Render.

Exporting with a Transparent Background

A common issue that After Effects users need to figure out is how to export with a transparent background. For example, you created a lower thirds title that you want to export and use in a Premiere Pro project. If you export using the methods explained above, the background will be black.

To export with a transparent background, make sure that the Output Module is set to Lossless. Then click Lossless to bring up the export settings. Where it says Channels, change it from RGB to RGB + Alpha. This is the key to exporting the video with a transparent background. Click OK, and then Render. Now if you bring that file into Adobe Premiere Pro, it will have a transparent background.