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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 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®.
A nice feature added to After Effects CS6 is the ability to change vector artwork, such as layers imported from Adobe Illustrator, into shape layers that you can then further manipulate inside After Effects. If you have access to the CS6 version of the project files, open up the comp SB-Vectors to Shapes* starter. In it I have a single Adobe Illustrator layer, and it has a very simple logo created from multiple shapes, including text. I merged the layers of the original Illustrator file into a single After Effects layer when I imported it.
But just to remind you, you do have a function to right-click and convert flattened or merge artwork from Photoshop or Illustrator into a layered composition. This does buy you some flexibility. I'll open up the now-nested composition that has all the individual layers. However, these are still just pixel-based layers once brought into After Effects. You do not have access in After Effects to the paths that form those layers. I'm going to undo.
Therefore, a welcome addition in CS6 is the ability to right-click on a layer [00:01:13 .86] or go to the Layer Menu and select Create Shapes from Vectors. Doing so keeps my original Illustrator or vector-based file, just turns off its video switch, and instead creates a brand new shape layer that embodies all of these paths. And what's really cool is those paths are editable and may be modified by shape operators in After Effects. I'm going to twirl it open here, and inside the Contents you'll see a large number of shape groups.
A group has been created for every object or path that was in the original Illustrator file-- one exception being compound paths like the hole in the middle of an e or something like that; that would be grouped into one shape group inside After Effects. Inside each group you see the paths that make up that particular character. In this case, since it's a stencil-type font, you have the main part of the S and the two Ns, along with the shape operator that merges those three paths together, a fill, and a transformation. And each path created is indeed a pen-type path.
I'll turn on my ability to see the shape path outlines. If I wanted to I could start editing those individual paths as if they were any other pen-created shape. Let me turn this off for now, just to clean up my display. Now, the first thing I might do when I bring in an object like this from Illustrator and convert it to a shape layer is group things in a more logical manner. This is a lot of shape groups to manage. So first I'm going to create a shape group for the word Studios and see which groups those are.
It looks like I'm from Group 1 to Group 7, so I'll select those seven groups and drag them into my brand new Studios group. Now I can handle them with one set of transforms for the entire word. I'll go do the same for Quarry. Select the Y. That's Group 8. The Q is Group 13, so it's safe to say it's all those groups in between, and add it to Quarry.
Finally, I just need to select the remaining groups and see. This is my vertical slash, my hollow rectangle, the yellow rectangle, blue rectangle and purple rectangle. Now that these are separated out, there are all sorts of things I can do with them. For example, I can change the color. Let's say I wanted that blue rectangle to be a more vivid color. I've selected it.
I'll go up to its Fill color swatch, and now I can interactively change it to, say, be a little more saturated. I can select my purple rectangle, click on its Fill options, and actually change it to be a linear gradient. I'll move my gradient control points into its two corners, select my gradient fill, and now I can have a little bit of fun with the colors in the corners of that gradient. Maybe make this a little more orangish or peachish for the transition.
I can use blending modes to change how these layers interact. Quite often I use something like Overlay for a starting point, but I've also found some modes such as Color Burn are useful to make these layers interact in interesting ways. Do the same for the purple rectangle so that it blends with the text that was underneath. And finally, and perhaps most fun, I can add shape operators to these objects. For example, I'll choose this hollow rectangle and add to it Wiggle Paths, to make it automatically animate.
Now, the default is kind of crazy. It makes it more like a really crinkly rectangle. But I can twirl open the Wiggle Paths operator, set the Detail down to 0.0, and now it will honor the original vertices of the object. I'll increase the Size a little bit, slow down the Speed a little bit, press 0 to RAM Preview, and now I have a nice piece of automatic animation. As a matter of fact, I could select that and copy it to my other shape layers inside this group.
Now, I'll paste, F2 to Deselect, RAM Preview, and now I'm starting to build an animated logo out of what was previously an uneditable Illustrator file that gets rasterized to pixels in After Effects. Just to give you a couple of more ideas on how I can go further, let's say you don't like rectangles; let's say you would prefer a rounded rectangle. That's all right. I'll just choose Round Corners and we'll round off the corners of that rectangle. And I can make them more rounded if I like, maybe somewhere around there.
If I want to create a more radical shape, I can take, say, this blue rectangle and apply one of my favorite operators: Pucker & Bloat. Just its name is a lot of fun, but it's also a fun of parameter to edit. I'll turn it into something that has some interesting spikes extending out. I've got a graphical element that goes up into the hollow space of this Q, and of course it still auto-animates because I have Wiggle Paths. Let's say that these simple colored rectangles aren't cutting it for me; maybe I need a stroke to make them stand out against the background.
I noticed that initially After Effects was fairly efficient in the way that it transferred these paths into a shape layer. If there was no stroke in the original, it do not add a stroke to the shape group. It only has a fill. But that's okay. I can still go add a stroke. In this case, I came up with a white color, 2 pixels wide. That's not quite to my taste. I'll make it a black stroke, and hairline, like 1 pixel wide, or I could even make it something smaller like 0.5 pixel wide, so I just have a fine the anti-alias line.
And if I like that I can select it and paste it to the yellow rectangle and the purple rectangle, so now they all get an outline. I think you can see the possibilities here. And again, the reason that I grouped things such as the words Quarry and Studio is that by putting them in their own shape group, they get one set of transforms. So I can move each word as one group, in addition to accessing individual characters, and if I so desire, moving those characters individually. Here is just something I threw together quickly.
If you have the exercise files, down in Comps_Finished, I have a final version as well, which is a slightly different treatment with a different choice of modes and the way things are grouped, but it gives you the same idea. Here I've even added a drop shadow to these layers. So all told, a nice little addition that appeared in After Effects CS6.
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