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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®.
If you have the exercise files that came with these videos for this chapter open up the project AEA_Parenting_201.aep. This particular exercise was not part of After Effects Apprentice. It was actually included in an earlier book of ours called After Effects in Production. But we thought it would be useful to show it to you here. Open up Finished Movies and double-click the movie RoboTV-final. If you're using After Effects CS4, hold down Option on Mac or Alt on Windows to open it in this Footage panel. This is the final composition you'll be building,and let's RAM preview it briefly.
(Whir, whir, whir) This robot arm was animated inside After Effects using parenting. Each link of the arm is actually an independent layer that we tied together in a parent-child relationship and then animated as a unit. Let's start by taking a look at how something like this may be built. I am going to switch over to Photoshop where I have it as a layered file. I'll turn off all the layers to start with.
Here is the outer frame. Here is the large arm, carefully centered on this focal point. Here's the medium arm and here is the small arm. This particular object was built in a 3D program, although it could be built in something like Photoshop, Illustrator, or even in After Effects using Shape layers. If you're using a 3D program, make sure you use a very narrow angle of view equivalent of a zoom lens and move the camera very far back in space. That way, you'll reduce perspective distortion, which will make this easier to work with. You might have noticed that all of the arm pieces are lined up in a perfectly straight line.
You may have seen other models from 3D programs where the characters have their arms straight out at angles. Starting points like this with something like 0 degrees Offset is what makes it much easier for you to build relationships between multiple layers later on. I'll return to After Effects, select Comps as that's what I want to build my own new composition in, and type Command+I on Mac or Ctrl+I on Windows to import a file. If you have the Exercise Files, navigate to the Sources folder and select RoboBody.psd.
This is the layered Photoshop file I just showed you. Import this file as a composition and retain layer sizes. This will automatically crop the individual layers just down to the amount of space needed for them, which will make it more efficient to handle. Click Open. You'll get a second Photoshop dialog. For Layer Options I tend to turn on Editable Layers Styles. That way, if someone created this in Photoshop using layer styles, we will maintain them and be able to edit them later in After Effects. For this particular model, Live Photoshop 3D is not necessary because I didn't actually make a 3D object in Photoshop. This was just flat art.
So it doesn't matter whether this is off or on. Again, make sure Import Kind is set to Retain Layer Sizes or similar wording in earlier versions. I'll click OK and two items are created in the Project panel. One is a folder that contains all of these individual pieces of my Robo frame and arm pieces and a composition which puts them all together aligned just as they were in Photoshop. I'll toggle the Transparency Grid on or off, so you can see what's going on. I'm going to drag the layers down in the Sources folder just to keep things sorted out.
This composition came in at the document size created in Photoshop. I'll go ahead and open up the Composition Settings and for now I'm actually going to change this to the size of my final video output. Since I'm about to group this together using parenting, I can move it around the video frame as necessary. So I'll select NTSC DV. You'll see that the elements automatically stretch to match the non-square pixels in this composition. Last thing I am going to do is verify the duration. I indeed want a 6 second long composition, so I'll go ahead and keep this duration.
If you've got a different duration, type in 6.0 and that will give you a 6 second length. Once again, here is our individual pieces: the frame, large arm, medium arm, small arm. In the next movie we'll go about connecting all these pieces together.
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