Education, Tutorials

Text Boxing: How to Create Lower Thirds in After Effects


One of the easiest ways to show additional information in your videos is by using lower-third graphics. These are commonly used to provide a person’s name, occupation, or location, and when you add a logo or a color theme, it also becomes a great way to show branding in your projects. After Effects provides tools that can help you create simple or complex lower-third graphics quickly and simply. Working with Shape Layers uses layers that are vector graphics, which means they’ll remain crisp without losing details when you scale them up. This is also ideal for creating logos — it’s like having a mini-Adobe Illustrator inside AE.

Related Post How to Animate Text in After Effects

For this tutorial, I selected a clip of a businesswoman by Pond5 artist rocket clips. At this point, the clip doesn’t provide much information. Who is she? What does she do? We’re going to make a simple and clean lower-third graphic to show this (hypothetical) information.

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The Title/Action Safe Margins

First, I’ll turn on the Title/Action Safe areas by selecting them in the fly-out menu on the lower part of my composition panel.

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The Title/Action Safe margins are always used when working with videos intended for broadcast. This margin shows the area that will be visible on television screens. A lot of televisions use a process called overscan, which cuts off portions of the outer edges of your picture. This also zooms in on the image a bit. Overscan is more prevalent in older TVs and became less and less common with the newer models. Even if you don’t intend to view your finished product on TV, however, it’s helpful to learn about it, as it’s still being applied today.

It’s pretty easy to understand how to use the Safe margins. Whether you’re working on a 16:9 or 4:3 image, the rule is simple. Make sure that any text or graphic image you use is within the Title Safe Area, and any important part of your frame should be within your Action Safe areas. Take note though that the Action Safe margin is less useful on the web, since you can always see the whole frame of your image in your browser. However, the Title Safe margin can be used as your border guide when creating graphics and images for your web video.

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For a 16:9 video, the green margin is your Action Safe area while the yellow one is your Title Safe area, so make sure that any text or graphics created are inside the yellow margin. For a 4:3 video, the cyan border is your Action Safe area while the red border is your Title Safe area. Make sure as well that any title or graphic is within the red area.

Creating Your First Shape

Now let’s create a lower third. Make sure that nothing is selected in your timeline. Then go to the toolbar and choose the Rectangle Tool.

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While the tool is active, create a rectangular shape by clicking and dragging in your composition panel.

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Next, let’s change the fill type of our rectangle. While the layer is selected, go to the toolbar and click “Fill.” The Fill Options window will pop up and show the available fill types. The first is “None,” followed by “Solid Color,” “Linear Gradient,” and “Radial Gradient.” I chose the Radial Gradient. Once you’ve selected what you prefer, click OK.

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Editing Your Gradient

Now let’s edit our gradient. Click on the color swatch to bring up the Gradient Editor. Select the first Color Stop on the left, then drag the Color Slider, as well as the Color Picker, and choose the color that you like. Here are my values: R:40 G:35 B:34. Click the next Color Stop on the right and choose another value. My second color stop is: R72: G:68 B:67. Once you’re done, press OK.

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Next, we’ll tweak the start and end points of our gradient. Press “V” on the keyboard to make sure that the Selection Tool is active. Select your rectangle, then click and drag the gradient Start Point to the lower-left corner and the End Point to the upper-right corner of the shape. If the handles of your gradient are not showing, double-click the shape in the composition panel to access the Start and End Points.

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I’m not liking the white stroke on our box, so let’s remove it. Make sure your layer is still selected, then choose “Stroke” on the toolbar. This will show the Stroke Options. You’ll notice that this is very similar to our Fill Options. Choose “None” and click OK to remove the stroke on the shape.

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To keep things neat and organized, let’s rename our first shape. Select the layer on the timeline and press Enter to rename your layer. Type a new name; I named mine “Name Bar” because this is where I will put the speaker’s name. Press Enter again when you’re done.

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Creating a Stroke

Looking at the finished shape it feels like it’s missing something. On second thought, I realized that the stroke in our rectangle wasn’t so bad, so I’ll add them again — but this time, I’ll only put one at the top and one at bottom. Go to the toolbar and select the Pen Tool or press G.

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Now click on the word “Stroke” to open our Stroke Options window again. Choose “Solid Color” and press OK.

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Click on the color swatch and change the color to white, then change the thickness of the stroke to 5 px.

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Click on the upper left corner of the rectangle, then press Shift and click on the upper-right corner of the rectangle. Pressing Shift while drawing will ensure that the line we create is straight.

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We now need to make another line for the bottom part of the our rectangle. But instead of drawing again, we can just duplicate our first line. Before we do that, let’s move the anchor point of the layer into the line itself. When you create shapes in AE, the anchor point will always be in the center of your composition, not at your object. Go to Layer > Transform > Center Anchor Point in Layer Content.

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You’ll notice that the anchor point is now aligned with the shape layer. Duplicate this layer, then line it up to the bottom of your rectangle.

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This step is optional but I find that this helps a lot when you’re animating, especially if you plan to rotate your layers. You can also select all the other layers and align their anchor points.

This is what we have so far. I’ve also renamed my layers to keep everything organized:

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Adding a Smaller Rectangle

Let’s create a smaller bar at the bottom right of our original rectangle. This is where we’ll place the description of the woman in the video. This time, try doing it yourself by repeating the same steps we used when we created our first layer.

