Being skilled at After Effects techniques is a lot less about knowing how to use the software than it is about finding ways to get out of its way. You’ve got to find creative ways to let After Effects do it’s thing — and find ways to work the system to get the results you want.
After Effects is, in my opinion, the most infinitely capable and dense piece of software that I’ve used. However, when you can distill it into some repeatable tasks or ideas, you’ll find that getting from point A to point B is a relatively similar process regardless of what you’re doing. And you’ll find yourself using the same tools and techniques over and over again in different ways.
These ten tips are things that I do all the time, but they also highlight certain methods that you can use for a million different things. With After Effects, it all comes down to knowing a few of the tools well enough to get started, and then you can start building from there.
Hopefully, by the time you’ve finished watching this video, you’ll have the essentials locked down — and a few new tricks up your sleeve.
So, I’m calling this my After Effects Playbook. These are things that I rely on for every project — things I’ve done so many times that I can almost do them with my eyes closed.
1. Super Smooth Keyframes
Everybody loves easy-eased keyframes. This is a way to make them just about as smooth as possible with just a few clicks. Once you’ve made your eased keyframes, you can open them in the speed graph editor to pad the motion on one end even further.
2. Null Stacking
Nulls are my best friends. Over time, I started learning a technique I call Null Stacking. Once you learn how to tame them and use them fully to your advantage, you’ll save a ton of time. Parent nulls to other nulls, and spread motion and animation across them instead of your objects.
3. Quick Vignette
I add vignettes to a lot of my work. Probably too much, but I love finishing techniques that seem to bring everything together — rather than looking like flat objects on a screen. A vignette is a really subtle way to do this.
To make a vignette, create an adjustment layer, and double-click the ellipse tool. Then, feather and customize your mask options, after adding an Exposure effect, and turn it down a stop or two.
4. How to Fix Banding
Once you start adding feathered objects or vignettes to you work, banding will become an issue. To fix this, you need to add some noise to your design, even if it’s subtle enough that most viewers won’t notice it.
If you use a Gradient Ramp effect, turning up the ramp scatter will help fix banding. However, I usually just add an adjustment layer at the end with about 3-4 percent noise. This will clean up (or at-least help with) many banding issues.
5. Easy Text Reveals
Knowing some fast and snappy ways to do crisp, clean text reveals will always pay off. I like to use shape layers as alpha mattes, and then quickly duplicate those shape layers to create interesting animations before and after the text reveal. Stack track matte objects one after another and stagger their animation in interesting ways.
6. Bordered Photo Template
All of us have to do slideshows at one point or another. There have been countless times when I’ve had pictures I needed to include in my motion graphics, and I love to create a border. To do this super quickly and efficiently, duplicate your photo layer, and add a Generate > Fill effect to the bottom of the two. Change the fill color to white, and slightly scale up that layer.
Then, when you have multiple photos, you can duplicate that whole setup and hold down the alt key to replace both the border and photo layer with a new photo layer. This will retain all of the appropriate sizing and effects. It’s much easier than redoing it every time.
7. Quick Organic Camera Motion
I often want to add some handheld, organic-looking camera motion to my graphics. My favorite way to do this is to grab a camera, shoot a picture or magazine on the ground handheld, and then track that movement to a null object in After Effects. Then, using that null, I can parent the graphic to that motion, quickly adding some nice, natural-looking camera movement.
8. Finishing & Color Correction
Just about every time I finish designing something I do two things:
- Add an adjustment layer with a Color Correction > Curves effect.
- Add an adjustment layer with a Color Correction > Tint effect.
The curves effect usually adds a little contrast curve to the whole design. Sometimes, it’s very subtle; other times (like in the video example), I go pretty crazy with it. It just helps to bring your design elements together and make them more seamless.
The tint effect helps me decide if I need a bit of desaturation. Sometimes, with motion graphics, the saturation from various layers and effects can get pretty out of control. It’s always smart to check at the end and see if you need to tame the color.
9. Textured Text
Often, you’ll find yourself adding text elements on top of textures — grungy, paper, chalky, etc. You need to be able to make your text elements look like they exist on the texture rather than just floating on top. To do this, duplicate your background layer, and put it above your text element. Set the track matte for the text element to Luma Matte or Luma Matte Inverted, which will allow your text element to take on some of the texture of that background.
Sometimes, it may be necessary to intensify the contrast of the Luma Matte, using a curves effect, so that the texture is more apparent.
10. Scale Wipe Animation
This one-two punch is a technique that I use extremely often. It’s a really quick way to make objects appear and disappear in a really clean and pleasing way.
First, move the anchor point of your solid or shape layer to one end of the object. Then, using position keyframes, animate your element from the opposite side of the anchor point in. Then, once it has settled, use a scale (width only) animation to scale the object down to zero. After you’ve smoothed those keyframes, it will look really nice.