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When you're working inside After Effects, you are creating compositions. Compositions are where you bring together multiple items of source materials, sometimes referred to as footage. You animate them, apply effects to them, blend them together, and then you render a composition to create a final output movie or still image. If you have opened up a project that already has a composition, you just double-click it to open that comp. You can also create a new composition by going to Composition > New Composition, and choosing what you name it--for example, first movie--and entering how large and how long you want that composition to be.
For example, I know my movies are in the NTSC D1 format, so I will use the present for NTSC D1. It automatically sets my size, pixel aspect ratio and frame rate for me. And I can set my duration. For example, if I know I want this to be 10 seconds, I just need to enter 10.0, and After Effects knows that's 10 seconds 0 frames. Click OK. A third way to create compositions is to select a footage item in the Project panel and drag it onto this New Composition icon, which is to the right to the New Folder icon, to the left of the Bit Depth icon, and it will create a comp for you that's named after that footage item, has the same dimensions, duration, number of pixels, et cetera, as the source material.
When you have multiple comps open, they will appear as individual tabs in the Timeline panel--that's where all the template information for composition resides--and they will appear under our dropdown menu on the Composition panel, for example. That's the pre-built comp we already opened, and that's the new composition we created from scratch. To add new sources to a composition, you select them in the Project panel and then drag them over into your Composition panel. A really handy keyboard shortcut is to have your target composition forward.
It has the yellow outline around it. Select your source in the Project panel and hold Command on Mac or Ctrl on Windows and press the Forward Slash key. That will automatically add it to the top of your composition with all your layers stacked up. To move through time in your composition, you can just grab the Current Time Indicator and drag it through your comp, and see what frames of your sources appear at different points in time in your composition. To manipulate sources in your comp, you can drag them directly inside your Comp panel, move them around. Or you can go ahead and open up or what we refer to as twirl-open their parameters in the Timeline panel and go ahead and change them numerically there.
There are number of useful buttons along the bottom of the Comp panel that effect how you view your work. For example, there is the color channels. We could look at individual color channels or just the alpha channel. There is this very handy snapshot function. Click on this or press F5 on the keyboard to take a snapshot, and then you can change your composition, switch to entirely different composition, and recall that snapshot. The shortcut is Shift+F5. I will switch back to the composition we were in.
Now there are two other parameters that are very important here: Magnification and Resolution. Magnification is how much you are zoomed in or zoomed out on this display. A really good default is fit up to 100%. That means if you have less room to look at your composition--for example, like this--it will automatically scale down your composition view to make it fit the available space in the Comp panel. It'll stop at 100%. It won't keep blowing up beyond 100%.
The problem with fit up to 100%, so when you get these intermediate values like 88.1, you can get a crunchy sort of display because the default is nearest neighbor sampling. It's not smoothly anti-aliased. If you want to view the comp instead at a very precise magnification ratios, you can go ahead and pick one, such as 33.3%, 50%, maybe 200% because you are really look at a particular detail. But again, a really good default is fit up to 100%.
Related to magnification is Resolution. Resolution is how many pixels After Effects renders to draw the Comp panel. Full means always render all of the pixels that are in the image, even if you're at a lower resolution such as 50% where you are not going to see all the pixels. However, this is a little bit wasteful. Why render all the pixels if you are only seeing half of them? You can drop down to say half resolution to where now After Effects is only rendering every other pixel and every other line, which is four times faster, by the way.
When you're working with really large sources, such as film frames, footage from a red camera, et cetera, you might want to go down to half resolution or even quarter resolution, just for the speed advantage while working with this footage. Personally we tend to leave this at Auto setting. That means it will automatically adjust the resolution to follow the magnification. Notice now that I have Magnification at 50%, it has automatically set the resolution to half, if I was to go up to Fit up to 100% to where its rendering every pixel.
So again, good defaults: Fit up to 100%, Auto. We will be discussing ways of setting and animating these properties, as well as taking advantage of all these different options in the Composition viewer and all these different tool panels in the After Effects Apprentice lessons. But this gives you an idea of the hierarchy. We start with a project file, you import your sources, you create a composition, you add your source material into your composition, and that's where you do your work.
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