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Using roving keyframes

From: After Effects Apprentice 03: Advanced Animation

Video: Using roving keyframes

In the previous movies in this chapter I've made a complex motion path that I am very happy with. This is my spatial path. Now I am going to work on my temporal keyframes to smooth out their timing and their contribution to the animation. If you have the project files that came with this lesson but you have not worked through the previous few movies, you can open up 05- Butterfly Flight*starter with path. I will do that now. I will select position, so that you can see my motion path. Notice the spacing of the dots in between the keyframes.

Using roving keyframes

In the previous movies in this chapter I've made a complex motion path that I am very happy with. This is my spatial path. Now I am going to work on my temporal keyframes to smooth out their timing and their contribution to the animation. If you have the project files that came with this lesson but you have not worked through the previous few movies, you can open up 05- Butterfly Flight*starter with path. I will do that now. I will select position, so that you can see my motion path. Notice the spacing of the dots in between the keyframes.

Sometimes they are very spaced out, like around here. Sometimes it's bit closer together like through here, and I will RAM Preview by pressing 0 on the numeric keypad. Now you can see I have got a nice looping path of this butterfly, but there are some speed changes. For example, it's fast there, slow there, very fast there, and it kind of clumps in and out of the flower. It doesn't land softly. It doesn't take off softly. Let's improve that. Well, earlier in this lesson, we gave you some ideas by how to quickly improve your animation.

So let's try those out first. One idea we had to make a slow take off and a slow landing is to apply Easy Ease with the first and last keyframes. So I will do that now. I will set my first keyframe. I will press the shortcut key of F9 to apply Easy Ease. I will select my last keyframe and do the same thing. Now when I RAM Preview, I see that I do indeed have a gentler start and a gentler stop, which is nice, but I still have these sudden speed changes in the middle of the flight.

So let's tackle these next. Before we go further, it might be a nice idea to go into the Graph Editor just to see exactly what is going on with this motion path. We have the Graph Editor set to the default of Auto-Select Graph Type. That means for position paths we are going to see the Speed Graph, and you can see how the speed really changes level here. Faster, slower, a lot faster, as well as the ease out and the ease in to our first and last keyframes. Even more important than these speed changes is how abrupt the changes are at the keyframes.

Well, another trick we showed you is to use the Auto Bezier keyframe type to smooth out these speed changes. Let's go ahead and select all these middle keyframes and since we are in the Graph Editor we will go ahead and use this handy button to convert and selected keyframes to Auto Bezier. I'll do that and now at least the speed changes through the keyframes has been smoothed out somewhat, but we still have some faster moments, slower moments, and a lot faster moments. Again, let's us RAM Preview.

It's an improvement, but it's not a smooth even speed, which is my goal for this particular animation. So we are in the Graph Editor. Let's play around with adjusting the keyframes to try to improve our animations. Now I am going to click All so now all the keyframes are selected and start playing around with dragging keyframes out. I can do a little smoothing there. Now if I move that there, I have got a problem. If I get that closer, the speed is a little more equal. We got some big problems here with fast speed. To slow that down I think I need to move all these keyframes earlier, and then do some more tugging with these keyframes.

It's still not quite as far as I want. I saw some humps here. You can see where this is going to take a lot of work to really smooth out in a flat line, if that's my goal. And some of you are thinking there must be an easier way. Well, you would be right. And that easier way is a trick unique to After Effects known as roving keyframes. Remember for things like position paths, After Effects thinks of spatial keyframes in the Comp panel differently than it thinks of temporal keyframes in the Timeline panel.

Roving keyframes takes advantage of this by keeping your spatial path, but doing what's necessary time-wise in the Timeline panel to the temporal keyframes to smooth out animation speed. To apply it, select your keyframes. You can either use the very handy selected keyframes menu and choose Rove Across Time or right-click on the keyframe and choose Rove Across Time. Watch what happens when I release the mouse. Suddenly I have a very smooth arc for my speed graph as opposed to all these undulations as the butterfly sped up and slowed down.

