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After Effects Apprentice 07: Parenting
Illustration by John Hersey

Parenting with null objects


From:

After Effects Apprentice 07: Parenting

with Chris Meyer and Trish Meyer

Video: Parenting with null objects

In this movie, we're going to show a slightly more sophisticated application of parenting and to help raise or animate our children we're going to use a nanny, known as a null object. First, let's see where we're going with this. If you've got the project files, open up the Finished Movies folder and double-click Parenting2. In After Effects CS5 or later, that will open it up in the Footage panel. If you're using After Effects CS4, hold down Option on Mac or Alt on Windows, double-click, and then it will open in Footage. I'll press the 0 key to RAM preview and you see we have a bit of a title animation going on here, where we've got a number and a globe scaling up.

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After Effects Apprentice 07: Parenting
1h 39m Intermediate May 25, 2011 Updated Nov 20, 2012

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Parenting is a way to group multiple layers within the same composition inside After Effects. In this course, Chris Meyer shows how to set up a parenting chain, discusses what makes a good parent, and demonstrates several techniques using parenting, such as creating a title animation with a minimal number of keyframes, building a geometric construct, and bringing an anthropomorphic robot arm to life. Sidebar topics include avoiding a scaling gotcha with parenting and creating abstract backgrounds using the Fractal Noise effect.

The After Effects Apprentice videos on lynda.com were created by Trish and Chris Meyer and are designed to be used on their own and as a companion to their book After Effects Apprentice. We are honored to host these tutorials in the lynda.com Online Training Library®.

Topics include:
  • Preparing files
  • Making parenting connections
  • Arranging the frame and arm
  • Using null objects
  • Crafting anthropomorphic-style animations
  • Avoiding problems with non-uniform scaling
  • Animating Fractal Noise
Subjects:
Video Motion Graphics Visual Effects
Software:
After Effects
Authors:
Chris Meyer Trish Meyer

Parenting with null objects

In this movie, we're going to show a slightly more sophisticated application of parenting and to help raise or animate our children we're going to use a nanny, known as a null object. First, let's see where we're going with this. If you've got the project files, open up the Finished Movies folder and double-click Parenting2. In After Effects CS5 or later, that will open it up in the Footage panel. If you're using After Effects CS4, hold down Option on Mac or Alt on Windows, double-click, and then it will open in Footage. I'll press the 0 key to RAM preview and you see we have a bit of a title animation going on here, where we've got a number and a globe scaling up.

We have the words Season Finale animating on from the left. We have a type animation on TOMORROW on the right, and as the globe and number scale up and move to the left, we've got the word such as TOMORROW moving along with it. How do we create this coordinated animation with a minimum number of keyframes and in a way to make it easier to accommodate client changes? Well, this is where parenting comes in. I'll stop my playback and open up the comp, Parenting2_starter. The first thing to think about when parenting several layers together is who makes a logical group? Who is a unit you want to treat together? For example, the station number 9 and the globe behind it are something that we want to keep together throughout the animation.

So we're down to the Timeline panel. We don't need the Mode panel, so I'm going to go ahead and right-click on that and say Hide This. But we do want the Parent panel, so I'll just select Columns > Parent and again the shortcut is Shift+F4. And there's my Parent column next to my layers. I want the 9 tied at the globe, so I'll select the 9 layer and change its parent popup to the planet. Now when I pick up and move the planet layer, the number 9 will always come along with it. Next, we want all of these guys to operate as a group, but we've got all sorts of things going on in terms of things sliding in and out and moving into corners.

Maybe the planet might make a good parent for this, but I'm not sure. If you're ever not certain, a fantastic parent is a null object. A null object is a layer that does not render, but through parenting, is capable of passing its transformations down to its children. So I'll go to Layer > New > Null Object. Nulls are really just special cases of solids, so if I go to Layer > Solid Settings, I can go ahead and rename the null. in this case I'll call it Title Parent Null, okay.

Its default color is red, which is not very visible against my red background, so I'm going to change its color to something more visible such as say green, which should give us some contrast. There's something very important to null objects is that their anchor point defaults to their upper left corner, not the center of the layer. If you've watched the After Effects Apprentice Advanced Animation course, you know the anchor point is extraordinarily important because it's the center of all transformations, such as Position, Scale, Rotation. While I'm parenting where children are inheriting transformations from their parent, that anchor point becomes even more important.

