Applying animation curves to keyframes is the best way to give your project organic and lifelike movements. Here are the steps to smoothing keyframes in After Effects.
There are some things you learn further down your motion graphics journey that you probably wished you would’ve known from the beginning. For me, I wish I could get back the full year of using After Effects that I had before I found out about animation curves.
In a nutshell, animation curves allow you to create smooth movements in After Effects. If you want to give your project realistic movements and Disney-like appeal, animation curves are a must. Let’s take a look at the difference between linear animation and smooth animation in After Effects.
By default, when you set a keyframe in After Effects, it will use a linear keyframe interpolation, meaning it won’t smooth out any part of the animation. Your animation will essentially go from 0 to 100 mph in a single frame. Needless to say, this animation doesn’t look very organic at all.
Unfortunately, most new After Effects users will leave their keyframes as linear, resulting in some very harsh movement.
Compare the linear keyframe animation to the smooth keyframe animation below. You’ll notice how the logo starts out moving slowly. It then picks up in the middle and smooths out toward the end. This is a much more organic way to create smooth animations.
When you watch professional animation (like a cartoon or an impressive motion graphic sequence), you’ll almost always see smooth animation that has been manipulated using an animation curve graph.
Step 1: Set Your Keyframes
The first thing you need to do is set a couple keyframes. To do this, click the dropdown menu next to the layer you want to keyframe. Move the layer position to where you want it to start and click the stopwatch button.
Next, move your playhead to the time where you want your animation to end. Move your layer to your ending position. By default, After Effects should have set a keyframe. If not, hit the small box between the two arrows located to the left of the word ‘Position’ in the transform menu.
While this tutorial is specifically focused on animating the position of your layer, you can literally keyframe any parameter in After Effects. So if you want your object to smoothly scale up, organically turn transparent, or have lifelike rotation, just use this same technique.
Step 2: Open the Graph Editor
Select both of your keyframes in your timeline by drawing a box around them. To open the graph editor, hit the small timeline graph button at the top of the timeline panel. You should instantly see a graph representation of your layer in action.
Step 3: Create Curves
It is usually easier to edit position keyframes in the Speed Graph. By default, you’re probably in the Value Graph. To change the speed graph, hit the small window menu (the one with the three lines) at the bottom of the timeline panel and select the Speed Graph option. If it’s already selected, simply click away.
The next step is to smooth out your animation’s movements. Your keyframes will have a small yellow handle called a bezier handle. By grabbing this handle, you can begin to create curves in your timeline. The more hill-like your graph looks, the smoother the beginning and ending will be.
Step 4: Adjust as Needed
Every smooth animation is going to require a little trial and error. Mess around with your keyframes until you get the right movement for your project.
Here’s what our finished animation looks like: