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After Effects CS4: Apprentice's Guide to Key Features is a series of guided tours with Chris and Trish Meyer. It is designed as a gentle introduction to some of the major features of After Effects CS4. This quick–start course is for beginners who already know how to animate, users who are not familiar with the latest version, or those who need to get up to speed with advanced tools. Chris and Trish cover features such as text animators, shape layers, expressions, and motion tracking. These guided tours are also included with the second edition of Chris and Trish Meyer's book, After Effects Apprentice (Focal Press).
To learn the basics of animating in After Effects CS4, check out After Effects CS4 Getting Started with Chad Perkins in the lynda.com Online Training Library®. To go deeper, see Chad's After Effects CS4 Essential Training. To get an overview of the new features in After Effects CS4, watch After Effects CS4 New Creative Techniques with Chris and Trish Meyer.
To purchase After Effects Apprentice—the book—go to www.amazon.com.
- Understanding 3D Axis Arrows and Camera Tools
- Working with Text Essentials and Animators
- Using Tracker controls
Skill Level Intermediate
One of the handiest tools in After Effects is the Effects & Presets panel. As its name applies, it does two things. It allows you to search and apply Effects plug-ins and it allows you to search, apply and save animation presets. Now, this is a fairly tall panel, so it's useful to rearrange your panels to give it more room. We usually collapse Preview to get a little bit more height and if necessary we'll even pull down the timeline and pull over the Comp panel to give him more room so that we can see longer names. Let's say you were interested in finding what plug-in effects had the word Blur in their names. Just type blur into the Quick Search dialog and you'll see two things.
Animation Presets that have blur in their name and also all of your Effects plug-ins that have blur in their names. There are two ways you could apply one of these effects to a piece of footage. One, if you can see the footage already in the Composition panel, just go ahead and grab your effect and drag it straight onto that footage and just see it opens over here in the Effect Controls panel. Another ways to select a layer or even multiple layers ahead of time, then double-click the effect and it will be applied to all of your selected layers and you see it's on all those pieces of footage, pretty simple. Now there are other things that this panel can tell you. For example, you see some very small icons that say 8, 16 or 32. That tells you the maximum bit depth that plug-in works at.
For example, CC Radial Blur only processes footage at 8 bits per color channel. However, this Radial Blur I just applied, we'll go ahead and work in Floating Point mode, 32 bits per channel. Additional information on options can be found underneath the Options menu for the Effects & Presets panel. You can go ahead and search by categories and then these would match the Effects menu. Finder folders, the folders saved on your hard drive, or in alphabetical order. You can also decide what to show or not show. For example, if you did not want to be distracted by animation presets, you would turn that off and the Animation Presets menu will disappear. I want to go ahead and leave it on for now.
Now the other thing this panel is useful for is applying Animation Presets. Let me go ahead and delete my previous search and I will twirl open the Animation Presets folders. An animation preset can contain effects, keyframes, masks, basically anything that you can see in the Timeline panel can be saved in an Animation Preset. These can then be later applied to whatever layer you choose. After Effects ships with literally hundreds of presets developed by Adobe to create automatic backgrounds, different image processing effects.
We particularly like the behaviors which appear at the top, lots of great presets. There is a couple ways of applying a preset. If you already know what preset you're after, for example, if I know I want to apply this Colorize - gold dip to a piece of footage, I just go ahead and double-click it or drag it over, just like any other effect and you see it applied to my footage. On the other hand, if I want to browse my presets, there is a very handy Browse Presets command right here in the Options menu. What that will do is open Adobe Bridge. Here I am inside Adobe Bridge and you'll see folders that have the same names as we saw back in the Effects & Presets panel.
Each one of these folders contains a different category of Animation Presets that Adobe supplied with the program. For example, if I open up the shape layers and look at its backgrounds, I see a number of animated backgrounds that Adobe has provided. If I click one of them, you'll see it's previewed over in a special window. Here's a couple of the different presets. Now Adobe provides quite a few useful presets. For example, there is a large number of text animation presets broken down in several categories. Again I'll select one and see it animated in the Preview panel to see what looks like.
Then let's say that I wanted to apply one of these presets to a selected layer back in After Effects. For example, I'll select one of these Bad TV presets and you can see what it looks like over here in Preview. Just like I did in the Effects & Presets panel, I double-click it and that will be applied in my selected layer back in After Effects. Bridge just switched me back to After Effects automatically and you'll see here's my treated footage and here's all the effects that we're in an animation preset. As I grab my time marker through, you can see that my footage is now then processed by that Animation Preset. If I don't like that preset, it's a simple matter of undoing to remove the effect, and switching back into Bridge and choosing a different preset.
For example, let's try this Night Vision preset instead, okay you might like how that looks, double-click it, I'm switched back in After Effects and now you see I have this Night Vision look applied to my footage and there is the brand-new effect this Animation Preset applied. If I want to see those in the Effect Control panel, I just bring up forward and there is my new effects. Now in addition to applying Animation Presets you can save your own. For example, if you came up with a stack of effects or masks or keyframes the client particularly likes or if you want to go ahead and modify one of the existing Animation Presets. For example, if I want to make this more of a purple night rather than a green night vision, I'll go ahead and select all the effects or keyframes or masks that I want to be part of this preset and save them in a couple of different ways.
I can click on this icon in the lower right corner of Effects & Presets panel and now we'll go ahead and create a new Animation Preset or I can click on the Options menu for Effects & Presets panel and say Save Animation Preset. Here I get to choose my new name such as purple night, choose where I want to save it. I can go ahead and keep it under same folder I was in. Maybe put it loose in the Presets panel. Maybe I will make my new folder called my user presets. Click Create and Save.
After Effects will update that panel. I will twirl down Animation Presets and there is my brand-new folder, my user presets, and there is preset purple night. Now there is one gotcha I need to warn you about, about Animation Presets and that if they have keyframes, they're very sensitive as to where the current time indicator is. They start applying their keyframes after the current time indicator. I want to go ahead and undo to remove my previous presets, there we go, and pick a transition preset. Oh, just for fun let's go ahead and pick one of these Block Dissolves. If I double-click it or drag onto my layer and type U to reveal my keyframes, you see that the first keyframe is not at the start of my layer, but instead where the current time indicator is.
So therefore, if you're applying any preset to have keyframes, it's very important to first go to where you want the first keyframe to be, then apply the Animation Preset. Now the keyframes will start where you want them to. So I hope that makes you more familiar with the Effects & Presets panel, makes you feel more comfortable with it and you don't have to use it. Virtually, everything that's in Effects & Presets is duplicated by the Effects menu and the Animation menu. However, I think you'll find Effects & Presets are very convenient to use.
For example, you don't need to remember what folder anything is in. You go ahead and type something like radial and quickly get all of you effects to have radial in it, regardless of what folder they're saved in. So it's very handy time saver and I think you'll find it will save you some time while you're working.