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After Effects: Principles of Motion Graphics with Ian Robinson covers some of the core principles used to create motion graphics, breaking them down into smaller groups of applied techniques in After Effects. The course explores everything from gathering inspiration to integrating traditional typography, transitional elements, animated textures, color, and more into motion graphics. Instructions for building a toolkit with templates and a style guide for future projects are also included. Exercise files accompany the course.
Shape layers are one of the most underrated features in After Effects, if I do say so myself, because, really once you're comfortable with Bezier masks, there is no reason you shouldn't be working with shape layers. In this movie, I'm going to show you how to convert a mask path into a shape layer, and then create a transition out of repeating shapes of these snowflakes. Now, we're going to get specifically into building transitions a little bit later in this chapter. But for right now, I want you to understand how repeating shape layers function within After Effects.
So first thing, let's look at our composition. We have our Flakes comp, and in here there are two layers. Now if I check the source name here, you can see they both come from a Photoshop document. And if I highlight both layers and press M, you'll see that they both have masks. If you're not seeing the masks, like right now, you need to go to your View Options in the canvas and make sure that Masks is turned back on. I had mine turned off because of the previous movies I've recorded.
As you can see here, we have two separate mask paths. Now if you go into Photoshop, there is a tool that will allow you to create custom shapes. And within that tool, you can actually load up a library of custom shapes, so sure enough, in the library, they had two Snowflake shapes. So I just drew those shapes and saved it as a Photoshop document. And since After Effects and Photoshop talk so well to each other, when I imported this as a layered Photoshop document, sure enough, we have our masks that came in beautifully.
But I don't want to animate masks; I want to animate shape layers. So let's go up to Layer, and create a new shape layer. Now, with your shape layer created, nothing's really happened in the scene yet. That's because we haven't copied our mask path into the shape layer. Now there is a little bit of a process to do this. So I am just going to go ahead and maximize our Timeline here a little bit, and expand the contents and the Transform options for our shape layer. So if you look at the Contents area, we have to add something first to create a shape layer.
Now since I know I'm trying to add a mask path, let's go ahead and create a path. Now, you notice Path 1 pops up, and if we expand the disclosure triangle, you see we have an empty path area. So let's scroll down to Flake2 and select the mask path. Notice I'm clicking not here, but here on the mask path. Okay? Go to the Edit menu and choose Copy. Then when you go up to your shape layer, make sure to select the path with a little stop-watch icon to its left. Not Path 1 up here, but literally the path with the stopwatch.
Now if we go up under Edit and choose Paste, it'll actually paste in the mask path into the shape layer. So let's turn off the visibility of layer 2. And you can see here, I don't have a bright yellow mask, because this is a shape layer path. Now if I go ahead and click off of the shape path, you see there is nothing there. That's because once we've added the path, we still need to add yet another parameter if we want to fill this, or if we want to add a stroke to it.
So let's go ahead and add a stroke. Now with the stroke enabled, what we need to do is adjust the stroke width, so we can see exactly how this is being drawn on. I am just going to click off of the stroke itself, and you can see now I've got this kind of fat snowflake. By all means, you can customize this. There are several options, in terms of adjusting the stroke width, as well as, how the caps are rendered. Notice if I change this to Round Cap or Projecting Cap, it slightly changes the edges of the scene.
We'll leave it at Butt Cap. And we can go to the Miter Join, and that's really what adjusts the joints of these harder curves. Notice if I choose Bevel and I click off, it's a slightly different look. I liked the Miter Joint look. It gives kind of a graphic bold flair, so we'll leave it like that. Let's make an adjustment to our Color setting. So just click in the white chip, and we can go ahead and choose any sort of cool tone. Let's make this a little more blue. There we go! Now let's do the exact same thing for our other flake.
Go up under layer, create a new shape layer, and again, we'll repeat the steps. Okay, so now Flake1 has been copied into the new shape layer. Let's repeat the same thing by adding another stroke, and with the Stroke Options, you guessed it, we can change the stroke width, just a little bit, and update the color to something different. So here we'll do like a darker blue for that one.
Okay, so now we have our two different snowflakes, and there set up as shape layers. And you're probably thinking to yourself, okay, well, you know I could have just used the Stroke effect and achieved a very similar look. And my answer to you would be yes, yes, you could have. But with shape layers you can add all kinds of extra fun and motion graphic-y goodness by going back to the Add button and adding repeating patterns. So let's go ahead and add a repeater.
When you add a repeater, notice it's automatically repeating the shape that we had selected. So let's go ahead and increase the number of copies. Just drag it out to anything you like. And if you click and drag to Offset, notice the Offset is what animates this repeating function across the number of copies. Now you're probably thinking, well, how do I determine what direction this Offset is going? Well, if you go to the Transform properties, specifically for the repeater, you notice by default, it's set up to repeat based on the position data, set at 100.
So the cool thing about this, if you keyframe this, you can create kind of a Superman-type animation here, where it comes in and gets set, and then shoots out the other side. You can adjust other settings as well. Here, let me go ahead and show you. We'll drag the position to the left, and let's adjust the End Opacity. Hey! There we go. That looks pretty darn cool. So if we go back to the Offset here, you can kind of see, we can create this sort of blazing snowflake that shoots across the scene. Okay, so repeaters with snowflakes give you all kinds of different options.
One of my favorite options is to go ahead and adjust the Scale. If we click on the Scale--check this out-- now instead of it just sort of repeating off to one side or the other, with the Scale option, it actually gives me sort of a faux 3D look. And if I zoom out on the canvas here, you can see exactly how this is set up. So now if I adjust the Offset, I can have the snowflake come in from the side and then shoot right off to the other side. So let's go ahead and keyframe that, so you can see what that looks like.
Set the first keyframe at about 46 for the Offset, and let's move our playhead to around 1 second. Now if we drag the Offset back to the left here, we can go ahead and make sure that this zooms right on by. Let me go ahead and bring this canvas up in terms of its size. And under View, let's go ahead and deselect Show Guides and set up a RAM preview.
So as you can see, when you animate a repeater, you can create all kinds of interesting effects. Now one last thing: if you really want to kind of take things up a notch, go ahead and play with Blur effects, and your Glow effects. But really, with shape layers, the possibilities are endless, especially when you consider the huge library of different vector shapes in Photoshop and Illustrator.
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