Our first and last keyframes are still active and you can see I still have my Bezier influence handles, but now all of the middle keyframes have been caused to rove. Let's go ahead and RAM Preview again and see what this looks like. Now you can see the difference. We have a much gentler speed throughout the course of the flight. It comes away from the flower slowly, keeps even speed through all these turns, and then eases back into that final flower. The spatial keyframes are still live and independent.

That means if I wanted to pick up and move one of these spatial keyframes, like that, the temporal keyframes are going to do what they need to do down on the Graph Editor to maintain this even smooth speed throughout the butterfly's flight path. As I do things like this, you can even see the dots move along the path. Likewise, I can go down here and play around with the ease in and ease out amounts, maybe have a faster take off and a slow ease in.

My motion path remains intact. RAM Preview. Now we have our fast takeoff and a gradual deceleration into the flower, my final keyframe. So that's kind of nice, but say that I wanted to flatten out this graph here in the middle. I can either play around with my influence handles by shortening them up, which gives me a flat speed in the middle, but now I have a very little ease in and ease out at the start, or I will go ahead and make that longer of ease that I want and instead convert one of the keyframes back to a normal keyframe just by clicking on it.

Once I do that, I can go ahead and drag it, pull out its Bezier handles, and manipulate it like a somewhat normal keyframe to go ahead and flatten out my curve, but all of the intermediate keyframes on either side will still rove as necessary to give me a nice smooth speed change between my live keyframes. Now my first, last, and middle keyframe. Let's preview that. Now I've got a nice smooth even speed in the middle of the flight and so I have a reasonable ease into my landing point on the flower.

By the way, just like I unroved this one keyframe in the middle, if you like you can unrove all the keyframes. Again, I will select them. I can right-click or use a menu item and choose Rove Across Time. Toggling it again will turn it off and now I have independent keyframes for all my previous temporal keyframes, but they didn't move. They went ahead and kept the timing and the Bezier handles that they required to keep this nice and smooth path. And then I can go ahead and start editing the speed curve again if I want to. I will Undo.

I will go back to that animation I made earlier, this particular flight path. I am just looking into traditional keyframes displaying the Timeline panel. Once again, I can just go ahead and select Position, so that all a keyframes are selected, right-click on a keyframe and choose Rove Across Time, just like I did in the Graph Editor. Once I do that, I get the same behavior. All the in between keyframes have slid in time to go ahead and give me nice smooth speeds in between. I'll RAM preview. I have got a nice smooth speed in the middle.

I can go ahead and pick my first keyframe, press shortcut F9 to make it Easy Ease, same with the last one. RAM Preview again. Now I accelerate slowly from the flower, go around my path, and come in slowly to my end position. Very nice! One last really cool thing about roving keyframes. Since just the first and last keyframes are active or editable, it makes it really easy to compress or stretch the timing of your animation. Say I like all of this, but I wanted to happen faster. Rather than having to accordion the movement all the keyframes, I just click on the last one. Drag it and all the keyframes in between are automatically accordion to give me the same constant smooth speed in between just everybody is fast to know.

RAM Preview and there I go, faster butterfly. By the way, just to throw one more trick at you, you can pull off that accordion trick with normal keyframes. I will switch back to the comp we were working on earlier. There are all of my unroved keyframes in the normal display as opposed to the Graph Editor display. If I want to accordion them as a group, I will select them all, pull down Option on Mac, Alt on Windows, and drag the first or last keyframe, and I will get the same accordion action that I was getting free with roving keyframes.

So that's another tip for you. Roving keyframes in general though is a really wonderful thing to make complex motion paths such as fly-throughs much, much easier to pull off. It's a good trick to remember and one that not a lot of After Effects artists are aware of.

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After Effects Apprentice 03: Advanced Animation

32 video lessons · 22822 viewers

Chris Meyer and Trish Meyer
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