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Importing layered Photoshop files

From: After Effects Apprentice 02: Basic Animation

Video: Importing layered Photoshop files

In this movie, I will be covering the various ways of importing a layered Photoshop file into After Effects. First, let's have a look at the file in Photoshop. It has a number of layers, and if you look at the Layer panel, you will see that many of them have layer styles applied. Provided I import this file as a composition, I'll be able to edit these layer styles if I wish. So in After Effects, I will double- click the Project panel. That will open the Import File dialog. The Butterfly Arrangement is the file I want to import.

Importing layered Photoshop files

In this movie, I will be covering the various ways of importing a layered Photoshop file into After Effects. First, let's have a look at the file in Photoshop. It has a number of layers, and if you look at the Layer panel, you will see that many of them have layer styles applied. Provided I import this file as a composition, I'll be able to edit these layer styles if I wish. So in After Effects, I will double- click the Project panel. That will open the Import File dialog. The Butterfly Arrangement is the file I want to import.

The Import As pop-up will allow me to choose Footage or Composition. Let's start with Footage, and note when I click Open a second dialog appears with the same options in the Import Kind pop-up. So you will want to check in this dialog that you are importing it using the method you prefer. If I choose Footage, I have a choice between merged layers and choosing an individual layer. Let's look at merged layers first. I will click OK, and a single image will be imported. If I double-click and open it in the Footage panel, you will see that it's a flattened merged file.

Now if I make a mistake and I meant to import this as a composition, I could select File > Replace Footage > With Layered Comp, and it will replace the footage item with a composition with the same names of footage item and a folder with all layers inside. So that's a work-around you might find useful. However, let's look at some of the other options we have. I will import again as footage, and this time I'll choose a layer, let's say Nectar Plants, the title.

I have an option of merging any layer styles into the footage, or ignoring them, but notice I don't have an option to edit them. The next pop-up allows me to choose whether the layer size should be based on the layer itself or the canvas size in Photoshop. Let's pick Layer Size, click OK, and here's my individual image. I could make a composition and just add it to the comp. So this is useful when all you need is one the layer from a layered file.

You don't have to import the entire file. Let's delete that, and this time we will import it as a composition. Again, I have two options here that are repeated in the next dialog, so sometimes I just ignore the first dialog. The two options you have, Import this Composition or Retain Layer Sizes, determine what size will layers be when you open the composition. By the way, in CS4, Retain layer Sizes shows up as Cropped Layers.

In Composition, each layer will be the same size as the composition, and the anchor point will be the center of the layer. That's handy if you plan to go back to Photoshop and change some of the sizes of the layers. The second option is more useful. It means that each layer will only be as big as it needs to be. When I select that, I have other options and each check. The first one asks whether I'd like to be able to edit the layer styles or whether I should merge the layer styles into footage. Let's go and pick Editable Layer Styles.

The next option, Live Photoshop 3D, is only applicable if any of my layers in Photoshop use the Photoshop 3D features, such as a model or the new Repousse in CS5. I don't need to worry about that option with this file. Click OK. Now, you will see I have a composition that's named after the Photoshop file, and a folder with all the individual layers. If I open the composition, you can see that each layer is available to be animated.

Now remember those layer styles. If I select layer one and twirl it down, I want it to point out a little bug. At least in CS5, the version I'm using, the twirlie to the left of layer styles is missing. However, they are still applied, and they're still editable. Here's a little trick: double-click layer styles and the truly magically appears, and these of the layer styles applied. I can delete them, or I can edit them.

I just wanted to point that out. In CS4 this seems to work just fine. Now because we imported using the second option, Retain Layer Sizes, you will notice that each layer is only as large as it needs to be. So the handles are matching the layer size pretty precisely. If I had used the first option, each layer would have handles at the corner of the comp and each layer's anchor point would be in the center of the layer. So that's not very useful when you want to rotate or scale. Speaking of scale, bear in mind that every layer you import will come in at 100%.

You already know that you shouldn't be scaling layers above 100% because they'll just get soft. So you do have to watch out for this. Quite often you don't have enough resolution to scale things larger, only smaller. So that covers the basics of importing Photoshop layered files. If you importing an Illustrator layered file, it works pretty much the same way, except for some of the options, like editable layer styles and Photoshop 3D-- those buttons will be missing. But you can import as a flattened image or as a composition with all the objects in place.

Now if you are a good Photoshop user, but you are new to After Effects, you might think this is a great way to work. In Photoshop you could compose all of your objects, scale them, apply effects, and so on, and then in After Effects, import it as a composition. However, I almost never work this way. Unless I receive a file from a client, I would never create an arrangement of Photoshop 1st. There's very little that I did in Photoshop that I couldn't have done in After Effects. I also have the problem that my butterfly could only be sized up to a certain size, the original size in Photoshop.

So quite often when you work in Photoshop, you end up throwing away resolution. In After Effects if the original file was larger, you can always return to that size. I would like to say that After Effects is totally nondestructive. Any effects I apply or any transformations I added, I can undo them today, tomorrow, anytime in the future. So bear that in mind when you are importing layered files. See if you can gradually start doing more and more of your work directly in After Effects. For instance, if you're working with this layer in After Effects, I would have the entire image to work with.

In Photoshop, it's been cropped off. Now I have been limited in what I could do with it. I could scale it this way, make it smaller, but I can't show the whole object, so in this situation I am limited in what I can do with this layer. So I hope that gives you some food for thought. It's tempting to want to do a lot of work in Photoshop if you're familiar with it, but as you gain more experience in After Effects I think you will realize it's a very good way to compose and arrange layers. You will find it easier to set up your animations from scratch directly in the program, and everything will always be editable.

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After Effects Apprentice 02: Basic Animation

29 video lessons · 32147 viewers

Chris Meyer and Trish Meyer
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