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I’ve also used a Radial Gradient fill for my second shape and turned off the Stroke. My colors are R:15 G:129 B :255 for my Start Point and R:36 G140 B:255 for my End Point.

To make things simpler, I created separate layers for each of the shapes, but you can also create a group of shapes in just one layer.

Adding Your Text

Once all of this is done, it’s time to create your text. Select the Text tool in the toolbar, click on the composition window, and type a name. Do this again, but this time, type a description. The fonts I used here are Bebas Neue for the name and Montserrat for the description. I also added a tracking value of 25 for my text. For more information about creating text in After Effects please visit my previous tutorial on How to animate text in AE.

Animating Your Elements

Now that we’re done with our setup, let’s start animating. We’ll start by using path operations for our top and bottom lines. Path operations are similar to effects, but are only applied to shapes. They’re non-destructive and can be removed any time. The best way to learn about path operations is to play with them and see how they affects your shape.

Select your top line, then expand its properties. Click “Add” and choose “Trim Paths.”

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Expand the Trim Paths Properties and move the playhead to the very beginning of your timeline. Turn on the stopwatch of the End properties to create keyframes, then change its value to zero. Move the current-time indicator or playhead to the 15-frame mark and change the End value to 100. Your line should now be animating like it’s growing.

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Since the bottom is a duplicate of the top line, we can apply the same Trim Path operation, but this time we’ll animate the Start property. Doing this will make the line start to grow from the other side. Make sure that your End property is set to 100, go to the beginning of your timeline, and turn on the stopwatch for the Start property. Change its value to 100, then move the playhead forward by 15 frames and change the value to 0.

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Before previewing your work, select all the keyframes and press F9 to add “Easy Ease” to your keyframes. Then do a RAM preview.

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This is what your animation should look like.

Let’s animate the other elements. Select your big rectangle — in my case the Bar layer — then move to the right by six frames. Take note that I’ve re-aligned my anchor point so that it’s in the center of this layer. Press “S” to show the scale property of the layer and click the Constrain Proportion icon. This will unlink the height and width of the layer.

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Turn on the stopwatch icon for the scale and change the width value to 0. Then go to the 15th frame of your timeline and change it back to 100. Once you’re done, change the keyframes to Easy Ease by once again selecting them and pressing F9 on your keyboard. Do another RAM preview of your work.

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Now work on the smaller rectangle on your own by animating the scale using the same technique. I started the animation of my smaller rectangle at the 10th frame mark of my timeline and had it end at the 1-second mark.

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Do a RAM preview and have a look at your progress. Now let’s work on our text.


Animating the Text

You can add your own animation or use one of the text-animation presets that comes with AE. I’ll add a simple slide-in of the text, but I’ll also use the rectangles we made as a matte for our layer. Mattes define which areas are transparent in a layer; in our case, I want all the text to appear only within our rectangular shapes.

Duplicate both your rectangular shape layers and delete all the scale keyframes, making sure that everything is 100 percent. Rename the duplicate layers so that it won’t be confusing. Change the name of Name Bar to “Name Bar Matte” and Occupation to “Occupation Matte.” Once that’s done, re-arrange the layers so that the mattes are on top of their originals. Also move the beginning of both these and the text layers at the 10th-frame mark. Move the description a few more frames behind, as we want this particular information to come in a bit later.

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You’ll notice that the composition doesn’t look quite right, because the shapes are covering our text. Make sure that the Transfer Control pane is open, then change the Track Matte from None to Alpha Matte. The name beside the Alpha Matte will depend on how your layers are named. Do this to both text layers. You’ll notice that the mattes will automatically be turned off and your text layers will correctly appear. Try selecting one of the layers and move it around. You’ll see that it will only show within the rectangles.

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Select your first text. In this case, the fictitious name of my model, Patricia Lee. Expand the layer properties and add a Position Type Animator.

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I changed the Y value to 145. This might be different with yours depending on the size and positioning of your name bars. Make sure that you’re at the beginning of your text layer and turn on the stopwatch to your start value. I’m starting out with a 0% value for the Start and 100% for the End properties. Moved 20 frames forward and change the Start value to 100%. Finally, change your “Based on” settings to “Words.” This will animate the words one by one. Change the keyframes to Easy Ease.

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Repeat these steps with the other text. Check my settings below — it’s also 20-frames long. The only main difference is that, this time, I’m animating based on “Lines” and not words.

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This is how my timeline looks. As you can see, it’s fairly simple, clean, and easy to understand. Organize your timeline, then do another RAM preview of your work.

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This is our end product. Remember that we create lower thirds to convey additional information to our viewers, so when you design yours, make sure that the graphic elements you add don’t distract from any other important information. A lot of times, simple and minimalist graphics go a lot farther than fancy, colorful, and complex ones. For fonts, always use Sans Serif types as much as possible, because these are more readable onscreen.

If you’re looking for more inspiration, or just don’t want to start from scratch, we have tons of lower-thirds templates in the Pond5 collection that range from very simple to very complex. Check out the collection below for some of our favorite lower-thirds templates.

Lower Thirds After Effects Collection