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A couple of movies ago I used the Motion Sketch to create a very organic flight path or motion path of this butterfly. Motion Sketch creates position keyframes based on how I drag my cursor around the Comp panel, but it is does not create any rotation keyframes and you'll notice the butterfly always keeps the same orientation in relation to the comp, no matter what it's doing around the path. Well, this is not how butterflies actually fly. So what I needed to do is rotate so it's always pointing along that path. Well, fortunately, there's command in After Effects that will do that for you automatically.
Select the layer, go up to Layer > Transforms for transformations and then select Auto-Orient. That will open up a new dialog. Select Orient Along Path and click OK. Now you'll see that the butterfly has flipped around in rotation and as I drag my Time Indicator through all these keyframes, you'll see that the butterfly is automatically rotating, depending on how it's facing along this path. Now, unfortunately After Effect does not know how this layer was originally oriented, so it does not know what is the correct initial orientation of this butterfly.
That's no problem. I'll hold down Shift and type R to add Rotation to my visible parameters on the Timeline panel. Now I'll start playing around with the Rotation parameter to see which way the butterfly needs to point to along the flight path. Normally it's a multiple of 90 degrees unless your layer happens to be drawn skewed to normal up-down, left-right orientation. Okay, this is looking pretty good actually. Now it automatically rotates along the path, but I do have a couple of problems. One, he goes to a really weird kink right here, and two, it's really common to have problems at the start and end of paths.
Fortunately this is pretty smooth, but I'll show you the problem. Okay, as we go through this keyframe, we have this odd rotation and that's because the motion path is going to a kink right here at this keyframe. What you want to do is play around the path and your Bezier handles to smooth transitions through keyframes as much as possible. Keyframe handles that are too long will start to bump into each other and create unusual shapes. Sometimes better to shorten up your handles believe it or not, and move your keyframes until you have more rounding.
So now let's see what that looks likes for that path. That's a bit better of a rotation. The one place where you often run into this problem is at your very first or your very last keyframe. I'm going to hold Command on Mac or Ctrl on Windows, press plus, zoom in at 200%, hold down the Spacebar to temporarily get the Hand tool. Let's look at that starting point. What you really need is for your handle, for that first/last keyframe, to come out smoothly. If the handle is off at a weird angle or too short, you'll get some weird rotations as you get close to that keyframe. Watch, this butterfly has suddenly flipped in these first couple frames of animation.
So whenever you're using Auto-Orient, you really need to pay attention to those first and last keyframes, to get a smooth path in and out of that keyframe. Let's go to the end. I'll select my end keyframes so I can see how that looks like, and it looks like it's a linear keyframe. It doesn't even have a handle that I can easily discern. So I'm going to hold down the G key to temporarily get the Convert Vertex tool. I'm going to pull out that handle just to make sure it's smooth, and again if I was at a weird angle like this or backward is off to an angle like that, I would have problems with the butterfly doing some bad rotations, right, when I came close to that keyframe.
I want to make sure that the handle is pointed along the way. The motion path either enters or exits that keyframe. Better! I'll hold down Shift key and type forward slash to re-center my image and scale back to 100%, RAM preview, and now I have a nice auto-oriented butterfly flying around my handdrawn and carefully smooth path. Next, let's work on his speed along that path.
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