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5 Pieces of Advice for Anyone New to After Effects


Being new to After Effects doesn’t have to be scary. Here are five pieces of advice for aspiring motion designers.

There is an infinite amount of information that can be learned about After Effects. From animation fundamentals to 3D integration, you could spend a lifetime learning new tricks. As a result, After Effects can be quite overwhelming for anyone new to the program. So instead of trying to figure out where to start on your own, here are five pieces of advice for aspiring After Effects motion designers.

1. Jump Right In

New to After Effects: Jump Right In

If you pick up a 500 page book to learn After Effects in its entirety, you probably won’t become proficient in AE. Not because the book won’t teach you anything, but because you’ll probably fall asleep by page 10.

Learn motion graphics by jumping into the deep end. Watch tutorials on creating awesome, complex animations. Learn how to composite explosions or create a lightsaber effect. These tutorials are impractical (unless you’re packing your bags for ILM) but they make learning fun and provide a gateway to the nitty gritty fundamentals.

2. Start with keyframing

New to After Effects: Keyframes in After Effects

Writing complex expressions or scripts will save you a ton of time while animating, but the investment of learning these methods up front is arduous. Nearly everything created via expressions and scripts can also be manually created with keyframes.

As a beginner, key framing everything will take you longer, but you’ll be exploring a more straightforward and manageable approach to animating. You can always take on expressions and scripting later.

3. Take Advantage of Effects Presets

New to After Effects: After Effects Animation Presets

In the Effects and Presets panel, there are a bunch of great presets for text animation, backgrounds, and more. A seasoned motion graphics artist would probably steer clear of these, but as a beginner, these presets are your best friend. Create a text layer and go through every text animation preset on the list – one by one. Press ‘U’ on the keyboard after applying a preset and look at the keyframes. Start tinkering with the preset settings and see what happens. You can learn a great deal from these presets.

4. Copy Awesome Motion Graphics

New to After Effects: Motion Graphics Example

While I don’t advocate copying other designers’ animation for paid projects, I do think it’s a great place to start for beginners. Don’t just get inspired by good motion graphics, literally copy it. After you have a basic working knowledge of After Effects, search for an animated video you really like. Download the video and start analyzing it frame by frame. Make it your job to recreate this exact animation in After Effects.

Don’t just think about how the artist created it — figure out how you are going to recreate it. It may have taken the original artist five hours to create, using a variety of complex techniques. As a beginner, it may take you four days to recreate it using simple techniques and basic effects. But the goal is to sharpen your problem solving skills and experience creating beautiful design. Creating a replica of an existing animation is great for those new to After Effects, because it removes the strenuous effort of ‘what’ and lets them concentrate on ‘how’.

5. Google Everything

New to After Effects: Google Search

Tutorials are great for learning how to produce a finished product. But the best way to learn After Effects is to start tinkering with things and google while you play. You could literally open After Effects for the first time, knowing nothing about AE, and start googling along the way: “how do I create a sequence” or “how do I key frame” or “how do I create new layers.” By learning tidbits and functions through google, you’ll see a lot of progress in a short amount of time.