The more you work with motion graphics, the more you pick up little tricks that help you work faster and better. That’s most definitely the case with many of the artists who contribute amazing After Effects templates to Pond5, so we thought we’d catch up with a few of them to see what knowledge they could share. Read on for 15 tips on improving your own AE work from top-selling Pond5 artists nopow, art_room_4, and CreativeMedias.
Noel Powell, aka nopow, has a strong background in traditional media, having studied Fine Arts with a minor in Multimedia Communications. He used to do commissioned works like portraits, murals, and paintings, until he was introduced to motion graphics. He is now a full-time stock-media producer and has been uploading to Pond5 since 2008. His templates are primarily customizable effects or filters, for things like turning your video into a watercolor painting or making it look like claymation.
“My advice would be to not stop creating,” says Powell. “You can have a great eye, original ideas, and loads of talent, but there’s no substitute for experience. I thought differently when I was starting out, but time has taught me otherwise. If you’re not sure how to do something, search for a video tutorial. There’s a tutorial for everything, and they can teach you a lot. I would also advise beginners to strive for perfection, because most of your competition is striving for perfection. Don’t settle for a design that you’re not completely proud of.”
Tip 1: Express Yourself
“It’s time to start learning expressions! These scare a lot of people, as they did me at one point, but even understanding a few, very basic expressions can take your work to another level. The Wiggle expression is probably the most important. The expression wiggle(2,100) applied to a property will make that property fluctuate randomly by a value of about 100, at a rate of 2 times every second. Wiggling certain properties can add an organic, realistic quality to animations. The best introduction to expressions on the web, in my opinion, comes from Dan Ebberts.”
Tip 2: Expression Controls
“Customization with slider controls: I imagine that most people already do this. It’s not necessary if you’re the only one working on your After Effects project, but if you’re creating templates, or if you have a client that wants to edit your project, having slider controls to customize the look or main features of the template is essential. Ideally, the controls are on a separate layer, named ‘Control Layer’ or something similar. If you’re not sure how to do it, research pick-whipping and slider controls.”
Tip 3: Swap It
“Swap layer source: I use this all the time. Sometimes you’ll have a layer with effects, masks, expressions, or various settings, and you’ll want to change the source of that layer (i.e., keep the layer, but change which file in the Project panel those effects and settings are applied to). There’s an easy alternative to dragging the new file into your comp, and then copying and pasting all the effects and settings over to the new layer. Simply select the layer you want to replace (in the timeline), then select the file that should replace it (in the Project panel), then hold down the Opt/Alt key, and click and drag the file from the Project panel onto the layer in the timeline.”
Tip 4: Love Those Curves
“Master the Graph Editor. This may sound harsh, and I’m sure some experienced designers would disagree, but easy-ease keyframes are for amateurs — at least, the default easy-ease keyframes. I am never satisfied with the results from changing a linear keyframe to the default ease-in, ease-out, or easy-ease settings. Nine times out of ten, I have to get in the graph editor and adjust the curves to get a more fluid, or extended, ease in my animations. Becoming fluent in the graph editor has really changed my animations. I would recommend that anyone familiarize themselves with both the Speed Graph and the Value Graph, as well as how to edit the curves.”
Tip 5: Use Shortcuts
“Use editing shortcuts. There are plenty of lists out there with the ‘most useful shortcuts in After Effects,’ but I’m often surprised that a couple of the shortcuts that I use the most are nowhere to be found on these lists. First, Opt/Alt+[ and Opt/Alt+] will trim either the beginning or end of a layer to the frame that your playhead is on. Second, [ and ] will slide your layer over in the timeline so that either the end or beginning of the layer will jump to the frame that your playhead is on. AE isn’t editing software, but I’ve never had a project that doesn’t require some editing, and these shortcuts are very useful for that.”
Alexander, aka art_room_4, is not your typical motion-graphics artist. After working as a carpenter for a couple of years, he realized it wasn’t for him, so he ventured out to find his place and began creating family videos. This is when he realized that he had a knack for it, and for the past 7 years, he has developed from a carpenter to a full-pledged motion-graphic artist.
“My advice is simple,” he says. “Just try, experiment and don’t give up if you think that all does not work. If you really like what you do, you will succeed. And Pond5 is a really good platform for it!”
Tip 1: Go Cycling!
“When you’re using lots of masks in your project, it’s better if they have different colors. This makes them easier to identify and select. Go to AE’s preferences and select the Appearance section. From there, check ‘Cycle Mask Colors.'”
“Now, when you create a mask, it will always cycle in a different color!”
Tip 2: It’s Not Me, It’s Hue
“When you want to experiment with different color looks, the Hue/Saturation effect is one of the quickest ways to do it. Apply Hue/Saturation to any any layer or adjustment layer you want to modify, spin the Master Hue settings, and watch it work its magic.”
Tip 3: Presets
“After Effects has a lot of preset effects that are very useful in your everyday work, but if you want to make your own, or if you notice that you’re using the same effects and settings a lot, it’s more efficient if you save a preset — a good example would be a vignette. Select a layer, select the effects that are applied to it, then go to Animation > Save Animation Preset.”
“After saving your custom preset, the Effects and Presets panel will refresh. Open the Animation Presets folder, and you’ll see your newly created preset inside. Dragging the effect from the Effects Control Panel to the New Item icon on the lower-right corner of the Effects Panel is another way to save a preset.”
Tip 4: Don’t Be Afraid to Get Loopy
“A lot of new artists like to duplicate their loop-able clips when they want to extend them or have them loop several times.”
“A more efficient way to do this is to re-interpret your footage. Select the footage that you want to loop, then right-click and then choose Interpret Footage > Main.”
“The Interpret Footage window will appear, and at the bottom of the window are the Other Options. Here, you can indicate how many times you want your clip or music to loop.”
Tip 5: Use Expressions to Loop
“If you want to loop your keyframe animations, use the expression loopOut(“PingPong”). This will continuously loop your animation until the end of your composition.”
Here’s a keyframe animation that uses this expression:
Florian Godard, aka CreativeMedias, comes from a very musically inclined family. He has been working with one of the best symphonic orchestras in Paris for 12 years now, so don’t be surprised if you also see his music on Pond5. Godard discovered motion graphics and video editing when he created a promotional video for a car-racing simulator. After this project, he was spotted by a company that gave him his first motion-design contract, and he has worked with After Effects ever since. He currently has over 600 AE templates on Pond5 all reflecting his clean and elegant style.
“My advice for buyers would be to pay attention to the compatibility with their software, and see if there is a collection or similar templates available,” says Godard. “With complementary templates, they can easily combine them and create a video portfolio with a consistent design, which is ideal for a company or a digital agency. My advice for new producers would be to produce what they like first, before thinking about what sells. Sales are unpredictable, so it’s important to enjoy working on fun projects. It is also a natural way to create original content!”
Tip 1: Use Motion Blur
“New motion-graphics artists sometimes forget that it’s the small details that help elevates the look of your work. For example, adding a motion blur — the natural blur that occurs when an object moves. This helps make animations look more natural. On the timeline, click the ‘Motion Blur Switch’ of the layer that you want to have a motion blur. Then enable the Motion Blur button at the top of the timeline to it.”
This is how an animation looks with and without a motion blur:
“If you want to increase or decrease the amount of motion blur, go to the Composition > Composition Settings, then go to ‘Advanced’ and change the Shutter Angle. The higher the value, the stronger the motion blur.”
Here’s the result of a 180 degree Shutter Angle:
And here’s the result of a 360 degree Shutter Angle:
Tip 2: Don’t Forget the Past
“After Effects allows you to save your current project into a previous version of AE. This is very useful, especially if you need to send out your project file to a colleague who is still using an older version of the software. This is also useful if you want to sell your AE file as a template. It allows buyers with an older version of AE to purchase your template without the need to update their software.”
Tip 3: Convert Text Outlines to Shapes for a Fast and Easy Write-On Effect
“Type in your text and enable ‘Stroke’ while disabling ‘Fill.’ Also specify how thick your outlines will be — in this case, 5 pixels.”
“Select your text then go to Layer > Create Shapes from Text.”
“This creates a new Shape layer with all your letters separated, which will allow you to animate them as a group or individually.”
Here’s the result of adding a Trim Paths animator to the Shape layer and animating its End property:
Tip 4: Social Media Export
“There are export presets that are optimized for popular social-media platforms like Twitter and Facebook, as well as video-sharing platforms like YouTube and Vimeo. But these are not available inside After effects. Instead of Add to Render Queue, use Add to Adobe Media Encoder Queue. This will open Adobe Media Encoder and add your currently active AE composition to its render queue.
“Once Adobe Media Encoder is open, all you need to do is to select a preset that you like and double-click it. This will apply the preset to the selected composition in the render queue. One of the advantages of using Adobe Media Encoder is that you can export several versions of your composition in one go. In this example, I’m rendering a version for Youtube, Facebook, and Twitter.”
Tip 5: Optimize AE
“Sometimes you have many files inside your After Effects file that you no longer need or use. Help AE perform better by de-cluttering your project file. Go to File > Dependencies > Remove Unused Footage to remove any files within your project that aren’t being used. You can also use Consolidate All Footage to remove duplicate files, and Reduce Project to remove all other compositions except the one selected in the project panel and other compositions being used by it.”
What other tips for creating After Effects templates do you have? What else would you like to learn? Tell us below!
Top image: Still from Impression Slideshow by art_room_4