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After Effects Apprentice 02: Basic Animation
Illustration by John Hersey

Exploring spatial keyframes


From:

After Effects Apprentice 02: Basic Animation

with Chris Meyer and Trish Meyer

Video: Exploring spatial keyframes

Now earlier in this lesson, you animated the snowflake along a curve, but I thought it'd be useful to give you a better, guided tour of how the different keyframes work in the Comp panel. The position keyframe in the Comp panel, by the way, is called a spatial keyframe. Spatial simply means space. It has a value on X and Y, unlike say Opacity, which has a value in percent. When I turn on the stopwatch for Position and create the first keyframe and, then I will go to a later point in time and I'll move the Snowflake, it might look like After Effects creates motion paths in a straight line.

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After Effects Apprentice 02: Basic Animation
2h 19m Beginner Jan 25, 2011 Updated Nov 09, 2012

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Trish Meyer leads beginners through a gentle introduction to Adobe After Effects: from creating a new project and importing sources, through arranging and animating layers, applying effects, and creating variations, to rendering the final movie. However, this is no paint-by-numbers exercise. Trish demonstrates how she makes creative decisions and saves time through the use of keyboard shortcuts and smart working practices. Additional movies explain further details about how After Effects works under the hood. Her measured pace helps even those completely new to After Effects understand the program so that they can use it effectively on their own projects. Exercise files are included with the course.

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:
  • Starting a project from scratch
  • Building a composition
  • Arranging and transforming layers interactively and numerically
  • Animating parameters including motion paths
  • Applying and re-using effects
  • Creating variations and rendering the final movie
  • Importing layered Photoshop files
  • Understanding alpha channels
  • Avoiding common mistakes
Subjects:
Video Motion Graphics Visual Effects
Software:
After Effects
Authors:
Chris Meyer Trish Meyer

Exploring spatial keyframes

Now earlier in this lesson, you animated the snowflake along a curve, but I thought it'd be useful to give you a better, guided tour of how the different keyframes work in the Comp panel. The position keyframe in the Comp panel, by the way, is called a spatial keyframe. Spatial simply means space. It has a value on X and Y, unlike say Opacity, which has a value in percent. When I turn on the stopwatch for Position and create the first keyframe and, then I will go to a later point in time and I'll move the Snowflake, it might look like After Effects creates motion paths in a straight line.

So you might think if I make a third keyframe and drag it over here, this would be a straight line, but it's not. The middle keyframe--actually all of the keyframes--are defaulting to Auto Bezier keyframes, Auto meaning automatic. You can think of it like After Effects is making an automatic curve. Now where does it get this curve from? Well, you see there is two dots to the left and right of the keyframe, and you can tell that's an Auto Bezier keyframe because it doesn't have visible handles, and the orientation of that handle is determined by the position of the keyframe before and after.

For instance, if you look at this keyframe and the third keyframe, and you drew a line between them, this line would be parallel to the line between these two dots. If that's not clear, let me show you a couple of other examples. If I move these two keyframes so now the first and last keyframe is making a vertical line, these two dots are also making a vertical line. I could also make it diagonal. It doesn't matter what I do, no matter where I put the first and last keyframe, these handles automatically curve around to make this curve.

Now, let's change the keyframe type. Let's say I take one of these dots and I click on it. Now I have visible handles. This is called a continuous Bezier keyframe. Now I like to say it doesn't so much called as its behavior. As you can see, it's just kind of like a seesaw. I can adjust one handle independently of the other, but not the angle. They always stay connected in a continuous line. But if you break the handles, you will have control over both sides independently.

To break the handles, I will use the Pen tool. If you click on the Pen tool, you will see the options available: Pen tool, Add Vertex tool--add points in other words--Delete Vertex tool--or delete a point--and Convert Vertex tool. Check out the symbols for the Convert Vertex tool, because you will be seeing that when we start editing. Now I mentioned before that I don't really like to change tools because then I have to keep going back to the Selection tool. So you can use the Pen tool temporarily by just using its shortcut, and the shortcut again is G. So, if I want to break these handles, I simply press and hold down the G key, drag that handle, and then release the G key.

So you can see it goes back to the Selection tool. Now that the handles are broken, I have control over both sides independently. You will also see that the outgoing handle of the first keyframe is automatic, but I can drag that up and make a real keyframe. And if you can't quite see the dots, and you want to get the handle and you can't quite see where it is, here's a good little shortcut: On the Mac, press Command+ Option; On Windows, Ctrl+Alt. The keyframe itself is usually easy to see.

So click on the keyframe itself and just drag the handle out. So now I have handles that are broken. If I press the G key again, and click, I will now have continuous Bezier handles. Now sometimes you want to get rid of the handles completely, so you want to retract the handles. There is no need to pull them in and try to get them into that point; all you need to do is press G again and click on the keyframe itself. That will retract the handles. If I press G again, and click on the keyframe, we'll get back to the Automatic Bezier keyframes we started with.

So if you haven't tried this before, create at least three keyframes and concentrate on the one in the middle. There is your automatic keyframes, click and drag to get continuous, press G to break the handles. Now they are broken. Press G again if you want to make them continuous. Press G to retract and G to pop out the handles again. You can see it doesn't take very long to get this down, and it's something you are going to use over and over again in After Effects, not only to edit a motion path for position but also anchor point and maybe when moving a camera along a path.

The camera would use position keyframes. And you will also have handles when you are editing masks as well as shape layers. Now one more thing I wanted to point out is when you are moving along the path, you'll see these dots. I think we mentioned before that each dot is the position of the anchor point at each frame. If I press the G key as I move along the path, the cursor will change to the Add Vertex tool, and if I click, I will get a keyframe at that frame, which is back here somewhere, about frame 15.

Now this is unusual for After Effects because normally keyframes are always created at the current time, so whatever the time is in the timecode when you make a keyframe, that's where the keyframe would be. But this is one way where you can look at the motion path and say I need a keyframe right there, and you can just create it.

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Q: This course was updated on 11/09/2012. What changed?
A: We added new movies on using the exercise files that come with this course, and working with the Global Performance Cache in After Effects CS6. We have also added exercise files designed for After Effects CS6.
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