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Manipulating and customizing the user interface

From: After Effects Apprentice 01: Pre-Roll

Video: Manipulating and customizing the user interface

It's easy to customize the After Effects user interface. For example, when you have multiple panels open in a frame, you just click in their tabs to switch between them. You can resize individual panels. For example, we usually just want to see the top of the Preview panel. We rarely need the options underneath. So we will place the cursor in between panels until the icon changes and drag between those panels to go ahead and change your size, close them down or open them up. You can also make panels wider or narrower as needed.

Manipulating and customizing the user interface

It's easy to customize the After Effects user interface. For example, when you have multiple panels open in a frame, you just click in their tabs to switch between them. You can resize individual panels. For example, we usually just want to see the top of the Preview panel. We rarely need the options underneath. So we will place the cursor in between panels until the icon changes and drag between those panels to go ahead and change your size, close them down or open them up. You can also make panels wider or narrower as needed.

If you want to resize multiple panels at the same time, place your cursor at the intersection of multiple panels. It will change to this four-way arrow, and that way you can now move and resize multiple panels at the same time. Quite often we are balancing off more space for the Timeline panel versus more space for the Composition, the actual image that we are viewing and working with. You can change which frames panels are docked into. For example, this is a bit crowded for the Audio panel. I think we would have more room down here where effects and presets are.

To re-dock it, I click anywhere along its top tab where its name is, then start dragging to a new location. You will see parts of other panels start to highlight that indicate where this panel will go if I were to release my mouse. If I highlight the very center of a frame, releasing my mouse will move that panel into this frame, and there we go. Audio is now centered in the same frame that contains Effects & Presets, et cetera. On the other hand, if I think audio deserves its own frame all by itself and if I have room in my user interface for it, I can grab its tab and move it until I get a highlighted section along the edges of an existing frame.

Whenever that's highlighted, releasing the mouse will create a brand-new frame and place that panel in it. And I can do further rearrangement. I can move Effects & Presets to be below these other panels in this frame, create a brand-new frame, or I can re- dock Effects & Presets, take the same tall space that Audio is currently in. Make it a little bit wider. There we go. If you want to break free the constraints of everything being laid out flat in one application window, you can also undock and float panels or frames. In the upper-right corner of any panel or frame is an Options menu. Clicking on that arrow will open up Options specific to that frame, for example by Audio Options.

The Options menu also contains these common commands, such as closing panels and frames, or undocking them. For example, if I want to undock Audio and Effects Presets to be into their own floating window, I select Undock Frame. Now both have been liberated into their own floating panel that I can resize and move around wherever I like. If I decide that I want to re-dock one of those panels back into its own frame, I just drag it back, and there it's created its own frame and left my Audio panel floating, and again I can just put it back where it came from.

If you hit upon an arrangement of panels and frames that you like, you can save it. That's what workspaces are for. For example, if I like this layout, I can go ahead and say New Workspace, say Chris widescreen, since I'm on a widescreen monitor here. Workspaces remember the most recent changes you made to them. For example, if I was to move Audio back down into this frame, this will now automatically be memorized as my new layout for Chris widescreen. However, if I ever want to go back to how a workspace was at the moment I saved it, I go down to reset the name of the workspace.

It will ask me if I'm sure and then put the panels and frames back where they were when I created that workspace. The same holds true for the default workspaces. For example, we are going to be using Standard quite a bit in the After Effects Apprentice lessons, so quite often we will be telling you, switch to the standard workspace then reset the standard workspace to make sure you're back to the factory defaults. Other common workspaces you we will be using a lot are Animation, which includes several other tools like Smoother, Wiggler and Motion Sketch, and also the text layout, which includes the Character and Paragraph palettes already opened for you.

There will be occasions when an individual panel contains more information than you can probably see inside a workspace layout. For example, the Project panel actually contains loads of additional information off to the right, but it requires closing down the other windows to pretty small sizes to see it all. Well, there is a great command inside After Effects to temporarily maximize a frame. Select it, make sure it has a yellow outline, and press the Tilde key. It's one on the left corner of the keyboard between Escape and Tab. Pressing Tilde makes it take over the entire screen so I can see whatever details I need to. Pressing Tilde again goes back to my original layout.

You will find this particularly handy when you are working in the Timeline panel because it can have many, many parameters you need to look at. Press Tilde to see all of those parameters, and Tilde again to go back to your Normal layout. Many panels inside After Effects also contain very handy Quick Search dialogs. The Project panel, the Timeline panel, the Effects & Presets panel, even the Help panel contains these quick search dialogs. For example, if I want to find a source file that had a particular word in this name, like snow, I just type "snow" into the Quick Search for the Project panel, and it shows me all the sources with snow and its name.

Now one way you can get into trouble in the After Effects user interface is by closing panels. If you accidentally close a panel and that panel was the only panel in that frame, the whole thing might disappear, such as that. Well, don't panic. Doing something to open the window will just restore the interface the way it's suppose to be. For example, if I go ahead and reopen that first composition, it automatically will reopen the Composition panel for me; it's not permanently gone. Selecting or resetting workspaces can also reset your user interface. And by the way, if you are trying to close Compositions, go to the top of the Comp panel and select Close All.

That's the best way to close all of your currently opened compositions and clean up the interface before you start on another comp.

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After Effects Apprentice 01: Pre-Roll

8 video lessons · 28379 viewers

Chris Meyer and Trish Meyer
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