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After Effects Apprentice 03: Advanced Animation
Illustration by John Hersey

Working with time display format


From:

After Effects Apprentice 03: Advanced Animation

with Chris Meyer and Trish Meyer

Video: Working with time display format

The last thing I want to talk about in this lesson is how time is displayed in After Effects and how you can change this time display. You would probably notice that as you move the Current Time Indicator, the times displays at the bottom of the comp panel at the top left edge at the timeline panel increment depending on what frame you're on. As I press Page Down, you'll see that frame number increment. You might have noticed something kind of funky goes on here if you're not used to video. When you get up to frame number 29, it rolls over to 1 seconds and 0 frame.

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After Effects Apprentice 03: Advanced Animation
3h 1m Beginner Jan 26, 2011 Updated Nov 12, 2012

Viewers: in countries Watching now:

In this course, Chris Meyer helps beginning After Effects artists take their animations to the next level. Chris shows how to refine animations to create elegant, coordinated movements with the minimum number of keyframes—as well as slam-downs, whip pans, and other attention-getters. Additional movies show how to reverse-engineer existing animations, create variations on a theme, and master other parts of the program. Even though this course is designed for beginners, even veterans should learn tricks that many experienced users are unaware of. Chris' friendly running commentary lets you in on his mental process as he works on an animation. Exercise files are included with the course.

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:
  • Understanding how keyframes work under the hood
  • Controlling the Anchor Point to create more predictable animations
  • Mastering the Graph Editor for the ultimate control over keyframes
  • Animating parameters including motion paths
  • Hand-drawing motion paths to simplify complex movements
  • Applying and tweaking Motion Blur
  • Using Hold keyframes
Subjects:
Video Motion Graphics Visual Effects
Software:
After Effects
Authors:
Chris Meyer Trish Meyer

Working with time display format

The last thing I want to talk about in this lesson is how time is displayed in After Effects and how you can change this time display. You would probably notice that as you move the Current Time Indicator, the times displays at the bottom of the comp panel at the top left edge at the timeline panel increment depending on what frame you're on. As I press Page Down, you'll see that frame number increment. You might have noticed something kind of funky goes on here if you're not used to video. When you get up to frame number 29, it rolls over to 1 seconds and 0 frame.

This is how SMPTE timecode--the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers count time particularly when working with video. They count in terms of hours, minutes, seconds and frames. To see and change those options, we'll go to File > Project Settings and focus on the top of this dialog, Display Style. The first area is this SMPTE timecode and I'll get back to that in a second. But you have other options such as Frames; what frame number 1, 2, 3, 4, 5--you are in your overall timeline.

Traditional animators like cell animators probably prefer this way of counting. People who work in traditional film and we're talking physical film here, might prefer feet and frames. Yes people edit film by saying how many feet and film have gone past and how many frames have I into this current foot of film. Different film formats have different number of frames per foot. The common 35mm format has 16 frames in a foot. So rather than counting 29 frames and rolling over to 1 second and 0 frames, with feet and frames you got up to say 15 frames then rollover to 1 foot and 0 frames.

And you also have a starting frame number. But let's go back to SMPTE timecode here for a second, because there's a lot of complexity inside here. Different video formats in different regions have different frame rates and therefore you need to use different counting methods to match those frame rates. NTSC video common in North America, Japan and then few other places, typically uses something close to 30 frames a second, it's actually 29.97 but we'll get to that in a second. On the other hand, in Europe and some other countries, they tend to use PAL or SECAM video formats which run at 25 frames a second.

In these cases you count up to 24 then rollover 1 second and 0 frames. 24 frames per second is not a traditional SMPTE time format, SMPTE is typically associated with video. 24 frames a second is typically a film rate. However a lot of cameras used these days can emulate the speed of traditional motion picture film, that's why this has become kind of handy when you're working on these filmic video projects. And these other choices, 50 and 60 are a double speed rate that sometimes are used in high-definition for again, PAL like countries and NTSC countries, et cetera.

Let's get back to this 30 frames a second though. Like I said in reality most of the time the real frame rate for video is really 29.97, not 30. It may seem like a small difference but that tiny difference adds up when you have long programs like a half-hour, an hour, two hours. You could be several seconds off. And now you've got a real issue, you don't want to like cut out a promo or cut out a commercial or something like that. Therefore, the wise souls at SMPTE have come up with an alternative counting method known as Drop Frame.

Unlike what its name may imply, drop frame does not drop actual frames of content. What drop frame does is skip numbers used to label those frames just so that the number in your timeline and After Effects and video programs will match the clock running on the wall for long content, and it does that by skipping the first two frame numbers, 0 and 1, on every minute.

