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Navigating the Graph Editor

From: After Effects Apprentice 03: Advanced Animation

Video: Navigating the Graph Editor

In this chapter, we're going to focus on the most powerful tool in After Effects to help refine your animations, the Graph Editor. First I'm going to clear my display by re-docking the Layer panel into the Comp panel and closing all my previous compositions. And if you have the files that came with this lesson, go ahead and open up Comp 03-Graph Editor*starter. I'm going to press 0 on the numeric keypad to RAM-preview this. It will take a while to cache up. And you might recognize this from the After Effects Apprentice: Basic Animation lesson. At this stage, we've entered all of our keyframes, but you might notice that the movements are a bit jerky. For example, the snowflake just kind of plops into place, the title comes up and just suddenly stops.

Navigating the Graph Editor

In this chapter, we're going to focus on the most powerful tool in After Effects to help refine your animations, the Graph Editor. First I'm going to clear my display by re-docking the Layer panel into the Comp panel and closing all my previous compositions. And if you have the files that came with this lesson, go ahead and open up Comp 03-Graph Editor*starter. I'm going to press 0 on the numeric keypad to RAM-preview this. It will take a while to cache up. And you might recognize this from the After Effects Apprentice: Basic Animation lesson. At this stage, we've entered all of our keyframes, but you might notice that the movements are a bit jerky. For example, the snowflake just kind of plops into place, the title comes up and just suddenly stops.

It could be refined, it could be more elegant, and that's what we're going to try to do in this chapter. I'll move ahead and stop the animation, do Command+A on Mac, Ctrl+A on Windows to select all my layers, and press U to reveal all of the keyframes. And note that all of the keyframes have this diamond icon. That diamond icon indicates a linear type keyframe. That reinforces why we're seeing such jerky animation. Linear keyframes have sudden starts, stops, and speed changes, and generally are not the most elegant animation you can create.

So let's refine them. I'm going to go ahead and open up the Graph Editor. The shortcut is to hold the Shift key and press F3, and initially I don't see anything. That's because I need various view preferences to decide what I do want to see. I'm going to go down here to choose which properties are shown, and for now I'm going to choose Show Animated Properties. That will show me everything that's keyframed or animating. Now a bunch of different lines and graphs appear. Currently it's showing all animated properties for all selected layers. I can go ahead and just select an individual layer to see just that layer's properties.

If I want to see more than one layer, I can Shift+click it to see that as well. But I'll go back to just Snowflake.mov for now. If there is a particular property you want to see all the time, regardless of whether or not the layer is selected, there is a nice little option called Graph Editor Sets. You can enable that also underneath this eyeball icon, underneath Show Graph Editor Set, and a set is enabled by clicking on this little graph icon between the animation stopwatch and the name of the property. Once you enable that, that set of parameters will always be visible, regardless of whether or not that layer is selected.

That's really good if you have a guide layer that has important timing that you want to synchronize other people to. You can leave it enabled all of the time, even as you work on other layers, but again, I'll just turn it off for now and select Snowflake.mov. You will notice that the parameters are color coded. For example, the Position values are in this pink color, this pink line, the Rotation is in this turquoise color--and there is its property graph--Opacity is in cyan-- there is its value--and then there is Scale. X is in red, Y is in green.

Since the two values are identical, the red graph is drawing on top of the green graph, and that's why you just see a red line over here in the Graph Editor. If I was to separate those by turning off the Constrain Proportions switch, I would see two independent graphs as their values diverge from each other. You can zoom and pan in time in the Timeline panel just as you would normally. For example, you can go ahead and move the corners of the Time navigator to look at just a segment of time and slide a segment of time through. I'll restore that.

I do have my little slider down here at the bottom to decide how much I'm zoomed in, and I can use the normal Plus or Minus keys to go ahead and zoom in and out, so that's pretty normal as well. Home and End keys still work as normal, and I still have my keyframe navigator. I can go ahead and move between the Position keyframes, move to the Rotation and keyframe, Opacity start keyframe, et cetera. Just be careful if you use the keyframe navigator for a property that isn't currently revealed; for example, I'll go to the next Snowstorm title Position keyframe, but because it's not actually selected, I can't see that keyframe. Select the layer.

Now, it makes a lot more sense. You can drag the Current Time Indicator, and again holding the Shift key makes it sticky, makes it want to snap to these different keyframes. And you can turn that snapping behavior on and off by clicking on this little magnet icon down at the bottom of the Graph Editor. And finally, if you come from using nonlinear editing systems, you can use the J and K keys to move earlier in time and back in time between keyframes. Another important thing you need to know about navigating the Graph Editor is how to zoom and pan in height to look at values.

A great default is to enable Auto-zoom graph height. That means it will always maximize the available height in your Timeline panel. I am going to go ahead and zoom on a smaller segment of time here. As I go ahead and pan around what time I'm looking at, you will see it automatically rescales as I'm looking at the smaller value range. I'll go back here and it rescales to show a wider value range. So the Auto Zoom behavior is really, really handy. On the other hand, if you find that this is getting in your way, you can turn that off and now manually pan around this.

One great shortcut is to hold down the Spacebar, then drag with your cursor. You can drag left and right in time and up and down and in the value range to see where your graphs are. If you have some specific values you want to focus on, temporarily hold down the Z key, the Zoom key, drag a marquee around the keyframes or value range you're interested in, release the mouse and the Z key, and it will automatically zoom to center that range. By the way, if you have a mouse with a scroll wheel, the scroll wheel will also move up and down the values in the Graph Editor.

If you hold down Option, it will also zoom in time. I'll double-click to see my whole Timeline again. One other really important zoom option, if you need to see even more resolution inside the Graph Editor, is the Tilde key. You might remember from After Effects Apprentice: Pre-Roll, the Tilde key maximizes a frame to take up the entire application window. This is where you get maximum resolution. However, it's at the cost of not seeing anything else, so personally I just leave things where they are. I just tap Tilde to go back to normal display, and I turn on the Auto Zoom Height to always maximize the amount of space I have available.

Next, let's get into what these different graphs actually mean and how to change what they're showing us.

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After Effects Apprentice 03: Advanced Animation

32 video lessons · 22718 viewers

Chris Meyer and Trish Meyer
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