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After Effects Apprentice 08: Nesting and Precomposing
Illustration by John Hersey

Building an extra-wide composition


From:

After Effects Apprentice 08: Nesting and Precomposing

with Chris Meyer and Trish Meyer

Video: Building an extra-wide composition

Chris Meyer: Let's open our first exercise file. I'll go to File > Open Project and if you have the exercise files that came with this lesson, select AEA_Nesting_1-Grouping.aep. If instead you are working from my book, After Effect Apprentice 2nd Edition, we're in Lesson 6 and you want to open up the project file 06 Nesting1.aep. I'll click Open and let's see where we're going with this. I'm going to open up Finished Movie. Double-click Human Main_final which will open it in this Footage panel.

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After Effects Apprentice 08: Nesting and Precomposing
2h 25m Intermediate Jun 29, 2011 Updated Nov 29, 2012

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Let Chris and Trish Meyer share with you two of the core secrets required to become an efficient After Effects user: understanding the render order (the internal order of operations After Effects uses when calculating masks, effects, transformation, track mattes, and layer styles) and the use of multiple compositions where a composition may be nested into one or more other comps. This makes it easier to group layers, efficiently re-use a common element to quickly accommodate client changes, pan around large composites of multiple layers, and solve render order issues.

The After Effects Apprentice videos on lynda.com 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 lynda.com Online Training Library®.

Topics include:
  • Grouping layers by nesting and pre-composing
  • Identifying and solving render order issues
  • Navigating composition hierarchies
  • Editing a precomp while viewing the result in another composition
  • Preserving the frame rate of a nested composition
Subjects:
Video Motion Graphics Visual Effects
Software:
After Effects
Authors:
Chris Meyer Trish Meyer

Building an extra-wide composition

Chris Meyer: Let's open our first exercise file. I'll go to File > Open Project and if you have the exercise files that came with this lesson, select AEA_Nesting_1-Grouping.aep. If instead you are working from my book, After Effect Apprentice 2nd Edition, we're in Lesson 6 and you want to open up the project file 06 Nesting1.aep. I'll click Open and let's see where we're going with this. I'm going to open up Finished Movie. Double-click Human Main_final which will open it in this Footage panel.

If you're using After Effect CS4, hold Option on Mac or Alt on Windows and double click to get in this panel and I'll press 0 of the numeric keypad to RAM preview. What I've here is multiple copies of this image sequence of the Muybridge man walking, all moving as a group across my screen. I could duplicate this clip multiple times and animate each one individually, but that's just asking for trouble, particularly if the client wants to change the speed later on, I want to scale them up or scale them down, etcetera.

Far better would be to create a special composition that already have all these lined up and spaced up properly, then animated as one single unit and that's what we're going to do by nesting a composition into another. I'll stop playback, twirl open this Sources folder, and let's look in this Muybridge sequence. Each individual sequence is 270 pixels wide by 500 tall. It has a pixel aspect ratio of 1.00. So each pixel is tall as it is wide. The sequence has a duration of 10 seconds and a frame rate of 10 frames per second.

Great! Let's create a composition and I'll hold eight of these. I'm going to select my Comps folder to make sure any new comp I make is sorted into this folder and go to Composition > New Composition. The shortcut is Command+N on Mac, Ctrl+N on Windows. Since my source uses square pixels, I'm going to use Square Pixels for this composition. That way I'll view it without distortion. Make sure Lock Aspect Ratio is turned off, because this composition-- we have a very unusual aspect much wider than it is tall. I need my Height to be 500 to equal one of this image sequences, but my Width needs to be 270 times 8, at least that wide to support 8 of these side-by-side.

That gives me a width of 2160 pixels. However, that's just enough space to butt this up against each other. I think it'll look better design wise to have a little bit of gap in between. So I'm going to make this a little bit bigger, say 2300 to begin with. In general, you will find out that it's better to sort out too large or too long, such as 10 seconds, because it's easier to trim down later than it is to add on space or add on duration later on. So ten seconds matches the duration of my clip, start at 0, 10 frames a second to match my sequence, and now I've got a good starting size.

Let's give it a name that makes sense. Such as Figures_group and press OK. This very wide comp has as a hard time fitting into my Composition panel. So I'm going to rearrange my user interface to try to open up as much room as I can for this comp and I'm unable to widen it out enough so I can see at least 50% which isn't too bad. I'll drag my first image sequence into this window and it will automatically snap into a corner which is very handy. But now I need to duplicate several of these across the screen. I can select the first one, duplicate it and start to drag it to space it out.

I'll use the tool later on to help me align these. You note that initially dragging freehand makes a hard to align things. You can press the Shift key after you've started dragging an object to constrain your movements to particular access. Another great tool is to go to View > Show Rulers and drag yourself down a guide. This way you can snap to guides, say if you want to align here, here, anywhere in the composition. I'm going to watch my Info panel and make sure that this is position of Y=0. Go back to my View menu, make sure Snap to Guides is enabled, and now you'll see that this layer naturally wants to snap to that guide, making it easier to arrange layers.

We need a total of eightof these across. I'm going to be a little sloppy with my space initially here. There's number 3, number 4, number 5, 6, 7, and 8, and for the eighth one I'd like to snap it to this right edge. I can either make a guide going down the right edge or in the case of the very edge of composition, after I start dragging, hold down Command+Shift on Mac, Ctrl+Shift on Windows and it'll snap to the edge of that composition.

Once I have a layer in my left and right end positions, it's easy to distribute them all in between those left and right extremes. I'll select all of my layers, go to Window, open up the Align panel, and just say distribute these horizontally. Click and I've nicely spaced out layers. If I don't like spacing later on, I can change the position of just one of the ends then redistribute them in between, and there's the first step. I've got these 8 sequences all lined up in their own composition.

Next, I need to put this composition into what's going to become my final composition where I build the final composite of my scene.

Find answers to the most frequently asked questions about After Effects Apprentice 08: Nesting and Precomposing.


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Q: This course was updated on 11/29/2012. What changed?
A: We added a new chapter, "Render Order Exceptions." It contains four new movies: Continuous rasterization, The Transform effect, Collapse transformations, and Compound effects. We also added a movie that shows our premium subscribers how to use the exercise files, including the new exercise files designed for After Effects CS6.
 
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