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After Effects Apprentice 14: Shape Layers

with Chris Meyer and Trish Meyer

Video: Welcome

Shows how to create and animate vector-based artwork directly inside After Effects.
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After Effects Apprentice 14: Shape Layers
Video duration: 0s 2h 13m Intermediate Updated Dec 18, 2012


In this course, author Chris Meyer shows how to create and animate vector-based artwork directly inside Adobe After Effects. The course covers the ins and outs of working with shape layers, including creating shape paths, applying shape effects, and reordering shape operators. The course also contains a series of exercises on creating common motion graphics elements using shape layers.

The After Effects Apprentice videos on were created by Trish and Chris Meyer and are designed to be used on their own and as a companion to their book After Effects Apprentice. We are honored to host these tutorials in the Online Training Library®.

Topics include:
  • Drawing parametric shapes and pen paths
  • Creating multiple shape groups
  • Exploring Wiggle Paths and the Wiggle Transform effect
  • Defining gradient fills
  • Creating a swarm
  • Blending multiple shapes into a texture
  • Crafting and animating dotted and dashed lines
  • Combining effects, layer styles, expressions, and Brainstorm with shape layers
  • Showing tips for stylizing sidebars
After Effects


Hi! I'm Chris Meyer of Chris Design, and welcome to the After Effects Apprentice lesson on shape layers. Shape layers are a form what's known as vector art, similar to what you might create in Adobe Illustrator or Flash. With it you can create something as simple as a map path or a lower third bar or something as complex as a full cartoon. What makes shape layers particularly powerful in After Effects is their modular nature. The Shape group contains a series of operators. They can be animated, edited, or rearranged to create a wide variety of looks.

There's two different ways of creating shape paths in After Effects. You can use the Pen tool, which allows you to draw free-form paths, and parametric shapes, which allow you to create rectangles, ellipses, and stars, and push them to the extremes by editing their live parameters in the After Effects Timeline. Multiple Shape paths may be combined to create complex compound shapes as well. You have control over how these shapes are filled and stroked, including a very nice gradient editor, plus the ability to divide strokes into a customized series of dashes and gaps. There are also a wide variety of shape effects, which can bend shape paths in a variety of interesting ways.

Some can even self-animate, such as Wiggle Paths and Wiggle Transform. There is also a repeater, which can take a path or paths and multiply them to fill the screen if so desired. The vectors that make up the shape are then rasterized into pixels, which can then in turn be treated with normal effects and layer styles to create more stylized looks. Of course, you can also animate and even brainstorm virtually every one of these shape layers parameters. Adobe also makes available to you hundreds of additional shape layer animation presets. Shape layers are one of my absolute favorite features inside After Effects, but I also realize that it can be a bit complex and confusing. Well, don't worry; I'm going to lead you to using them step by step.

We're going to start with what are the different tools you use to make shapes, and what are the differences between making a mask and making a shape? So let's dive in!

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