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Video: Text Essentials

Text is one of the most important elements of motion graphics. After Effects has a very powerful text engine. In this movie we'll show you how to type set text and in the separate movie, we'll show you how to animate that text. Now to work with text, you need to have two windows open. The Character panel and the Paragraph panel. You can open these directly from the Window menu item or if you select the Type tool in After Effects, you'll automatically open up the Character and Paragraph panels. And you'll see this is because of an option in the Tool panel called Auto Open Panels.
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Watch the Online Video Course After Effects CS4: Apprentice's Guide to Key Features
1h 29m Intermediate Feb 06, 2009

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After Effects CS4: Apprentice's Guide to Key Features was created and produced by Trish and Chris Meyer. We are honored to host their material in the Online Training Library®.

After Effects CS4: Apprentice's Guide to Key Features is a series of guided tours with Chris and Trish Meyer. It is designed as a gentle introduction to some of the major features of After Effects CS4. This quick–start course is for beginners who already know how to animate, users who are not familiar with the latest version, or those who need to get up to speed with advanced tools. Chris and Trish cover features such as text animators, shape layers, expressions, and motion tracking. These guided tours are also included with the second edition of Chris and Trish Meyer's book, After Effects Apprentice (Focal Press).

To learn the basics of animating in After Effects CS4, check out After Effects CS4 Getting Started with Chad Perkins in the Online Training Library®. To go deeper, see Chad's After Effects CS4 Essential Training. To get an overview of the new features in After Effects CS4, watch After Effects CS4 New Creative Techniques with Chris and Trish Meyer.

To purchase After Effects Apprentice—the book—go to

Topics include:
  • Understanding 3D Axis Arrows and Camera Tools
  • Working with Text Essentials and Animators
  • Using Tracker controls
After Effects
Chris Meyer Trish Meyer

Text Essentials

Text is one of the most important elements of motion graphics. After Effects has a very powerful text engine. In this movie we'll show you how to type set text and in the separate movie, we'll show you how to animate that text. Now to work with text, you need to have two windows open. The Character panel and the Paragraph panel. You can open these directly from the Window menu item or if you select the Type tool in After Effects, you'll automatically open up the Character and Paragraph panels. And you'll see this is because of an option in the Tool panel called Auto Open Panels.

You can work with these panels that open automatically or you can take advantage of the special workspace that Adobe has created for you. Just choose Text. Of course you can create your own arrangement of panels and even save yourself a new workspace. But we'll use the Preset for now. To create text, we need to select the Type tool, choose a font and a color that we like. Going to go ahead and start with 90% white for now. And then just click over in the Composition panel and start typing, such as After Effects. When you are done typing your words, it's very important that you do not press the Return or Enter key as part of the normal keyboard.

If you do that, After Effects will think you just want to type more lines of text. If you are done typing instead you want to press the Enter key that exists as a part of the extended keypad. Hit Enter and now your text entry will in essence be sealed off and you'll see that instead of having a cursor, you have these little selection boxes around the type. After you have entered your type, a special text layer will be created for you in After Effects and will have a default name that matches the type that you entered. If you need to change this name it's just a matter of selecting it, hitting Return and typing something like main title. And it will use that name from now on. Now it's very important to distinguish between Layer mode and Editing mode when working with text. If you see a cursor, you are in Editing mode.

This is where you can go ahead and change the actual characters in your text. Like this. It's also very important to know that when you are in this mode, items in the Character panel affect the next character that you type. For example, if I put my cursor at the end of this text and go ahead and change my color to say red. Now when I type CS4, it will take on the new color. When I press Enter and I get these little selection boxes around the edges of my text, I am now in Layer mode.

Any changes I make in the Character panel will affect all of my selected text. And you see now that I have changed my color, all of the text is selected, and therefore changes color. I will cancel for now. To reposition the text, you can return to the Selection tool. The shortcut is we and just go ahead and pick up your layer and move it around the screen. These little handles on the side will actually rescale your text. This is not necessarily the way you want to do it. We'll talk about text size in a second. If the Type tool is active and you do want to resize your box, you will hold down the Command key on Mac or Ctrl key on Windows and drag on those handles to resize it. Up at my text, back at the top to the Comp panel for now. And return to Type tool.