So question is where would we like the center of all of our transformations to be? Well, maybe centering things around that globe would be a great idea. I can either pick up and move the null object where I think it should be, as I have done here, or even better would be to select planet, type P to reveal its Position, select the word Position, and copy to get its value. Then go to my parent null, P for its Position, and Command+V to Ctrl+V paste to make sure it has exactly the same Position as center of the planet. That way, if we parent the planet to the null, the planet won't go drifting off center if we scale that null object.

Okay, next let's go ahead and make our children assignments. So I'm going to select planet and Shift+Click on the Season Finale layer. That will select all the layers between the one I have currently selected and the one I click on. Now that they're all selected, I just need to change to parent for one of them. I'll use the pickwhip in this case to select Title Parent Null, release, and you'll see now that all of them have been changed to use that parent. Close this up a little bit. Okay, we have our parent-child assignments. Now let's do some keyframing. I already have my layers arranged in one pose that I like.

So I'm going to go to a point in time where I want that pose to be held at 2 seconds and use this as a point to enable keyframing. I want this whole group to move down in the left corner and maybe be scaled differently. Since they are all parented to the null, I don't need to keyframe each of the components individually. I just need to keyframe the parent individually. So I'll select Title Parent Null. I have revealed Position already. I'll type Shift+S to also reveal Scale and I'll enable keyframing for Position and Scale. Now I'll move a little bit later in time, say around 2:15, and decide on a new Position and Scale for these layers.

Let's say I want them to be bigger, that I want my little bug and the word TOMORROW to be larger in the frame. I'm going to go ahead and increase the Scale here to say maybe around 150% and notice that everyone gets larger. That's because they're all tied to this parent. Now normally you would say, Chris, going over 100% is not a good idea for Scale. Well, here is as important concept of parenting. The Scale of the parent is also multiplied by the Scale of the children to determine their final Scale. In the case of the planet, I'm going to type S for Scale, its original Scale value was 40%.

So 40% times 150% gives just 60% Scale for the planet. Safely underneath a 100, not blowing up the pixels, no damage is being done. So that's one advantage of parenting. These two are factored together or collapsed or concatenated. Since my other layers are text layers, 9, TOMORROW, and Season Finale, and they are all continuously rasterized, which means they automatically redraw themselves to stay sharp, I don't need to worry about their Scale.

Okay, I have got a larger Scale value. Now I want to position things. Since this is being designed for broadcast television, I need to worry about the Title and Action Safe areas around the edges of a TV screen, where the bezel is, etcetera. To view where these are, I go to my Grid and Guide options and enable Title/Action Safe. You can also just press the apostrophe key on the keyboard. I want to move this group down at the lower left corner. I need to keep my text inside the inner Title Safe area and this is now going to fade off Season Finale eventually.

I don't care where it ends up. I click anywhere inside my null object. It's my parent. When I drag it, the whole group gets dragged. So I'm going to select number 9 carefully within Title Safe. I notice that my planet is still safely inside Action Safe, so I don't need to worry about TV bezel cutting that off. Life is good and now I have my initial animation. everyone scales up and moves into the corner as a group. I only need to make one set of keyframes for the title, not for all of the component layers. Just for fun, I'll press 0 on the numeric keypad to RAM preview.

And there is my final move. That final landing is a bit hard for my taste. So I think I'm going to select those keyframes, right-click, Keyframe Assistant > Easy Ease In, just to make them land a little more softly. That's a little bit more elegant. I prefer that. Okay, I have got the whole group animating the way I like, but now I can go make the children animate independently. Now an obvious problem is that Season Finale gets shelved off of the left side and kind of just maybe outside action safe, but I don't really trust it.

So let's go ahead and fade that out. Remember nothing you do to children are passed along to the parent, and regardless, Opacity is not passed between parent and children either. So I'm going to go just 2 seconds. I can hold Shift while dragging the Time Indicator to snap that point in time, go to Season Finale, T for Opacity, enable keyframing. I'm going to use a keyboard shortcut K to jump to the next keyframe and then fade it down to 0. And I preview again. Now it faded away as my bug and the word TOMORROW shifts into position.

Quick and easy animation made a lot easier, thanks to using null objects and parenting. Of course, you can do a lot further with this. I can add whatever animation I wanted to the children without ruining the animation being done by the parent. And indeed, in one of the Idea Corner movies later on in this lesson I'm going to show you some ideas of how maybe spice this up, animate the title on, etcetera. But for now, I want you to this concept of parenting saves on keyframing. Null objects make great parents because they're kind of like neutral third parties, where you needn't worry about who is rotating who, etcetera.

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Q: This course was updated on 11/20/2012. What changed?
A: We added new movies on using the exercise files that come with this course, and added an additional set of exercise files designed for After Effects CS6.
 
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