I’ve been using After Effects for a very long time, and over the years, I’ve developed some habits that have drastically helped improve my productivity. Below are a few of the tricks that I use to help speed up my workflow in AE — some of them you may know, and some you may not, but they should all come in handy.
1. Some Quick Shortcuts
Transform Properties – A for Anchor Point, P for Position, S for Scale, R for Rotation, and T for Opacity.
Alt/Option+ Transform Property Shortcut (P, A, S, R, T) – This sets a keyframe without the need to click on the stopwatch of a transform property. For example, pressing Alt/Option+P will add a keyframe at the Position property of the selected layer.
U – Pressing the keyboard key U reveals or hides all the properties with keyframes.
UU – Pressing the keyboard key U twice reveals all keyframes and properties that have been tweaked or edited.
E– Pressing the keyboard key E will show the effects applied to a layer.
EE – Pressing the keyboard key E twice will show any expressions applied to a layer.
J or K – Quickly jump between visible keyframes by pressing K to go the next one and J to go to the previous one.
I and O – These keys let you navigate to the beginning and end frames of a selected layer.
Shift+PgUp and Shift+PgDn – This will skip the playhead on the timeline by ten frames backward or forward, respectively.
2. Custom Output Templates
If you always use a specific render setting and output, it’s more productive to create your own custom Output Module. Here’s how to do it:
Go to Edit>Templates>Output Module
Specify a new name in the Settings Name. I’ll be naming mine “QT ProRes” since I always render QuickTime ProRes in my work.
Select “Edit” and the Render Settings window will appear. Tweak the settings to your preference — in my example, I’m changing the Format Options to Apple ProRes 422. After you’re done, press OK.
Try rendering a composition in the Render Queue, then click on the Output Module fly-out menu and you’ll see your new custom output settings.
3. Expand or Contract a Group of Keyframes
It’s very common to do a lot of keyframing in After Effects in order to create very complex animation. But there are times when you need to change the timing of your keyframes by slowing it down or making it faster. This is hard to do manually, especially if you have tons of keyframes and you want the animation to be proportional to each one.
Fortunately, there’s an easy way to do this. Press U to show all the keyframes, then select the keyframes that you need to adjust. Now press and hold Alt/Option, then select the last keyframe and drag it to the left or right. Dragging to the left will make your keyframes come closer and will speed up your animation. Dragging to the right will slow it down. Selecting the last keyframe preserves the first keyframe. You can also select the first keyframe and preserve the last selected keyframe.
4. Change the Preview Resolution for Faster Previews
Most of the time, you’re not working in full resolution in After Effects. To lighten the load and speed up your previews, it’s always advisable to preview your composition at a lower resolution. Normally half would be your go-to resolution, but in extreme cases you can even go to quarter. Using half resolution also gives you four times as many frames in your RAM preview.
Keyboard shortcuts for the Composition panel display resolution:
Full – Ctrl+J or Cmd+J
Half – Ctrl+Shift+J or Cmd+Shift+J
Quarter – Ctrl+Shift+Alt+J or Cmd+Shift+Opt+J
Fit in Viewer – Shift+/ (on the main keyboard)
Fit up to 100% – Alt+/ or Opt+/
5. Use the Region of Interest for Really Slow and Heavy Comps
Setting a Region of Interest will let you isolate a rectangular area in your composition. This is especially helpful if you’re concentrating only on a certain area of your composition. To define a rectangular preview region, simply press the ROI button and click and drag on the Composition panel, selecting the area you want to view. Only this section will now show. This will also be the only one calculated, which give you more frames when you do a RAM preview.
6: Fast Draft
Working with 3D layers in AE is a bit slow. Use the Fast Draft option under the Fast Previews icon. This option speeds render previews, whether you’re working with Cinema 4D or the Raytrace Renderer.
7. Organize Your Project Panel
Think of the Project panel as a file system. It would be difficult to find your files in your computer if your folders weren’t organized — it’s the same with the Project panel. It’s easier to find files or compositions you need to work on if everything is organized. Generally, I would create separate folders and subfolders for comps, pre-comps, and assets like footage, stills, and audio.
8. Moving Your Masks
I see a lot of artists who double-click their masks every time they want to move them or change their position. Press and hold Alt/Option instead, then click and drag your mask. This is more efficient and will save you from tons of double-clicking.
9: Optimize Your Memory
After Effects shares your computer’s RAM with other Adobe applications, including Premiere Pro, Prelude, Media Encoder, Photoshop, Speedgrade, and Audition. Make sure to close these programs if you’re not using them ,so that AE can use all the RAM allocation.
Also make sure to leave enough RAM for other applications. I’ve seen a lot AE artists who try to make the RAM reserved for other applications as low as possible, which is a mistake. The operating system itself needs to use RAM; if it doesn’t have enough, then the whole machine will become slow. If the machine become slow, AE will run slow as well. As a general rule, my advice is to leave this to the default settings.
10. Use the Adobe Media Encoder
Rendering from the Render Queue will tie up AE, so you won’t be able to do anything else until the render finishes. Rendering from Adobe Media Encoder is better in a lot of ways. First, you can still work while you’re rendering. If you’re on a network, you can also render on another machine, provided you’ve set everything up properly (which means it can see all your files).
Media Encoder also includes a lot of industry-standard presets, including ones for your mobile devices, as well as web services like YouTube and Vimeo. It even has an option for H.264 2-pass encoding that makes your render look better. Another advantage is that you can set up a Watch Folder with Media Encoder and it will automatically render the composition of the AE project files that you place there.
To send a comp to AME, simply select your composition and go to Composition>Add to Media Encoder Queue. This will open AME automatically, and from there you can tweak and choose the settings that you need.
These are just some of the tricks that I personally use. Do you have tips of your own that help you optimize your workflow in After Effects? Share them in the comments!