Another way to create a line of text is go ahead and choose Layer > New > Text. What this will do is place the cursor so its baseline is at the exact center of your composition. If you go to your Paragraph panel and choose Center to text, now your typing will be exactly centered. It's a good starting point. You see it's going to use the color that I most recently selected and I'll type Apprentice and again press Enter and now I am in Layer mode as opposed to Editing mode. If my Type layer is deselected and I want to re-enter Editing mode, I can go ahead and double-click the layer and now you see all of the text has been highlighted. I can either click my insert point directly in the middle of my text or use the cursor keys to move around in between characters. There we go.

I am going to turn these off for now and show you a third way of entering text in After Effects. Again I have got my Type tool selected, but instead of clicking and typing I am going to click-and-drag out of box. This is a paragraph box and my paragraph will be constrained inside that box. I make something narrow here for now. And as I type, the text will be wrapped for me, there we go. Now you see in this case, I have got a solid line all the way around that shrinked the size of my paragraph box and my handles are actually hollow. At this point, I can go ahead and resize the box and my text will automatically wrap. There we go.

If I press Enter, you'll notice that those solid lines disappear. I am back to solid boxes and now I am back in Layer mode where I'll go ahead and change the color, well I might type it once. Double-click. I am back in Paragraph mode with my handles. Another very useful thing about Paragraph mode is if I had a large amount of text in my clipboard, I can go ahead and select it, copy it and then just paste it directly into After Effects. So paragraph is particularly useful if you have got to put text to fill a very particular section of your composition.

Now let's talk a bit more about modifying your text. I want to go back to one of these single lines of text I made earlier. One thing that's important to know is that After Effects's text is continuously rasterized. That means you can keep scaling it as large as you need it to be and it will always be sharp. One big advantage. There is two ways of changing the size of text in After Effects. One is to go ahead and change the scale size; the other is to change the point size over in the Character panel. Honestly, we prefer to change the point size first. Get our text looking the way we want to and then if we want to animate it, then perhaps we might animate the scale. But we tend to leave the scale to 100% then set point size to what we want it to be.

You can select individual characters in After Effects and give each one a different treatment. For example, if I wanted this first letter to be larger than the other characters, I just select it, scale it up and maybe even give it a slightly different color like a lighter blue. You can also give individual characters their own styles such as Bold rather than Black not quite as heavy and alter other characteristics about it and I'll press Enter to select my entire line of text again. There are several ways of changing the font that you use. One, you can just type in the name of font you are looking for to just Verdana and After Effects will automatically recognize it. The other thing you can do is place your cursor in this box and use the Up and Down Arrows on your keyboard to scroll through the various fonts you might have loaded on your computer. So this is a quick way of just to check out some different ideas or scroll through some text you might have.

Another approach is to click on this arrow and now you can directly select the font family from the list that appears. For example, I'll go something like Baskerville. In addition to selecting the font family, you can also select the font style. For example Baskerville has many variations like Italic, Semi Bold, Semi Bold Italic etcetera. And just like with font, you can go ahead and use the up and down cursor to scroll through these different weights. That's very important to know the difference between a real Italic and a fake Italic. Baskerville is a good case. It actually has an Italic weight in the families. This is different than what's known as a full Italic, this little button down here in the Character panel. What full Italic does is just add a little bit of a slant to whatever font you have selected. It's kind of Italic, but it's not as true as selecting the real Italic in this particular font.

Same goes with full Bold. Here's what the different bolds look like semi Bold, and normal Bold. After Effects has what's known as a full Bold where it just kind of thickens up the text little bit. Now full Bold and full Italic do come in handy for fonts that do not have all these options and weights. For example if we went back to Bell Gothic. You'll see the Bell does not have a true Italic. So if I needed to get something that look like Italic, I can go ahead and use the full Italic to give a bit of slant to this font. Switch back to Baskerville and I'll switch back to normal weight and turn off full Italic.

Now Baskerville is another interesting font because it has very nice quotes. There is a difference between inch marks and honest curly quotes. For example, if I go ahead and enter a quote mark before and after this you'll see I get some really nice curly quotes as opposed to just up and down inch marks. This is because After Effects has an option called Use Smart Quotes. Smart Quotes automatically enter curly quotes without you having to type a special keyboard combination. If I was to turn Smart Quotes off and use exact same keys on the keyboard, you'll see that I just get these boring inch marks or footmarks. Curly quotes, by the way are one of the things that help distinguish good type setting from bad type setting.

