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Understanding the render order


From:

After Effects Apprentice 08: Nesting and Precomposing

with Chris Meyer and Trish Meyer

Video: Understanding the render order

Trish Meyer: Sometimes when you are animating a layer, it seems like After Effects has a mind of its own. That's because the program has a particular order in which it performs operations. It's called the rendering order. By understanding the rendering order, you'll be able to achieve the look you have to more quickly and less likely to have to compromise your design. We'll first work through an example in frustration where we'll fail to achieve a certain effect because we're only using one composition. In the next movie, we'll work around the default render order by using two compositions.
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Watch the Online Video Course After Effects Apprentice 08: Nesting and Precomposing
2h 25m Intermediate Jun 29, 2011 Updated Nov 29, 2012

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Let Chris and Trish Meyer share with you two of the core secrets required to become an efficient After Effects user: understanding the render order (the internal order of operations After Effects uses when calculating masks, effects, transformation, track mattes, and layer styles) and the use of multiple compositions where a composition may be nested into one or more other comps. This makes it easier to group layers, efficiently re-use a common element to quickly accommodate client changes, pan around large composites of multiple layers, and solve render order issues.

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®.

Topics include:
  • Grouping layers by nesting and pre-composing
  • Identifying and solving render order issues
  • Navigating composition hierarchies
  • Editing a precomp while viewing the result in another composition
  • Preserving the frame rate of a nested composition
Subject:
Video
Software:
After Effects
Authors:
Chris Meyer Trish Meyer

Understanding the render order

Trish Meyer: Sometimes when you are animating a layer, it seems like After Effects has a mind of its own. That's because the program has a particular order in which it performs operations. It's called the rendering order. By understanding the rendering order, you'll be able to achieve the look you have to more quickly and less likely to have to compromise your design. We'll first work through an example in frustration where we'll fail to achieve a certain effect because we're only using one composition. In the next movie, we'll work around the default render order by using two compositions.

If you have the exercise files, go ahead and open this chapter's Project File. It's called Render Order. And then open the first composition, which is called basic order. We are going to start off with this simple example. So I just have one movie, one layer in this comp. If you don't have the exercise files, go ahead and grab any movie you have handy. I rendered a movie of what I'm trying to achieve just so you can visualize what we're trying to do with this layer. The layer is rotating around. I have it masked to a square and it also has a Wave Warp effect applied.

So let's try to create this effect from scratch. I select my layer and the first thing I want to do is create the square mask. So I'll select the Mask tool and I'll just make a nice square, something like that. So after I create the mask, I am going to apply Distortion effect and the one I am going to choose is from the very bottom of the list, and it's called Wave Warp. I'll press the Spacebar and note that the Wave Warp effect self animates.

However, I wasn't expecting the edge of the movie to show the wavy pattern. I wanted a square shape. Perhaps I need to create the mask and effect in a different order. So I'll undo and try again. This time I'll apply the Wave Warp first. Okay, there is the Wave Warp. So the next thing I am going to do is make my mask. Select the mask and-- hmm, that didn't work either. The order in which you apply mask and effects doesn't actually matter.

If you look down at the Timeline you can see that After Effects is rendering the mask followed by the effects and then transformations and my effect is the Wave Warp, so the mask is always being rendered before the effect. So it doesn't matter in which order you create them. Also, transformations are always rendered last. So let's say I added a little rotation. The movie, the mask, and the wavy pattern are all being affected by transformations.

So it's obvious that transformations, and that includes Scale, are figured into the mix after mask and effects. So when you are working just inside one composition, you might be limited if you want to say apply transformations before the mask, or apply effects before the mask, and so on. One workaround is to use an effect under Distort called Transform. This gives you all the same transformations, Position, Scale, Rotation, even Skew and Opacity, but it's an effect and because it's an effect you can put transform before all your other effects.

I'll reset the regular transformations and instead I'll use the Rotation inside the Transform effect. Now when I rotate, I'm rotating the image before the Wave Warp. However, notice it's also rotating after the mask. This is just one example of how a mask followed by an effect will give you an unexpected result. Of course, if you have multiple effects, you can reorder them easily in the Effects Controls panel.

Now you can see when I rotate after Wave Warp I get a completely different look and that's the same look I would get if I used the regular rotation values. So what else could we do inside one comp? Well, let's say I didn't want the mask to rotate. I could instead use a white solid the same shape as the square and use it as a matte. Track mattes are always rendered after mask, effects, and Transform. So that way I can move the effect of the mask to the end of the render order.

But that would involve using two layers. So it just makes my Timeline more complicated. I'll remove the Transform effect and return to my simple example of how masks and effects render in a certain order, and if this is the look you're looking for, then that's fine. But I'd like you to takeaway from this movie is that when things don't go according to plan, it's not always your fault. Sometimes it's just the way things render. In the next movie I'll show you how to use two compositions so you won't have to compromise your design and you can get exactly the look you're after.

Find answers to the most frequently asked questions about After Effects Apprentice 08: Nesting and Precomposing .


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Q: This course was updated on 11/29/2012. What changed?
A: We added a new chapter, "Render Order Exceptions." It contains four new movies: Continuous rasterization, The Transform effect, Collapse transformations, and Compound effects. We also added a movie that shows our premium subscribers how to use the exercise files, including the new exercise files designed for After Effects CS6.
 
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