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Parenting is a way to group multiple layers within the same composition inside After Effects. In this course, Chris Meyer shows how to set up a parenting chain, discusses what makes a good parent, and demonstrates several techniques using parenting, such as creating a title animation with a minimal number of keyframes, building a geometric construct, and bringing an anthropomorphic robot arm to life. Sidebar topics include avoiding a scaling gotcha with parenting and creating abstract backgrounds using the Fractal Noise effect.
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®.
The next trick I'd like to show you is how to use a combination of parenting and null objects to quickly and easily create what would otherwise be complex geometric structures. This particular trick is not in the After Effects Apprentice book, but don't worry. [00:00:120.27] You can use any source for it. I want to go up to Composition > New Composition. I'm going to pick some preset that happens to have Square Pixels. This just removes any pixel aspect distortion for what you see. It's not required what I am doing and I'll give it a name such as Parenting-construct and click OK.
You can use the any layer for this trick. I'm just going to use a text layer just for fun. Now I'll type in any nonsense word such as geometric. I can pick whatever font that I want, or in this case it may be fun to use a symbol font such as say, look down further in the list here, Zapf Dingbats or one of the Wingdings fonts. That way you get all sorts of interesting strange looks. I use the up and down cursor keys to quickly move between these choices. That's Zapf. Other thing I am going to go with Wingdings just because it's kind of interesting.
And I'm going to make my point size a little bit smaller, because I'm going to have a whole bunch of these on the screen at the same time. I'll return to my Selection tool, V is the shortcut, and I'm going to create some simple animation for this one starter layer. Maybe I use Scale. S reveals that and Transparency. Shift+T. I'll go up later in time like 10 frames. Enable keyframing for Scale and Opacity. This will be my final resting spot. Go back to 0 and maybe start from a much larger scale and also fade it up during this.
So now I have one layer performing simple animation. Let's say that I want a wheel of these layers all doing the same thing. Well, I can create a whole bunch of these layers and rotate them and carefully position them, or I can use parenting in nulls. I'll create Layer > New > Null Object to be my parent. I don't want one particular layer to be my parent here because I don't want all the other text layers scaling around one of the text layers. I want everyone scaling around the central null. Remember that in nulls, the anchor point, the center transformation, is in the upper left-hand corner.
So if I do any rotation or scale, it's going to be around that center point. So let's go ahead and move my text in relation to that null object's anchor point. I can carefully line it up like spokes of a wheel, or I could have fun and create a little bit of an overlapping look and put it slightly up into the right of where the anchor point is. Next is to deciding how many of these layers I want to replicate around my wheel. Let's say I choose 9 copies of the layers. So I'll select my geometric text layer. Again this could be any layer you create. I am going to go ahead and duplicate it another 8 times, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, giving me nine identical layers.
I want all these to eventually be parented to my null object, which of course I can rename, wheel of text null, but instead of parenting them all at the same time, I'm going to take advantage of transformations to help me arrange the layers. So I have got my first text layer where I wanted, I'll parent it now, but I want the next layer to be rotated slightly around this wheel. Rather than rotate the text, I can rotate the parental null.
I'll type R for Rotation and I want nine of these around a circle. That's 360 degrees like up on a calculator, or I can let After Effects to the math for me. 360/9, Enter, is 40 degrees. Great! I didn't have to do any math myself. I'm going to actually copy that number so I can use it for the offset later on. I'll parent to my second text layer to that null and say take that value + another 40 degrees. 80 degrees, great! Parent another one.
Select it again. Plus, if I forget what my value is, I'll just paste in the value I copied earlier, great! There is another one, parent that, and obviously just keep going around this wheel. And I'll do this quickly for you, because seeing someone else type in and do math can otherwise be pretty boring, but you can see how rather than having to position all these layers by hand or try to do some sort of tricky alignment and distribute or anything like that, I am using a null object to help me arrange my layers ahead of time.
And that should be my last one, great! So there are my nine layers around my null. I'll turn off the video switch for the nulls so it doesn't distract me. Put this back to 0 and now as I rotate that null object, all of those layers rotate around my wheel for me. And remember, I created an animation for one of those layers to begin with. So I'll go back to 0. As I slowly scrub my time indicator you can see that all those layers scale down and fade up together. That's because I did my transform animation before I did any parenting and before I duplicated all these layers.
Every time I duplicated the layer, it got the same keyframes as the layer that I was duplicating. Let's create a little animation just for fun here, keyframe Rotation there, go to the end, may be give it something simple like one rotation. I suspect this is going to be better with Motion Blur, so I'll Enable Motion Blur for the comp. And not for the null parent. That won't do anything, but I will do it for all of my other layers. So I RAM Preview and you see they come into position and keep rotating.
Now one thing that will make your life easier is if you can do all of your animations to one object before you duplicate it and parent it. That way you won't have to copy and paste a lot of keyframes later. You'll find it will be particularly hard to line up your position keyframes after the effect. So try to plan ahead if at all possible. However, another really cool thing about text is that you can apply animation presets after the fact as well. I'm going to go back to my Home and I'll press U to reveal all their keyframes. I'm going to go to where I have the layers fully on and fully opaque and I'm actually going to go ahead and drag down and turn off the Animation stopwatch for all those animations, because instead of using a transform animation, I can apply a text animation after the fact.
Text animations do not rely on transformations. Therefore, I can apply them to a layer. They're going to happen locally to the child and not realize they're being dragged around by a parent or otherwise being transformed. Go to my Effects & Presets > Animation Presets. Again I could browse if I wanted to, but I already know what I'm after. I want to go into the Text category, Curves and Spins, which is kind of a fun set, and I'm going to pick Whirl In. I have got all of my text layers selected. Double-click Whirl In. They will all get that animation.
Oh, look what I did! I have my Current Time Indicator, so rather than start at the comp, my first keyframe's not going to be till here. That's all right. I'll undo. Go back to 0 and double-click again. Now I'll press 0 to RAM Preview and you can see this really fun geometric construct I have of an animation preset being applied to each of these children text layers around the central parent. And that's a lot of fun. In the next chapter, we're going to move onto more complex trick, creating anthropomorphic behaviors by creating a chain of parent child relationships.
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