You really want to take advantage of these curly characters where possible, because it will just make your type look that much more professional. I'll take the quotes off for now, press Enter. Let's go ahead and tour around some of the other options in the Character panel. In addition to font size, there are many other options such as the spacing in between the lines, how tall the characters are, how fat the characters are, baseline shifts or superscripts etcetera. It's very important to keep track of what characters or what lines are selected when you play with the Character panel because again only the selected characters are going to get your alterations. If you only want to superscript one character, select just that character. Then go ahead and give it a baseline shift offset.

In addition to clicking on the color swatches to change the color, you do have a handy eyedropper where you can go ahead and pick another colors such as down in my Timeline layer bars. There is also a quick access to change your color to black or to white. There is white type. Currently, I have my stroke disabled. But there is a lot of options with strokes in After Effects. I'll bring that swatch forward, and I will click on this to open up a Color panel. Let's go ahead and pick just something like a red stroke for now. Click OK. Now as you alter this stroke size, what's very important is how the stroke is being drawn in relation to the fill. You see here, very quickly the stroke overwhelms the text. Well that's controlled by this option over here.

For example, the default, the Stroke Overfill, so as you get a fat stroke, it paints over the fill color. If I change it to Fill Over Stroke, you'll see that even as I fatten up my stroke, I can still see some of my fill. When I am using Fill Over Stroke, as I increase the stroke with, you can see where the stroke for one character starts to paint over the fill of an adjacent character. If you see that going on, you can this option to All Fills Over All Strokes. That'll keep all of the fill colors clean and on top of everything and then you can go from very fat strokes for special effects and such.

Now another very nice feature concerning strokes is that how do the stroke ends join. I am going to go ahead and increase the size of my type here. You can go ahead and see some detail on the ends of my strokes. I'll go ahead and increase my stroke size here. There is new option in the Character panel called Line Join. Right now we have a Miter Join, which means we have a fairly sharp edge. If we pick Rounding, you'll see that we get rounded off characters on our strokes. And if I choose a Line Join of Bevel, you'll see that I will get this cut off beveled edge. Nice for some special effects you might want to keep it at Miter, which is the default look.

Now another very important element of good type setting is tracking and kerning. These two affect the space in between characters. Tracking affects the entire selection. For example all of the characters in a word. So you can go ahead and increase it to get sort of a spaced out look. Or decrease it to go ahead and pull things in very type for a very crowded look. Kerning affects only the spacing in between character pairs, not the whole text, but the characters on either side of where you have got the cursor placed. So the first thing we'll do is get the tracking to get an overall look that we like, then use kerning to fix any problems in between characters.

For example you see that these T and this I are pretty tight to each other to where they are touching but none of the other characters are touching. In that case, I'll put my cursor right in between those two characters and alter the kerning for that pair. You can go ahead and scrub the value right here in the Character panel. There is too much space, too little space. Somewhere around, there is much better. You can also use keyboard shortcuts. If you hold down the Option key on Mac or Alt key on Windows and use the left and right cursor buttons, it will increase or decrease the kerning and increments to 20.

We personally find that to be a little bit high. We'll go ahead and fine-tune this to get exactly the look that we like. And then go through your type and change other character spacings. For example, if you think that's a bit on the large side, let me go ahead and reduce it to get the C tucked in little bit closer to the I. Kerning is another one of those things that really sets apart a professional type job from an amateur type job. Now we've been spending all of our time in the Character panel. But there are some very interesting options down in the Paragraph panel as well. Such as whether that type is left justified, centered, right justified, and other automatic justifications and spacings including indents. Now they are really useful options on the Paragraph panel.

But the one thing that's very important to notice is nowhere in the Character panel nor the Paragraph panel do you see any little animation stopwatches. These parameters are not animatable. There is an entirely separate type animation engine in After Effects, which we will cover in another movie. So the mindset to use is use the Character and Paragraph panels to get your type the way that you like it. Maybe the way that the final title is supposed to look. Then use the animation engine to make it fly on screen, fly off screen or do other interesting things. And that's a quick overview of how to set your type in After Effects.

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