Education, Tutorials

After Effects 101: Getting Started with Motion Graphics


Motion graphics and visual effects can take a great piece of video or animation and make it even better. With Adobe After Effects, the possibilities for post production are endless. Move over Hollywood big-budget production houses — with After Effects and your imagination, you’ll be making the next Avengers in no time. (*Plus or minus a few thousand hours of rendering.)

Getting Started with After Effects CC

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This tutorial is done on a Mac, but almost everything below applies exactly the same to PC. We’ll be starting with a general overview of the After Effects interface and some thoughts on setting up your workspace to be as effective as possible for you.

Let’s start by opening After Effects and creating a new composition. For now, we can just use the default settings presented by the pop-up window. Start by clicking “New Composition” on the upper right area of this window. You’ll be given the option of choosing your composition settings in the next window, but for now we’ll stick with the default setup and move ahead to the overview.
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The After Effects workspace can be fully customized depending on your needs for a specific project. Optimizing your interface can help you maintain an efficient workflow without getting bogged down by multiple windows and unnecessary features.

The default layout includes your composition window (center box), your assets (upper left box), your timeline/layers (lower box), and effects/features (right box). Your main tools are located in the uppermost section to the left.
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Navigating the interface of After Effects can seem a bit daunting at first sight, but there are a few main areas where you’ll be spending most of your time.

Let’s start by creating a solid shape, just so we can see how the interface updates when you start to bring assets into your composition. Click the “Layer” tab at the top of your workspace, select “New”, and then “Solid.” This will bring up a box asking you to select a color and size, but for the sake of this walkthrough, we’ll just go with white and “Comp Size.”

Layers and Assets

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Now that we have a solid in our composition, we can see that a new layer has popped up in our timeline, and an asset has shown up in the upper left area. Any time you add a file to your project, it will be listed in the “Project” tab. Adding any of those assets to your composition will then show up as layers in your timeline.

Transform Options

Each layer you place in your timeline will have a dropdown arrow that will open up the most basic animation controls. These are your Transform options. Key frames can be set by clicking the stopwatch icons, and experimenting with the position, scale, rotation, and opacity values. There are millions of possibilities for motion using just these tools. Play around, make mistakes, and learn!
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Effects and Presets

The Effects and Presets will be your best friends, and sometimes worst enemies, within After Effects. Located at the Top of your interface, the Effects window allows you to select specific visual effects and animation presets to add to your layers and compositions. The options for creating beautiful visuals are endless once you start mixing and matching these effects with your assets. Some of these can be quite a heavy load on your system, so be aware that things like Particle World set to 10,000 particles every 1 second may cause your system to scream at you.
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The most important thing you can do as a new user of After Effects is explore. Getting comfortable in your workspace takes time and dedication. After Effects can be used to make your projects come to life, using key frames and your knowledge of the program. Create assets and animate them using all of the tools available, and see what works and what doesn’t. See what rules you have to adhere to, and which ones you can bend — or even break!
Looking for more After Effects inspiration? Check out our collection of thousands of customizable After Effects templates!

Top image: Abstract Texture by alexmak