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In After Effects CS5 Essential Training, author Chad Perkins discusses the basic tools, effects, and need-to-know techniques in Adobe After Effects CS5, the professional standard for motion graphics, compositing, and visual effects for video. The course provides an overview of the entire workflow, from import to export, as well as detailed coverage of each stage, including animating text and artwork, adding effects to compositions, working in 3D, and rendering and compressing footage. Exercise files are included with the course.
In this movie, we're going to look at some essential concepts when working with video. Remember that After Effects is, at its heart - even though it does all kind of cool things - it really is a video program. And so a lot of the challenges that you will face and need to overcome and a lot of the problems you'll need to troubleshoot are related to this idea of video. So, knowing about these factors, like the Pixel Aspect Ratio, Frame Rate, Timecode, all these different things will really help you in your work. That being said, and if I'm being completely honest with you, this discussion is not a particularly a interesting or a fun one.
So, if you need to use this movie as kind of like the reference in this title where you keep coming back as you get stumped then please do that, but just know these concepts are absolutely vital even though they are a little dry and boring. So, let's first talk about Timecode. We could see this time display here in the left side of the Timeline. And as we move in time, we see this value change. So, here is how this is broken up. There's basically four categories here divided by colons or sometimes you might see semicolons there.
Essentially, the way that this is divided up is hours. That's our first digit, hours, then minutes, than seconds, then individual frames. Now, if you're new to the world of video, it's important to know that video is nothing more than a series of still pictures played back really fast, kind of like those flipbooks you used to use when you were a kid where you'd draw little pictures on each page and then flip them and make a little cartoon. It's essentially what video is. It's just a series of still pictures. We call those pictures frames, and we have a certain number of frames per second.
And we're going to get into that in just a moment. But that is what is the deal with timecode. You can also click on the time indicator here if you'd like to scrub time that way, or if you have a list with some timecode that you need to jump to a particular frame, you can click this here. And let's say I want to go to 5 seconds and 10 frames. I can just type in 05:10 there, hit Enter and my Current Time Indicator jumps to the exact time. Now, we're actually going to use the Composition Settings dialog box that's kind of a visual aid as we go through some of these settings.
But I don't want to create a new composition. I want to adjust the properties of the current composition. The way to do that is to select the composition, go to the flyout menu over here on the far right-hand side of the Timeline panel and then choose Composition Settings. Alternatively, you could use the keyboard shortcut Command+K or Ctrl+K on the PC. And actually, I find myself changing Composition Settings like duration and the things like that all the time. So, it's a good one to memorize. So, I'll open up Composition Settings here.
We've talked about Presets. And if you're going to be doing something for a particular medium, especially television, then I recommend using one of these settings here. Now, it's a really good idea, no matter what you're outputting to, like if you're going to do something for the Web or whatever, create a composition based on your source material, your original footage. So, for example, let's say you have a really nice video camera or footage from a really nice video camera that was shot in HD, but you were putting it to the Web.
That's fine, but your composition should still match our footage. You should still have a high- definition composition and your working environment should be in HD. And then when you output, you'd output to a lower medium, just kind of shrink it down on export. Now standard video, if I go up to NTSC DV, standard definition is 720 pixels wide by 480 pixels high. High-definition essentially has two flavors. We have 720, which is 1280x1024, and then we also have a full HD, which is 1080.
Oftentimes, this is 1920X1080. The reason why this Preset is an HD Preset and is 1080 high but only 1441 is because of something called the Pixel Aspect Ratio, and that is right here in this dropdown. You see when you're working on a computer, pixels are square. They're just as tall as they are wide. But when you're dealing with television, pixels oftentimes are not square. They are maybe a little bit wider than they are tall and sometimes a little bit more tall than they are wide.
So, if we're going to choose, for example, NTSC DV, this is standard definition television, and the Pixel Aspect Ratio is .91. What that means is it's a little bit more tall than it is wide. If we were going to choose a widescreen - so this is a standard definition but Widescreen - you might think that there would be more pixels to the Width, but there is not. The only difference between regular standard definition and widescreen standard definition is the Pixel Aspect Ratio. It's wider than it is tall for a widescreen.
As you move forward in your After Effects career, you'll want to be careful about Pixel Aspect Ratio. If you do not match up correctly your Pixel Aspect Ratios with your footage and with your output device, then you will oftentimes have footage that is stretched too wide. Oftentimes, if you stay up too late - and I'm guilty of this quite often, actually - you watch late-night TV, like the homemade commercials from like Sam's local car shop or whatever, you will often have poor production quality, and they won't get the Pixel Aspect Ratios right. So, it'll be weird.
It might be stretched a little bit too wide, or it might be like stretched a little bit too skinny and tall, and that's oftentimes the result of not getting the correct Pixel Aspect Ratio. Frame Rate is basically as we've talked about what frames are, Frame Rate is the speed at which those frames happen. Thankfully, there are some standards out there. If you're dealing with standard definition television, it's 29.97. It's important to know that it's not 30. For some reason video, it's like a 100th of a percent. I think my math is right on that. It's like a hundredth of a percent off from the exact Frame Rate.
So, this is 30 -.03. Instead of doing 24, we would do 23.976, which is 24 -.024. Now 29.97 is the standard Frame Rate for the NTSC system. That's basically the broadcast standards used in North America, Japan and few other places as well. A lot of the world uses the PAL system, P-A-L, and that Frame Rate is 25 frames per second. This is the standard in Europe and in many other places around the world.
If you're dealing with film, 24 frames per second is the standard. Or if you are working with video that is approximating film, then 23.976 is the Frame Rate there. If you're dealing with HD, PAL HD goes to 50 frames per second and NTSC Frame Rates for HD video can go up to 60 frames per second. If you're doing something for the web, you might want a slower Frame Rate, because that's going to affect how fast people are able to download your content. If you have a full 30 frames per second or 29.97 frames per second, then it's going to be harder for your users to download all of those frames.
So, it's better to have it a little bit choppier, so the user has a better experience. Oftentimes, 15 frames per second is the way to go there. Now one other thing here. We've already talked about Timecode. But here at the bottom of the Composition Settings panel - this is in this duration area - this is where you set the length of the composition. And right now, this Composition is set to 54 seconds long, so again, hours, minutes, seconds, frames. Let's say I wanted to set this to, I don't know, 15 frames. You might think that I have to go like this and just like select those little things and just type 15.
But this little dialog box, or this little area right here, this field is actually pretty intelligent. So, I'm going to select all of this. I just type 15, and as you can see here, that's translated to 15 frames. It understands if you just type two numbers, that you're talking about a number of frames. If I type in 115, then it goes over another place, and this turns into 1 second and 15 frames. You don't have to constantly worry about typing the colons or semicolons or what have you. You can just simply type these three numbers, and also let's say if you want to make something that was five minutes long, you can just type in 5 and then hit the period key, and that jumps you over one spot.
So, now where it was 5 frames is now 5 seconds. And if you hit the period key again, that becomes about 5 minutes. So, there are some cool tricks with creating the duration of your composition. Now, this little video principles boot camp certainly is not exhaustive as far as video concepts that you'll need to know. But these are kind of the basics, kind of what you need to really be successful, at least getting started, with After Effects.
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