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There are several ways to import source material into After Effects. For example, there's always the File > Import command. It's Command+I on Mac, Ctrl+I on Windows. You can use the menu item, or you can just double-click at any blank space in the Project panel and it will also open the Import File dialog for whatever operating system you're running. You can select individual files, change the layout to perhaps see previews of them. If you have multiple still images that are numbered, you even have the option to import them as a sequence--in other words assemble them end to end into a movie.
You can also drag files from the Finder or Explorer into After Effects, but that can be difficult because After Effects tends to take up the entire user interface. If you already know what sources you want to import, the File > Import command works fine. However, if you're not sure what you want to import--for example, you have a folder full of still images you want to go through-- you might want to try Browse in Bridge. This is a relatively new command that's been added to After Effects. This will open up the Adobe Bridge application, which allows you to navigate among files and folders on your computer, and preview them in a large screen.
If I select a file, it's visible in this Preview dialog and just like After Effects you can go ahead and resize these Windows perhaps to give your Preview window more space to show you a larger image. If you select something, such as a still image, your camera metadata will appear. And also if you select movies, you will be able to preview them inside Bridge before deciding whether or not you want to import them. It's easy to navigate among your folders using this trail along the top. If you have a folder of common sources you expect to use over and over again, you can also add them to this Favorites column just by dragging them into this panel. For example, we've done this with our own stock footage collection.
To import an item into After Effects, you can select it. You can also Shift+Select multiple items and just double-click. You will be switched back into After Effects, and all of those files will be imported for you. If you want to inspect a source before putting it to use, double-click it. This open a special Footage panel in After Effects where you get to look at the sources without having to add them to a composition first. Now in After Effects CS5, movies will open directly into the Footage panel. Previously you had to hold Option on Mac or Alt on Windows to do this.
If you need to change any of the source settings for any of your footage items, there is a really useful Interpret Footage button down here at the bottom of the Project panel. Select your Source, click Interpret Footage, and now you'll get a dialog where you get set alpha channel types, frame rates--for example, I know this is video and should have a video rated 29.97-- deal with video issues such as fields and pulldown, and other options depending on what source you have imported. For example, a lot of video is what's referred to as non-square pixels. They draw differently on the computer than they will on a TV monitor, and you can set the pixel aspect ratios here.
Any changes you make in this dialog will be reflected in the Footage panel. It makes it easier to see the results of say changing the alpha channel type before you go to use the footage. You can also click on Footage items and get a quick thumbnail and description of them along the top of the Project panel. Footage items can be used multiple times inside the same project--for that matter, even multiple times inside the same composition. So in the next movie, we are going to talk about how you create and manage compositions inside After Effects.
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