With the exception--don't you love this--of every tens of minutes. So when you start from time 0 that's considered a ten of minute, 0 tens of minutes, you won't drop any frames. But when you get to that first minute, you will drop a couple frame numbers. You're not dropping content. You're just dropping the labels. Let's see what that looks like, I am going to leave that selected and click OK, I am going to temporarily lengthen my composition out to over a minute long and say 2 minutes long, there we go and now I'm going to go ahead and locate to just before a minute in time, 59 seconds and 26 frames.

As I step forward in time by pressing the Page Down key you'll see I go to 27, 28, 29, but instead of rolling to a minute I roll to a minute and two frames. I haven't skipped any frames of content, I've skipped two frame numbers. Very important concept. However back at the start at time 0, I do see 0 and 1 as frame numbers. So for tens of a minutes we don't skip anything, but on minutes themselves you'll see I can't even go to 1 minute, I go to a couple of frames before or immediately after.

This is important piece of bookkeeping for long form programs like a half hour or more, but quite often you are working on short stuff and After Effects, a few seconds, 30 second commercial, a couple minute music video. In that case, you would much prefer to be working in Non-Drop Frame timecode; that says don't skip any numbers. I know we're going to drift over long content, but for short content this isn't important and let's not create any ambiguity. Let's just go head and click through and look at all those numbers. So as I go from 59:29, I go to 1 minute and 0 frames 1 frame, et cetera.

After Effects defaults to Drop Frame timecode and it so happens that the DV tape format also defaults to Drop Frame timecode. But trust me, for most of the projects you are going to be working on in After Effects. If are indeed following the NTSC type standard of 30 frames a second, you will prefer to be in Non-Drop Frame timecode, it will make your life much easier and virtually all pros do that as well. Let's talk a little bit more about how time is displayed and point out how things have changed in recent versions of After Effects.

In After Effects CS5 and earlier, if I want to quickly change how time is displayed in the timeline panel, I hold Command on Mac or Ctrl on Windows and click on the current time in the timeline panel. Doing so will toggle in between frames, feet and frames and SMPTE timecode. If I want to change the preferences for how those different formats are displayed in CS5 or earlier, the shortcut is to click on the color bit depth indicator at the bottom of the Project panel. Doing so will open the Project Settings, I'm going to go ahead and change my Timecode Base back to Auto, which is the default, and which works great most of the time, click OK in the timeline panel will update accordingly.

Things did change a little bit as after After Effects CS5.5 though. I'm in After Effects CS6 now, although these changes did take place back in 5.5, and the first thing you might notice is that timeline panel now has a dual display that shows you your primary display format, in this case SMPTE, but also a secondary format, in this case frames, and also indicates what the frame rate and counting method of this composition is. Holding Command on Mac or Ctrl on Windows does indeed toggle between frames above SMPTE below or SMPTE above frames below.

And if you want to change these preferences the procedure is a little bit different. If you want to change the frame counting methods you still want to open up the Project Settings, change your display style to Frames, that will make it the primary display format. And if you want to use Feet and Frames instead of just a frame count enable the Use Feet + Frames check box. Disable this and now you'll use just normal frame numbers and you get to decide whether or not you start at 0, 1 or does a conversion based on the start timecode for the composition. I'll click OK.

If you want to change the SMPTE display format, and I'll Command+Click or Ctrl+Click again to change this, you now go into the Composition Settings and this can indeed be changed per composition. You have your frame rate which you had before, but now you have the counting method, Drop Frame or Non-Drop. After Effects CS5.5 and later also now uses the auto display format. You can't mix and match such as having a 24 frames display format when your comp is actually 29.97. Note that you can set a start timecode for your composition. This is particularly handy if you need to do an insert into what is a longer format program, you're editing elsewhere say in Adobe Premiere, and this is also the timecode that will be used to convert your starting frame number if you set that preference back in the Project Settings.

It's a little bit confusing now, the things are split up between comp settings and project settings, but on the other hand it is nice to have different SMPTE formats for different oppositions rather than having to keep changing your project settings just because one comp is a 29.97 and the other one is a 23.976.

Find answers to the most frequently asked questions about After Effects Apprentice 03: Advanced Animation.


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Q: How do I transition from one piece of animated type to another in After Effects?
A: There isn't an effect that can create these types of transitions. It's really a matter of animating the type and camera, using basic keyframing and positioning.
 
If you understand the basics of moving the anchor point of a type layer, animating the parameters of that layer (Scale, Rotation, Position, etc.) and then separately animating the camera around the type layers, you can achieve different types of transitions.  Check out the following videos for more information:

Q: This course was updated on 11/09/2012. What changed?
A: We have updated the movie dealing with Time Display to be applicable to working with different versions of After Effects (from CS4 to CS6). 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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