After Effects (AE) is an immense and daunting piece of software, even for those experienced in it. Every time you use AE, it’s likely you’ll learn something new. In our experience, we’ve found that there are certainly some AE tricks that we use a lot more than others.. Whether you’re looking to become an AE master or just dabbling from time to time with your students, here are ten essential After Effects tricks you need to know:
- Render Quality
How: Select the dropdown menu at the bottom of the composition panel
Rendering is a processor intensive task, and hence it can take a lot of time, especially if you have a lot going on – effects and layers. Luckily you can cut your preview time significantly by selecting a lower render quality. By default it will be set to Full, but you don’t have time for that! Drop it to half, third, quarter or custom. When you’re ready to export your project, don’t worry; they’ll be full-res by default, no matter what your preview quality is set to.
Here’s an article from PremiumBeat on how to achieve faster render times.
- Duplicating Layers
One of the most useful shortcuts: there’s no faster way to create a layer than to duplicate one that already exists. To duplicate a layer all you need to do is hit Command+D – and this works on both layers and effects.
- Quick Pan
How: Hold down spacebar and drag
Normally if you want to pan in After Effects, you have to (hand) select the hand tool, either by clicking the hand icon or hitting the (H) key. However, instead of wasting time switching between two tools, you can simply hold down the space bar. As soon as you release the spacebar, it revert back to whatever tool you had selected before.
- RAM Preview
If you’re used to working with video editing software, than you probably already preview your video by pressing the spacebar. Unlike most video editing software where you can just press the spacebar to preview you video, AE isn’t quite that simple. This is due to the strain of the video effects on your computer; you can’t simply playback video in AE without rendering out a preview file – in a process known as a RAM preview.
Learn more about using ‘RAM preview’ to preview audio in this PremiumBeat post.
- Exporting Alpha Channels
How: RGB + Alpha in the Output Module
When exporting graphics to use in any other post-production software, you’ll want your video clips to have alpha channels – a magical 4th channel a pixel has (other than the usual red, green, and blue channels) which governs its transparency. By default, alpha channels are not included! And to make things more complicated, not all codecs will even allow you to export alpha channels.
Here’s a helpful RocketStock post that explores more Alpha Channel action.
- Saving Frames
How: Composition -> Save Frame As -> File
As we’ve discussed before, rendering can take up a lot of your time. However, if you don’t have the time to render the full video, you can just save a still of it. This is also a great way to show your work progress, especially if you work for a large company! For most circumstances, you will want to select ‘file’ and choose your desired output format, however many options exist, including photoshop layers.
- See All Keyframes
How: Hit the (U) key
When you’ve set keyframes in AE, you can quickly see them all in your timeline by simply clicking the (U) key. This is one of many motion graphics techniques that can save a lot of time, rather than clicking the small dropdown arrows in the timeline.
Note: It can also be really helpful to learn the keyboard shortcuts for individual transform properties: position (P), rotation (R), and opacity (T).
- Keyframe Scaling
How: Hold down option and drag a selection of keyframes
Animation is all about the details. So moving a keyframe over by just a single frame can dramatically change the feel of the animation. But if you have lots of keyframes, it can be a chore to change the duration of the layers – which is why keyframe scaling is used.
This allows users to scale the duration proportionately – meaning your animation style isn’t lost. Simply select two or more keyframes, hold down option, and drag.
- The Graph Editor
How: With keyframes selected, hit the small graph icon in the timeline
This is a key motion design tip: although daunting to a newbie, this is the best way to perfect your movements in After Effects. The Graph Editor gives you an precise control of the way in which your keyframes act with each other. For example, by simply adding a small curve to the graph, you can quickly and easily create cool and smooth animations.
- Wiggle Expression
How: adding the expression wiggle(10,10) into your expression editor
Leaving one of the best After Effects tricks until last: Pretty self-explanatory, the wiggle expression gives your layers a random wiggle, which can of course be adjusted. Simply place “wiggle (wiggles per second, intensity)” into the position expression editor.
There are lots of useful ways to take advantage of the wiggle expression, like linking the values to sliders and double wiggles. You can learn more about using the wiggle expression in this informative post by PremiumBeat.