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I've been teaching After Effects for a little while, and I think I've seen every beginner mistake out there. It's interesting how beginners always make the exact same mistakes. So I thought it would be useful if I put together a movie of all these little common "gotchas," so maybe your first day in After Effects you can avoid these. Let's say I want to animate my snowflake. I will press P for Position, turn on the stopwatch for position, and we will make a little animation of it moving across the frame. Then I decide I will think I will animate scale as well.
I will just make this smaller. Somehow I think that this will make scale animate. Well, if I don't turn on the stopwatch for scale, I won't have a scale animation. So be sure to turn the stopwatch on for all of the properties you want to animate, and of course turn on the stopwatch for the correct property. You will be surprised how you start off animating position and you turn on Rotation when you meant to click on Scale. But you will get out of that habit pretty quickly. So let me reset, and let me show you something I notice a lot of animators doing.
They, let's say, want to animate position. They set the first keyframe, and then they go to another point in time where they want to have a second keyframe. Now some animation programs require that you click a button before you change the value. Let's say we scrub it on X. In After Effects you don't need to do that. If you go to another point in time where there is no keyframe, you can simply scrub the value and it will create that keyframe for you.
Another mistake I see people make is that they were a little heavy-handed and they select the layer and they click it a little heavy, and before you know it they have a keyframe that they didn't want. If that happens, don't panic and turn off the stopwatch. That deletes all of your keyframes. Then they make it worse by turning on the stopwatch again. Now that just makes a keyframe, the first keyframe, using the current value. After Effects does 99 levels of undo, so don't be afraid to use them. Undo, undo, and there we are.
This is the keyframe I didn't want. I don't need to turn off the stopwatch; I just need to remove the keyframe. I can either do it this way is if I simply select it and hit the Delete key. So remember if you accidentally turn off the stopwatch, don't just turn it back on; that won't get you all your keyframes back. That's what undo is for. Another misconception you might have is that you can simply select the keyframe and then when you scrub the value it will edit the selected a keyframe; it won't. It will make a keyframe or edit an existing. After Effects, when you're scrubbing these values, will always edit at the current time.
That's the time shown in the Timeline on the Comp panel. So if you select a keyframe and scrub a value, you will never edit that keyframe. Let me remove that extra keyframe. Remember that After Effects is very time sensitive. You're always editing at the current time. If there is no keyframe there when you make a change, you will make a new keyframe. If there is a keyframe there when you make a change, you will just edit this keyframe. Here is where you also get into trouble. You might move to a keyframe you want to edit, and you will end up just being a little off.
Now it's pretty obvious here that I'm quite a bit off. As I move the time marker, you can see that I have quite a number of pixels on my monitor for every second of time. Like here is 0, and here is 1 second, here is 2 second. So that number of pixels on my monitor is just for 30 frames. So now when I am one frame off, I can see that. But that's only because I have a very short comp; it's only five seconds long. Let's say this was five minutes long. In that case, this number of pixels on the monitor would be one minute's worth of time.
So if I go 1 pixel off, I could be one or two frames away from the keyframe. That's where you start adding keyframes. They are right on top of each other. Sometimes you can't even see it. They are literally on top of each other. Only when you zoom in in time using these time markers--and you can use the Plus and Minus keys on the keyboard-- you zoom in enough to see that you had to keyframes one frame apart. It's very common on longer comps. So it's very important when you move to a keyframe that you end up directly on the keyframe.
Get in this good habit from day one. As you scrub to a keyframe, add the Shift key, and it will snap. That way you won't end up one frame off. You can also use the keyframe navigator to jump between keyframes on each track. That's useful if you have a lot of keyframes that are very close together. Scrubbing the time marker might be snapping to other keyframe on other layers even. Now there is one way you can edit a keyframe without moving there. If you double-click a keyframe, it will give you the values of that keyframe.
What I find most useful about these dialogs is the Units pop-up. For instance, with position I can edit in pixels, percentage of source, or percentage of comp. So I could set that position to be 50- 50 in the comp, say, and it will make a keyframe equal to 50-50. Now I didn't see any change, because I was parked on a different keyframe. This is the keyframe I edited. So you can see that even if you double- click a keyframe, you can't see the result until you move to that keyframe.
Let's look at a few other issues. I will reset and back to 0. If you want to animate a layer, sometimes it makes sense to animate it backwards. For instance, let's say I want to fade-up this layer over one second. Rather than turning on the on the stopwatch at 0, I could move to one second and then turn on the stopwatch, because this is the value I want to have at the end of my fade up. Turn on the stopwatch and then at 0 scrub down to 0%. Now let's say I want to remove this fade up.
I don't like it, and I'd like to return the layer to 100%. If I turn off the stopwatch now, the value will be at 0% constantly for the entire layer. If, however, I thought about it and I move to the second keyframe where it says 100% and then turn off the stopwatch, that will be the value that's copied to the entire layer. Another piece of advice is that keyframes don't have to begin at 0. Sometimes I will see someone and they will want to fade out a layer at the end.
So they will turn on the stopwatch at time zero, go to, say, four seconds, make a keyframe, then hit N to go to the end, and fade it down to 0. It's holding at 100% and then fading away. I think it should be pretty obvious that this first keyframe is not doing anything. It doesn't need to be there. I can delete it, and I'll have exactly the same result. All the values before the first keyframe will be the value of the first keyframe.
So just like you don't have to turn on all the stopwatches at time 0, you don't even have to turn on the stopwatch for the property you're animating. Just turn it on when you want the animation to begin. In the next movie, I will explain how Auto Keyframe mode works. This is a new feature in CS5.
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